Residents, workers, and roamers of downtown Eugene agree on one thing: it’s a great place to live or work but it needs improvement. The neighborhood, which is known for its vacant lots and flagging businesses, has long been thought to be a place where commerce goes to die. The people who inhabit the area have been thought to be transients, drug addicts, or criminals. However, the people who make up the downtown population don’t see only bad.
Lily Leach, a junior at the University, has been working downtown for two years. The Voodoo veteran has seen all sorts of people come in for a treat and all sorts of business leave the area. “We’re supposed to be a commercial area, but you see a lot of vacant lots,” she says, “I just think a lot of could be done.” Leach doesn’t discount the unique culture of downtown which contributes to the experience. “We see all kinds of people here.” She insists that despite its high transient population, she generally feels safe. “Sometimes weird things happen at night but that’s part of any city. We respect anyone who walks in here, regardless of appearance.”
Lauren Eilers, a mother of two and a Eugene resident for the past eight years, feels the same way. “During the day, it’s pretty clean and busy and family friendly,” she says talking about how her children like walking around the library and Skinner Butte Park. She says that when she was working as a pre-school teacher on fifth avenue, she saw some crime, particularly one episode of gang violence. But, she says, that it has been better and that she loves taking her children to the area. As for the economy of downtown, Eilers laughs, saying, “The roads are really crappy but hey, we don’t pay taxes either.”
Coming from a Springfield perspective, Robert Aiken sees Eugene as one of the best and worst cities in America. “The best part of Eugene is its diversity, its unique culture,” he says, “We’re a melting pot.” Seeing all kinds of people walking downtown, he admits the diversity can be irritating sometimes. But the turnoffs of the neighborhood don’t keep him away. Aiken enjoys spending time with friends at local bars, parks, and shops. He doesn’t let the supposed criminal reputation the people of downtown have sway him from spending time there. A resident of Oregon for over forty years, Aiken sees Eugene as one of the most unique cities in the country. “I think there’s a wide spectrum of people here. It’s a big plus.”