Friday, December 11, 2020

City Council, December 14th - Stuck on Connecting Fairmount and Candalaria

The agenda for the final Council meeting of the year is light, and there is not a lot to say. But updates on the cemetery and public art are worth a little comment.

A report on the prospect of a path connecting the Fairmount and Candalaria neighborhoods via one of the cemeteries is on the agenda, but it does not seem to advance the issue in any meaningful way. Mainly it's a restatement of old themes, a recapitulation of the problems we already know exist. It does not read like City Staff tried to advocate for it and find a creative solution. It reads instead like conflict-averse Staff said, "Are you at all interested in a path connection?" the cemetery representatives said, "No, we are not," and City Staff concluded, "Well, ok then, that settles it. We'll just write up the report." Maybe someone will find something promising hidden within, but it seems designed for Council to throw up their hands and say, "Look, it's just too difficult."

Mark Wigg asks: Why the redundant drives?
(See no. 3 below in the summary of his proposal)

Even though City View had continued to express a lack of interest, since they have seemed to have deferred maintenance issues at the Mausoleum, it seems like there ought to be a way to find a win-win that yields a path connection and some money for maintenance. 

The questions to ask the cemetery representatives, both at City View and Friends of Pioneer Cemetery aren't in the form of "Do you want a path?" They're always just gonna say, "no." 

The questions to ask are, "You've said you still have problems with vandalism and theft. What additional resources do you wish you had?"

Somewhere in the answers to that, and almost certainly more expensive than initially we would like to see, there is a solution package that improves cemetery security and creates connectivity between two neighborhoods. The solution is not just drawing lines on a map and paving a trail. Do we need a new security video system here? Do we need more interpretive signage at the graves themselves of historically significant people? Do we need better funding for maintenance? A good solution will have additional components to address existing conditions with underpowered security and maintenance. It may not be something we can finance right now, but it's something we can plan for in a transportation or parks bond or something.

Separately, trails advocate Mark Wigg has been circulating a concept, and it has some attractive elements, but until there is a stronger framework for a connection itself, it seems premature to drill too much into details. Design elements aren't themselves the show-stopper, even if they can address some of the concerns.

Summary of Wigg proposal, December 2020

View from City View east, keyed at no. 2
(Photo from National Register Nomination)

Wigg shared it with the Parks and Recreation Board this week. As I understand it, Wigg's proposal has three main elements:

  1. Northside connection at John Street with easement purchased from City View. No need to use alley through PUD or to disturb maintenance area or unknown graves in Pioneer Cemetery.
  2. During the day, open the historic east-west procession way between Pioneer Cemetery and City View to connect the Civil War Memorial, on the border of which currently is a chain link barrier. (The image from the National Register Nomination shows the way the fence chops the intended connection.)
  3. Consolidate the two separate north-south driveways into one single and wider driveway; provide better fencing along the margins, especially at corners, where drivers cut the corners and roll over gravesite curbing; create new planter strips with more ornamental fruit trees along both sides of a new wider driveway. These will also protect the curbings.

Even with separate ownership, why the City of Salem and City View maintain two separate drives along a Skopil alignment does on the surface seem strange. So Wigg seems right to point to this and ask whether there is a latent resource there. The idea of remaking the east-west connection to the Civil War memorial also seems valuable. There are ideas in the concept worth keeping in mind for a future moment when design could actually be in play.

From here, anyway, it seems like the City, cemeteries, and neighborhood groups should continue to have low-intensity conversations to figure out where is the common ground and what might a total package of improvements look like that enhances security and creates new connectivity. 

There's got to be a both/and/win/win in there somewhere. Path and security and maintenance. Not just one of the three. Sometimes project creep is bad, but this is an instance where it seems necessary.

Multiple pioneer cemeteries in rowdy college towns here the valley manage somehow to keep path connections open. If we conclude we cannot do so here, then the conclusion must be that Salem is exceptional in the wrong way, that we have exceptionally bad cemetery trolls here. Is this really the proper conclusion? Are Salemites that much worse than people in surrounding communities?

For nearly a decade's worth of posts on this see notes collected here.

Eye of Salem Sauron at the New Police Station

The Public Art Commission has a couple of year-end reports, and they lead with The Eye of Salem Sauron.

At the protest inaugurating the front porch of the new station a week ago, some people sat on it and took pictures, captioning them with scorn for what they understood as fake sentiment and a middlebrow sensibility. 

The Art Commission report and artist statement say the work is about "justice, fairness, and equity."

It's true the protesters were already disposed to be scornful of the expense on our new "police palace." But as protesters against white supremacy, they ought also to be able to recognize any message implied by the art. Any message or symbolism should be immediately legible.

Right at the moment when protesters were invoking the exact values of justice, fairness, and equity, the new art read instead as middlebrow frippery on an already extravagant headquarters for a problematic institution that needs reform.

It utterly failed to meet the moment.

Bare bones agenda only;
no meeting packets or minutes for all of 2020

More generally, the Public Art Commission is too clubby. They do not do a very good job of publishing meeting packets with full materials or with meeting minutes. They do not have a very good public process for selecting artists and commissioning new art. The public only finds out about the new art after the selection process is completed. At the Police Station this meant input on words, but nothing about the design itself. 

This approach might meet the letter of the law for public process, but it does not meet the spirit of public participation. If the Commission would like Salemites to be more connected to our public art, they should involve the public earlier and more often. There is room for difficult or obscure art, but we need more accessible and popular art to balance it.

Pandemic reductions in gas tax revenues

Not on Council agenda, but relevant to note, in last week's City Manager's update there was news about declining gas tax revenues and the impact to transportation planning, especially for crosswalks and sidewalks. This will be something to watch.

1 comment:

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

CANDO has an important footnote on this meeting.

"Council was again asked to approve HOME funding for the DevNW project....It did so by a vote of six (Andersen, Ausec, Bennett, Hoy, Lewis, Nordyke) to one (Nanke -- no reason given), with zero remarks from Mayor Bennett."

This unwinds the sneaky denial of funding from last summer on the German Baptist Church project.