Thursday, July 11, 2013

Salem National Forest Blog Chronicles Stroads, not Toads

Lancaster Drive is the wretchedest place to bike and walk.*  Most of the roads in and around there are substandard for walking and biking, and the City and County struggle just to complete legacy remediation for basic sidewalks and bike lanes.  And even when there are 1980s-era bike lanes and sidewalks, as there are on Lancaster itself, the roads are wide, super busy, traffic runs fast, and still just aren't pleasant at all.

So many of us don't get out there much.  And it's something of a blind spot for the blog, which has a distinct bias for downtown and the close-in neighborhoods.

But there's lots of energy out on the east side.  The biggest youth bike event in the city, for example, is the annual give-away at Casa de Adoracion, which last year raised around $20,000 and provided bikes for several hundred kids.

It's also where a significant stock of cheap buildings is.  In a recent post on The Atlantic, Kaid Benfield said:
I do think there has been a resurgence of entrepreneurship in recent years. It is taking place in older commercial buildings with lower rents and, increasingly, that means it is taking place in some locations we may be quick to dismiss as car-dependent and unsustainable. While surely the best way to preserve small business diversity and opportunity is not to preserve some of the most unsustainable architecture in America, my sense is that we – environmentalists and urbanists – have not put enough thought into how best to sustain what that architecture is now nurturing.
If, for example, you want food from the great immigrant cultures here, Lancaster and Silverton roads are where it's at.  More than "melting pot" it's alchemical crucible!  The area is not just the opposite of downtown, but are also its complement.  When we worry about downtown, there are elements of class and ethnicity that are almost certainly not given sufficient weight in analysis and the range of prospective solutions.

So it was with interest recently to discover an established blog on that outer urban landscape. Called the Salem National Forest Blog, it is written and photographed by a local educator, and approaches the main roads of north and northeast Salem ironically, as if they were part of the national forest system and the roads were trails.  In a typical inversion, it treats the ugly as beautiful or picturesque: The urban ramble in the sprawly landscape as wilderness hike.

You might say, "it's not about toads, it's about Stroads" - those nasty hybrid of local road and urban highway.

Leftover farmland...encroaching on apartment complex
The most recent post talks about older rural forms "encroaching" on newer urban forms.

Photos essays on Fisher Road Trail, Lancaster Drive Trail,
Portland Road Trail, Salem Parkway
There are multi-part photo essays on Fisher Road, Lancaster Drive, Portland Road, the Salem Parkway.

I have not had a chance to look at all of it, and I don't know where all it goes - visually or thematically.  It may not be as ironic as I think it is.  And it may be playing other games as well.

The landscape, urban forms, and entrepreneurial energy near Lancaster are certainly more complicated than the easy antithesis between our lovely historic downtown and ugly, blighty, car-dependent strip development along Lancaster suggests.

Nuance is a good thing!

Anyway, check it out.  What do you think of it?  How do you read its irony?

* Here's the table of wretchedness.  Again it's a count, not rate, but I think the count for #1 is so much larger than that for #2, no matter who holds it, that it's pretty clear Lancaster is the worst corridor in the city.

Lancaster's always the worst!
Regional Operational Characteristics Report
2012, SKATS

1 comment:

Jim Scheppke said...

Thanks for the tip on this new blog. I will check it out. Lancaster is rapidly becoming "Main St." for the rapidly growing Latino community in Salem. The rents are cheap for Latino entrepreneurs, including most of the best taquerias in Salem, e.g, Chula Vista Taqueria, Mercado San Francisco, Azteca Bakery, El Torito Meat Market, El Ranchero Market and Tacos Del Sur. I think the Latino population boom is the best thing that has happened to Salem since I moved here in 1986. It's made Salem a much more interesting place.