When we were divvying out neighborhoods at the beginning of this class, I immediately knew I wanted downtown. Downtown… the epicenter of Eugene (at least from my point of view). Downtown… where some of Eugene’s most excellent restaurants, bars, coffee shops and art galleries call home. Downtown has upscale areas, like the Downtown Athletic Club (members only) and places like the Eugene transit station, where anyone is welcome (literally).
So, what’s wrong with downtown, if anything? I’ve been thinking about the kinds of problems downtown Eugene has. I’ve talked with people who hang out at Eugene Station who say there is a drug problem. I’ve talked to a bus station security guard who says the kids who hang out at the station are the problem. But what else?
I walk through downtown Eugene daily. Everyday I walk by the downtown Public Library and recently I’ve noticed something that could be improved: the downtown pits. There are several pits, but the one I see everyday I directly across from the library. The pit spans almost an entire block and has a fence around it. At the bottom of the pit is about a foot of murky, standing water with malt liquor cans, super size soda cups, deteriorating trash and empty bottles of cheap vodka floating around. A few weeks ago I even noticed a shiny red walker at the bottom of the pit (Yes! A walker, like for people who can’t walk! Now that’s just cruel…).
In a recent email, Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy also said that getting rid of these pits is one of the major challenges with downtown Eugene development.
So what could possibly fill the pits (besides people’s walkers) that would make downtown Eugene more attractive? I have been considering what could be done so I did a little research into the problem.
I came across an excellent and thought-provoking article in this week’s Eugene Weekly (it’s the cover story) by Alan Pittman called “Flower Power: Can guerrilla gardening save downtown?”. Pittman writes about the seemingly endless cycle of developers planning to fill the downtown pits with a building and then pulling out because of financial issues. Some of the pits have been vacant for decades.
Pittman proposes a brilliant idea: urban gardens. Pittman says that instead of paying a landscape/garden company to pick up all the leaves around downtown and take them out of the city, the leaves could simply be deposited into the pits and made into compost. I think this is a great idea, but Pittman writes that the likelihood of this happening is slim because of the Eugene bureaucrats who would probably rather fill the pits with (supposedly) moneymaking businesses.
So, is there anyway to get around this? Maybe… Pittman writes about something called “guerrilla gardening.” Guerrilla gardening is when citizens of a city who are tired of looking at ugly lots or empty pits go to the location without permission from the city and plant a garden themselves.
Whether the pits of downtown are planted using guerilla techniques or not, I think filling the lots with urban gardens is a great idea. The gardens could be used by schools to teach people about growing food and then the food could be donated to Food For Lane County (drawing from Megan’s post about the GrassRoots Garden).
A garden would be cheap to create, would constantly yield food, could be used for educational purposes and would simply make downtown Eugene greener and aesthetically pleasing.
Ugly downtown Eugene pit across from the library. Photo from kmtr.com.
An example of guerrilla gardening in Tokyo, Japan. Photo from cubeme.com.