Thursday, March 26, 2020

Our Salem Map of "What We Heard" Suggests limited Appetite for Change

This week the City published a "What we Heard" summary of the comments collected during the Fall last year on the Our Salem charettes and online surveys.

The maps on the first page of the summary are rather a splatter, but the larger map on the second page is much neater and aims to show "areas where there has been some level of agreement."

Areas of agreement
The four circled areas correspond to broad zoning concepts:
  • Industrial (blue)
  • Single Family (yellow)
  • Mixed use (purple)
  • Commercial (red)
Mostly these conform to zoning and planning already in place, and may suggest a consensus for "we don't really want much change."

Mixed use areas are mostly the usual suspects
It is a little interesting to see the mixed use designations:
A gradual conversion of Lancaster Drive would be a somewhat new thing, I think.

But the most definitely new thing appears to be a desired conversion of Fairview from a large mixed-use project to single, detached housing.

Fairview in yellow for "single family" housing
That would be a great retreat from the original Fairview Master Plan of 2004, and not merely a "refinement." So that's interesting to register.

The original concept was not just for single detached housing
More generally, the scope and location of these areas with consensus suggest we have limited readiness to grapple with reducing greenhouse gas emissions, changing our travel patterns, making more walkable neighborhoods, and doing anything very much different. Mostly they are an expression of "stay the course," "we like our neighborhoods as they are," and hand-wavey "make changes 'over there.'"

Maybe the project team will unveil a set of ideas later that is more comprehensive and responsive to climate. But I worry that we are heading down that path of "more of the same"; and that after that conservatism is baked into the Comprehensive Plan, we will struggle mightily to layer in changes from any Climate Action Plan.

It might be prudent to pause the Comprehensive Plan until we see what kinds of changes the Climate Action Plan requires. This bottom-up approach right now in Our Salem may have a bias against change and may not be able to instantiate the values we profess to hold. As it is, we will say we want to reduce emissions, but our land use pattern will demonstrate otherwise.

Moreover, with the pandemic, any preferences or other information the project collects at this moment may be colored by fear and risk-aversion. It is possible that new numbers of people telecommuting and walking in the neighborhood will prompt reconsideration and prompt calls for more change. But it's also possible that there will be a contraction of horizons and so public comment right now requires a kind of asterisk and special handling, as it may not express durable opinion.

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