Thursday, June 25, 2020

Politics of Public Space: Autoism and Delegitimizing Users

There was an interesting piece yesterday at Nieman Lab discussing "protest-as-nuisance" and the autoist framing of media coverage.

via Twitter
In "It’s time to change the way the media reports on protests" they write about a familiar theme of autoism:
...for almost a week, national media made editorial choices, mirroring a framework social scientists have dubbed the “protest paradigm,” that often failed to frame the events of the day accurately....

A 2010 study that analyzed 40 years of protest coverage in five major newspapers, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, found that the papers depicted protests — even peaceful ones — as nuisances rather than as necessary functions of democracy. To illustrate this point, the study pointed to a 1992 Seattle Times story that described a protest thusly: “The demonstrations began with a University of Washington protest and march from the campus that snarled traffic on Interstate 5 yesterday afternoon.”

Centering protest coverage around the impact on traffic, local businesses, and property is one way that the protest-as-nuisance framing manifests.
Of course, the problem is not merely autoism. But the idea that drivers and their cars are the primary legitimate users of the public space we call a street or road informs the framing. We see this all the time in crash reporting. It's the impact to traffic, not the dead or injured person, that is important. (Also in the repugnant "all lives splatter" meme.)

Also yesterday the CEO of the Urban League in Portland tweeted about a different way this bias for cars operates and intersects with race. She reports that "a friend in Salem bought a cool bike....After cops kept following him...he [gave up bike commuting and] bought a car." He was only a legitimate user of public space once he employed the signalling function of a car and could camouflage his race inside of it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Maybe Gaines Street Needs a New Name. Gov. Gaines Owned Slaves

Councilor Hoy has announced he's floating the idea of renaming Center Street to Martin Luther King, Jr. Street. The word "center" is a bit of a null, not very descriptive of anything in particular, and since the street has already been renamed from Asylum Street, with a word we no longer use for the institution, "Center Street" has no great tradition behind it.* It's also a long street, connecting different parts of Salem. I'm not sure there will be any compelling objections to the proposal that are more than objections to change in general.

At the same time, the particularities of this proposed name change respond more to national developments than anything specific to Salem. But there's at least one street in Salem that does have a problematic local name on it, and if it is not considered grand enough for someone of King's stature, even more than Center Street it should be a candidate for renaming.

Gaines is not a household name here, but we have Gaines Street named after Territorial Governor John Pollard Gaines, who is remembered mainly because Abraham Lincoln declined the appointment and Gaines was the backup choice. He also wanted Oregon City rather than Salem to be the Capital. Joseph Lane then defeated him twice, once for Territorial Governor, then Congress. Gaines may not, after all, be very distinguished, at least as a person invested in Salem, and even on those grounds alone we might find other names more worthy and choose to rename the street.

But more than this, there is also the matter that John Pollard had slaves and sold them to his brother Archibald. The Boone County Library in Kentucky offers this from the Kentucky side of history:
Born to Elizabeth and Abner Gaines in 1795, John P. Gaines moved with his family from Augusta County, Virginia to Boone County, Kentucky shortly thereafter. Gaines volunteered for service in the The War of 1812. After returning to Boone County, Gaines practiced law and became a member of the Kentucky State Legislature. From 1846 to 1848, he served in the Mexican War. Gaines was elected to Congress in 1847 despite being held as a prisoner of war, and his opponents' urging that “votes for gaines might be votes for a dead man.” He was then appointed Governor of the Oregon Territory by President Taylor in 1850, a position that future President Abraham Lincoln would turn down. After selling his slaves (including Margaret Garner) and farm in Richwood to his brother, Archibald K. Gaines, Gaines began making preparations for his long trip to Oregon. Gaines' seven-month-long journey to Oregon by ship would prove fatal, as two of his daughters died of yellow fever along the way. Dissent brewed in Oregon, due to the length of his absence and the rest of his term would prove just as tumultuous. Shortly after he took office, in 1851, his wife, Elizabeth died after been thrown from a horse. He left office in 1853, but stayed in Oregon with his second wife Margaret. Gaines died in Oregon in 1857 of typhoid fever.
1856, via Cincinnati Museum
Margaret Garner, in fact, has the more enduring legacy now.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Bush House starts Reassessment of Asahel Bush

Asahel Bush
(Salem Library
Historic Photos)
Hey, here's some mostly good news. A story at Salem Reporter says that Bush House altered a grant application in an interesting way that resulted in winning a grant:
"Last year, when they reviewed our grant, they asked if we were telling a complete story about Asahel Bush, and at that time, they wanted us to address some of the problematic statements he had made," [Director Ross Sutherland] said. "Over the last year, we have been working to understand the issues surrounding museums and white privilege and instructional racism, and other similar issues."....

In its grant proposal, the Bush House team proposed to tell the stories of marginalized Salem community members.

"The idea was: What if museums in Salem had developed around sites that were related to traditionally underrepresented Oregonians? From that idea, we thought we could take these histories and then flesh them out and find out where they actually happened in town," Sutherland said.
It is a little concerning, however, that there's a pivot here, from the "problematic statements" of Asahel Bush to "stories of marginalized Salem community members."

Retrieving the second is important of course, but Asahel Bush himself provided a significant part of the actual mechanism of marginalization, and his agency in that should not be minimized. He had a newspaper, he was an important banker and investor, and exercised a great deal of power here.

Asahel Bush to Matthew Deady,
on the Waldo-Bogel Wedding and Rev. Obed Dickinson,
cited in "Obed Dickinson and the 'Negro Question' in Salem"
Oregon Historical Quarterly, Spring 1991
There is certainly is work to do on "the issues surrounding museums and white privilege and instructional racism," but old man Bush himself was a racist. Even in the context of garden variety racist norms and customs in the middle of the 19th century, Bush was racist. That's the core of the story here, and we need to do less work protecting, even laundering, his legacy and the house, and more work exploring realistically what is the full legacy, warts and all. The pivot from Bush to "community members" looks like it could be a partial dodge and reflective of anxiety that Bush House and Museum could be subject to the same critique and urge toward denaming we are seeing in Eugene around Deady Hall.

Changing out Deady Hall, front page Register-Guard
(Update, June 26th)
Willamette Week reported last week that the Federal Courthouse had also quietly taken down the portrait of Matthew Deady. As we said here a couple of years ago, the history of the Salem Clique needs more attention to slavery and to race. Bush's statements and sentiments are more than merely problematic, and our history of him needs to move beyond the hagiography. We also need more investigation into the businesses and institutions associated with him.

As for community stories, Oregon Black Pioneers are already working on the stories of Black Salemites, and maybe Bush House does not need to lead but instead should take a supporting position on that part of the project. The part that Bush House needs to lead on is the history of Asahel Bush and a self-aware critique of it.

Hopefully the project Bush House is undertaking will be a positive step in that direction. This will be very interesting to follow.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

City Council, June 22nd - Police Reform

The first round of reform was not enough
Minneapolis Star-Tribune on Saturday
In addition to the final budget approval, which at least theoretically could be adjusted, Councilors are bringing several reform-minded motions to Council on Monday:
Changes and Success in Camden, NJ - June 15th

Over-militarized policing is a problem
June 15th

Another barrier to reform - June 13th
Most of these, however, are preliminary to any actual policy changes. So it is interesting that they are not directly talking about a pause in the growth of hiring or reducing or reallocating any budgets or making other institutional adjustments. Several of the comments submitted to Council call for stronger action than a new study or work session. The move to a new Police Station and process for a new Chief also makes this moment, right now, a good time to initiate change. At the same time, since here in Salem we have not previously had a widespread debate at Council on policing, there is not a package of reforms that has already been on the table, as has been the case elsewhere, and there may indeed be necessary preparatory work.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

City Council, June 22nd - New Fairview Project

One of the items on Monday's Council agenda is an information report on the latest approvals on a new subdivision plan for the former Fairview site. I'm not sure there's anything important here, but it is a little interesting and here are some scattered notes.

Preliminary plans for new subdivision
of single detached homes at Fairview

City to Open Downtown Streets for Outdoor Dining

The City announced on Thursday, and many circulated the news on social media, that they would be opening streets to restaurant dining and reallocating some of our surplus street space on a temporary and pilot basis. This is very exciting news.

The City's framing is pretty good!
Of course it is terrible that we had to wait for a Pandemic to conduct the experiment. It should have been a topic for the Downtown Sidewalk/Streetscape Study. Hopefully this project is a success and it leads to greater consideration of the ways our present curb-to-curb configuration on many streets is a stagnant monoculture, sometimes even traffic sewer, and should be reconsidered.

As the news was filtered into traditional media, old biases and tropes crept in to shift the tone of coverage.

We need to work on framing - front page yesterday
We should also think more about we frame the project in the evaluation and any debate going forward. "Closing" streets sounds like a loss of space and loss of access.

But it is nothing of the kind! It is an expansion and enhancement, allowing more people and a greater range of people to enjoy public space. We should think of it as sidewalk expansion, not street closure.

The frame of "closure" perpetuates the myth that streets are for cars, and people on foot or other users are at best temporary interlopers, impedance to be managed and reduced.

"Closure" here is autoist framing and should be avoided.

Friday, June 19, 2020

City Council, June 22 - The Problem of the Cemetery

Council meets on Monday and they have a huge agenda. I don't see how everything gets a proper amount of attention. It's packed enough that it's possible to wonder if some things are strategically getting buried.

In addition to the City's budget, as part of that three Councilors have various motions specifically about Police reform. Others will have more informed things to say about them, but they are worth close attention.

Four options
Here we will focus on an update on the prospect of a connection through the IOOF Pioneer Cemetery. It's not really much of an update and, in the context of all the other items on the agenda, seems designed for the status quo rather than a solution that finally slices through the Gordian knot.

Still, early in the decade one solution seemed best, and this solution still seems best.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Lucy Rose Mallory: Publisher, Feminist, and Spiritualist

Lucy Rose Mallory, circa 1875
(Oregon Historical Society)
"earnest sucker"?
June 20th, 1899
After she'd been away from Salem for a little over a decade, publisher Lucy Rose Mallory, the Capital Journal reported, was said by some to be "an earnest sucker after the good...[and] a crank."

They also said
Persons who think at all for themselves, who are anything beyond mere automatic retinas, or impression-receivers, must sometimes think differently from other persons, and the moment they persist in that we call them a crank.
Nevertheless, she persisted.

Lucy Rose Mallory must be counted among our greatest personalities, on the all-time list of Salemites, and she has not got her due.

Though her later life was mostly conducted in Portland, for about a quarter-century during the first half of her adult life she lived in Salem on-and-off, and she was involved in 19th century movements on anti-racism, feminism, temperance, vegetarianism, world peace, and spiritualism. She started her newspaper here. She may not have left an enduring legacy in Salem, but it wasn't for lack of trying, and in her causes she was generally ahead of her time, sometimes in visionary ways. Truly, she was more radical than crank, and we should remember her better.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Eugene's Pioneer Mother Statue, Burt Brown Barker, and the Problem of Genealogy

May 7th, 1932
The news last night from Eugene that protesters had toppled two Pioneer monuments on campus was unsurprising and also distressing. One of the statues has a Salem connection, it turns out.

On the toppling, UO gave a generally nuanced statement, albeit one certain to be dissatisfying to the protesters:
These are obviously turbulent times. While we support peaceful protest and vigorous expression of ideas, we do not condone acts of vandalism. Our country, state and campus are coming to terms with historic and pervasive racism that we must address, but it is unfortunate that someone chose to deface and tear down these statues. Decisions about the future of the Pioneer statues and other monuments should be made by the campus community through an inclusive and deliberative process, not a unilateral act of destruction. Just this week, President Michael Schill recommended that the Board of Trustees dename Deady Hall and announced to the University Senate that he was asking a campus committee to look at whether statues or monuments on campus, including two Pioneer statues, should be removed. The university will put the statues in safe storage and allow that process to play out.
The problem, which we see most directly on police brutality, is that civility has been of limited utility. The only way sometimes to get the powers to pay attention is to have a tantrum. This is a structural problem in the way formal process operates. Colin Kaepernick took a knee, and look how far it got him. Words and reason alone ought to be sufficient, but too often they are not. This is public process and civility as kitty litter: Attract dissent and critique, neutralize it, and clump it for easy disposal.

Putting the statues in storage for an analysis, debate, and negotiation is the right thing. They are not so heinous they should be destroyed or defaced, but they require something more like a museum setting, since they are monuments to a period and cultural order we no longer uncritically celebrate. Their display is certain to require more context and analysis. They don't work as bare proclamation and celebration any more.

The statue in 2007 - via wikipedia
The donor of the second statue in Eugene, the Pioneer Mother, grew up here and retained an interest in Salem history. Burt Brown Barker knew Bert Hoover as a youth. Later he was vice-president at University of Oregon.

Photo Speed Enforcement, Fairview Projects, Public Art at the Capitol - Sunday Bits

Photo speed enforcement installation this past week
on Commercial at Madrona
This week the City and a contractor have been installing the photo speed enforcement apparatus on Commercial Street at Madrona.

Even the Police said "eye-opening"
A few years ago during the Commercial-Vista Corridor study, the amount of casual speeding at this site was a little shocking. Based on that data, there is the prospect of over 4000 tickets a day! That's not going to happen, but speeding more than 10mph over the limit has been such a problem that it is nearly certain to yield a surprising number of citations, perhaps hundreds a day initially. These cameras should help moderate speed here, and it will be very interesting to see how it goes.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Take Survey on Update to Geer Park Master Plan

The City's just announced an online Open House for updating the Geer Park Master Plan.

One of the layout possibilities (with comments and Gov. T. T. Geer)
The online materials and associated survey questions are mainly focused on the interior of the park and park facilities.

But the first thing that came to mind is the way there seems to be an implied shift in thinking on Park Avenue. A decade ago when we were updating the Walking and Biking chapters of the Transportation System Plan, Park Avenue had seemed like a logical north-south route between State Street and Silverton Road, perhaps the most nearly continuous lower-traffic route a few blocks west of Hawthorne Avenue.

A decade ago we abandoned Park Ave
I don't remember all the details, and will have to look them up, but about at D Street, the City and planners abandoned Park Avenue going south because we didn't want people using it near the Prison and State Hospital. Park Avenue was quasi-private, mainly to serve the institutions, and not understood as a kind of connection and throughway.

All of the proposed park concepts, however, show parking lots off of Park Avenue, and this implies much more traffic on it.

And that returns us to the question whether Park Avenue would be a good lower-traffic bikeway also.

If we are going to have one or more major entries and lots off of Park Avenue, even if we do decide it should not be a formal greenway, we should make sure we have adequate provision for non-auto travel on it and not just assume that it's only going to handle car traffic.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

The Rebel who Owned the Opera House, Chaired the School Board, and was Willamette Trustee

A while ago, yet not perhaps so long ago that it really belongs in any particularly distant past, a former Confederate Colonel moved to Salem. Arriving in 1871, Leo Willis worked his way from being an outsider to very much an insider. By the time he died in 1899 he was wholly an establishment figure. He had owned a large share of the Opera House, was Trustee at Willamette University, chaired School District 24, and chaired the Unitarian Building Committee as they built a new church.

This is both surprising and not surprising at all. Oregon voted for Lincoln and stayed in the Union. How could a traitor be so embraced?

But Lincoln got only 36% of the vote. We know about the Exclusion Laws in the Oregon Constitution, know about Asahel Bush's racism here in Salem, have a nearby county named after Territorial Governor and pro-slavery VP candidate Joseph Lane. On balance we should not be surprised. Oregon was a lot like a border state, and preferring more anodyne notions of heritage we have not always fully reckoned with the residue of embedded everyday racism and bias in our history.

More recently and nationally, though we sought specific technical knowledge from them, the retrieval and absorption of Nazi rocket scientists into NASA is another instance of a kind of reconciliation and rehabilitation for enemies with especially immoral ideologies. At these moments it's like we treat actual war in which people killed and were killed as a kind of kayfabe or other drama that doesn't require any commitment to future enmity. Let bygones be bygones.

Without more direct source material like letters and journals, it's hard to say what people themselves thought. There are great limits here at the moment. But from newspaper articles, it seems clear Salemites were not troubled by the past of Leo Willis. He knit himself into Salem society and politics, and his children became or married the next generation's leaders.

There is no evidence, in fact, that being a former Confederate was at all a problem. Salemites may not have wanted to ask too many questions so they did not have to grapple directly with a treasonous past. Some may have outright sympathized, or were fascinated by the past. Some did not see it as problematic at all, never seeing treason, just a strong disagreement. Still others may have seen Willis offering proximity to power in his brother-in-law, a US Senator from Alabama. Whatever the exact reasons, having been a committed Confederate officer and slave-owner was no barrier to participation in better Salem society. Even if people had private scruples, in public as they revealed preferences by their affiliations and actions, by what they did rather than what they might have thought, they showed they thought having been a Confederate officer was no impediment.

Friday, June 5, 2020

JC Penney to Close downtown Store - and brief City Council Notes

JC Penney has announced it will be closing the downtown store. It joins at least Nordstrom and TJ Max. (There were probably others in the mall proper also, but they aren't top of mind here.)

April 10th, 1917 and more here on the first store site
The company is closing 154 stores, so this is not merely something about Salem in particular, but is about the Pandemic accelerating structural changes in department store and big box retailing.

Moved to PDX, still breaking Salem news - via twitter
It is also another sign that our current conception of downtown as a drive-to destination like a mall is not at all sustainable, and that we will have to build more housing and create a larger market with people whose demand is satisfied with a greater proportion of walking trips. Autoism by itself can't sustain the downtown economy. No amount of free parking would have prevented these changes.

From 2008: more downtown housing
With a larger downtown population constituting a market itself, businesses will return.

But as long as we conceive of downtown businesses as having to be a drive-to anchor tenant, or as drafting off a big drive-to anchor, we will likely continue to see long-term erosion.

Council Agenda

Council meets on Monday and the agenda is light for our interests here. Two bullets only.
Long piece in
today's paper
Not on the agenda directly (though the big budget resolutions are), but likely a topic at Council will be the Police response to demonstrations. There's evidence that the policing has engaged in preferential bias. Hopefully Council will remember that with the process for a new Chief and with the opening of a new Station, Council has some leverage and there may be more opportunity here.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

City Considering more Outdoor Dining Downtown

As others have already noted, the most recent City Manager's update has news that the City is exploring how to "safely provide portions of downtown streets for outdoor dining."

It might be helpful to let your City Councilor know you endorse and want to get this going for summer!

"bustling cafe culture" (May 21st)
More outdoor dining! - City Manager Update, May 29th
The Auto Camp

As a bit of historical trivia for a century ago, and representing a kind of early autoist expansion, before we had Pringle Park, the Albert family and then the City operated a free auto camp. Now we hope to unwind some of this expansion and revert public space back from cars to people.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

As Jason Lee House Site has Layers, so History Telling has Layers

On May 31st as the Tulsa Race Massacre was unfolding in 1921, a note on the front page of the afternoon paper here said "the spirit displayed by the early pioneers" was a "true expression[...] of the Anglo-Saxon race."

May 31st, 1921
I was going to write about Tulsa, but more relevant here in Salem is the story of Jason Lee. It is striking how strongly writers over the decades centered not just his whiteness, but the centrality of "the Anglo-Saxon race." Tulsa is not directly our story, but Jason Lee and the ways we have understood him is very much our story, a substantial part of our self-understanding and origin story, and peeling back the layers in the telling of that story is as important as digging through the physical layers of dirt at the house site.

February 1st, 1884

Pity the Suffering Roads: Framing on Gas Tax and Driving Misses Important Points

Opposite today's large front page story and picture about people protesting police brutality, there's a story about suffering roads.

Front page today
Especially with the placement on the front page, it may be a little tone deaf.

The story focuses on more rural communities in Marion County and their dependence on gas tax money for roads.

But more than unfortunate page placement and headline word choice, the frame totally assumes that our present arrangements for driving are "normal" and something to which we should return as soon as possible. It's strangely mournful and only about loss, treating cars rather than people as the primary index and locus of loss.

In a daze about driving loss
But of course there are positive facts about the decline in driving. Just a couple weeks ago there was a story about the decline in carbon emissions.