Thursday, January 18, 2018

Will Smart Growth and the Salem Model Really Lead to Success?

Over at SCV there's some cautious optimism about our new Community Development Director and his endorsement at Monday's Council Work Session of the policies and actions of "Smart Growth."

It is interesting that Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns has criticized the approach:
I really dislike being called a Smart Growth advocate....It feels designed to be inoffensive to everyone in a kind of disingenuous way.
One particular problem is that Smart Growth still may have a bias for new greenfield development - though it is "new and improved" with better urban form. Crucially, this kind of development is still autoist and still invokes the life cycle problem: What will fund infrastructure replacement in the second and third life cycle? A Smart Growth paradigm may not give sufficient weight to the values of redevelopment and of incremental development in already built-up neighborhoods.

Boosterism and Uniqueness

As regards "inoffensive" appeals of "Smart Growth," in the clip our new Development Director talks about "the Oregon Model" for planning process and then offers a refinement in "The Salem Model." Is being known for our use of post-it notes what we really want? More importantly, the potential for flattery and self-congratulation should engage our critical faculties.

Every time we hear an appeal to the way Salem is special or unique, all too often there is a hidden corollary: Because Salem is incomparable on some axis or grid, we can insulate Salem from comparison and criticism. Stories about our uniqueness often become powerful stories for keeping things the same, conservative stories for the status quo. It is difficult to "set the pace" if we are not aware of and able to incorporate, even copy, the successes of others.

via Twitter

A Previous "Salem Model" Failed Badly

Appealing to "The Salem Model" isn't the same as saying "Salem is unique," but it still invokes a certain provincial boosterism and self-satisfaction. The impetus for the Strategic Plan is that what we've been doing hasn't led to the outcomes we desire. So the point is to do something different. Focusing on narratives about how great we already are may not get us there.

Are we basically just gonna do it all over again?
(via University of Utah)
At the same time, there's a long shadow cast by the "Salem Futures" plan, and maybe the one thing that would be more useful than anything else is a quasi-forensic analysis of what went wrong and how much of the plan is retrievable. If we've thought through a lot of "smart growth" analysis already, can we avoid doing it over? And what about its process should be copied or discarded? Somehow it did not attract sufficient assent to be sustainable in ongoing policy action, so in empirically grounded ways it was flawed and wasn't enough.

A 2009 analysis of Oregon planning studies conducted for ODOT outlined our rejection of it. (It silently passed over the election results that changed City leadership and led to the rejection.)
The project selected a preferred alternative to guide future development and recommended its adoption by the Salem City Council. From 2002-2005, there was no consensus on the acceptance of the preferred alternative and it remained mired in a city periodic review process for several years.

Ultimately, the City of Salem submitted a demonstration of meeting the Transportation Planning Rule based on a dramatically different version of the preferred alternative as the basis for Salem’s growth management strategy. The future vision submitted to the State Department of Land and Conservation (DLCD) resembled more closely the Salem Futures base case scenario with some small adjustments.

The City of Salem amended the Salem Area Comprehensive Plan in 2009 and met compliance with the periodic review order of DLCD. The comprehensive plan update process resulted in the adoption of an addendum map for reference and some minor language changes. The comprehensive plan update did not incorporate any of the alternatives examined in Salem Futures. [italics and internal link to the old City site added]
The City should publish the whole of "Salem Futures" so citizens can review it and incorporate references to it in our current debates and analysis. Right now it is inaccessible. (That intro chapter from the library at the University of Utah is the only part of it that has so far turned up. We shouldn't have "go" to Utah to read it!)

So those are some moments in the planning process to consider and watch. Without a more critical discussion of previous attempts at "Smart Growth" policies and the processes that lead to them, we may be doomed to repeat the cycle.


Anonymous said...

Salem Weekly had a couple of pieces that touched on Salem Futures...but perhaps more personality-driven than you would like!

Susann Kaltwasser said...

You have touched on my concerns about the upcoming plan to do a Comprehensive Plan update. What I read in the staff report was not very enlightening on what to expect. I submitted some comments relating to process that I wish would be heeded of course. Mainly I feel like Salem Futures was too top down and staff driven. I urged that the next process begin with some community dialog with every day citizens about what they might like to see different and what we should keep. Then they could outline a process that might get us somewhere.

The last process "Salem Futures" died because of one person, but no one really stepped up to protest, because the truth was most people had no clue it existed. Getting property owners to agree on how they should develop their property to key to success. I think this was a fatal flaw to the last process.

BTW, somewhere I have a copy of the Salem Futures document. I will look for it and see if we can get it in a format that can be shared.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

I checked my printed copy and it turns out it is exactly the same as the one in the Utah library that you posted. As I recall, they did not get past this phase of the project. The only person who might know more is Cece Urbani who retired a few years ago. She was the lead staff person on "Salem Futures"

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Huh. that's very interesting! Is it possible that "Salem Futures" has become so mythical that we all think it got farther along with reports and recommendations than it in fact got? Will keep an eye out on this for sure! Thanks for the info.