[The Whiteaker Revitalized]
By Colette Levesque, Journalism student at the University of Oregon
The windows aren’t huge but they’re big enough that from the night outside the glow illuminates just perfectly so one can see in. It’s a Tuesday and bluegrass is flowing out into the night sky, taking over summer. Car lights slowly cruise by but the ratio of car to bicycle is laughable. Bikes win. The air is fresh, the smell of hops is slight but present, and outside sits a group of middle aged adults drinking local beers. This is Sam Bonds a causal bar, that would appear to be next to Zenon Downtown, but in fact it’s in the Whiteaker.
“The Whiteaker is a great place to hang out”, says local Whitney Price. “It’s up and coming with new bars, deliciously cheap eats, and somewhere there always seems to be live music.”
The Whiteaker, also known as The Whit, is located west of downtown. It is commonly thought of as a neighborhood of the working class, homeless, rentals, and anarchist. But, in the past half decade it has seen a revitalization.
“More and more we are getting local people into The Goat who are becoming not only one drink customers but regulars,” say Kate Stover a barista at The Wandering Goat in the Whiteaker. Stover thinks its because, “people are becoming more and more aware of local businesses and supporting their communities.”
In the Whiteaker there are 6 bars, 7 cafes, 1 hostel, 6 churches, train tracks, a river path, and 4 art galleries plus so much more “I think that the Whiteaker is really coming up and its a cool process to see,” says local Asia Von Sonn. This next year big news in the Whiteaker is the placement of two more local breweries, Oakshire and Hop Valley. Peter Bryner, a employee at the Center For Appropriate Transport in the Whiteaker who is also a regular at the Whiskey Soda Lounge Meiji’s says, “I couldn’t be more excited. I love beer and I love seeing that new places attract more community outlets.”
In addition to having local food joints the Whiteaker is also home to Community Supported Agriculture Farms (CSA) which support local and seasonal foods. CSA’s, which are now big in many communities, were actually started here in Eugene by a man named Jan VanderTuin. Today he still continues to be apart of them and runs one of the major farms, Skinner City. “I enjoy what we do here. We help low income families and really make a difference in the community, VanderTuin said. “This is what The Whiteaker is all about, and what more cities should be conscious of.”
In addition to having to having such influential people and radicals there are also famous local people in the Whiteaker. Major Kitty Piercy has lived in the Whiteaker since the mid seventies. “I think the business district is hoping and a lot of that are people who, like Ninkasi, live in the neighborhood.” But, with every beautiful place comes negative aspects or sad characteristics.
There is a lot of homelessness is the Whiteaker but as Piercy likes to point out, “The city of Eugene has invested in many places in the Whiteaker, along Blair st. for example Sweet Life, Nib, and Mi Tierra trying to make it an appealing place for all not just Whiteaker folk.”
Soon, the Whiteaker will be one of the best areas in town. “Once the breweries all cluster together, I hope I won’t get to drunk by stepping outside my door,” Piercy laughed.
[Q & A]
This is a transcription of an interview with two Whiteaker residents at Scrobert Park. This park to homeless residents is better known as Sober Park and is where the clean exchange of needles happens everyday.
Interviewer: Colette Levesque, Journalism student at the University of Oregon.
Interviewees: Rusty aka The Savage & Jennifer. [both preferred not to share their last names]
Colette (C): What are your names?
Rusty (R): I go by Rusty, also known as The Savage of On Demand Barbecue. I help feed the homeless and and with this also raise money for the homeless.
Jennifer (J): My name is Jennifer and I am actually one of the homeless in the Whiteaker area. And, I have probably lived on most of the nicer square blocks of the whole neighborhood, haha.
C: How long have you been homeless in the Whiteaker for?
J: I have been homeless for about 4 years.
C: What were you doing before that?
J: I was a house wife. I was a mother.
C: Were you in Eugene?
C: Same question for you Rusty, what were you doing before opening a bike barbecue?
R: I was homeless, I had family issues, I couldn’t take it and I came out here, trying to find myself, and now I am looking for a job. I have a place right now but I am just trying to get by and raise money for the homeless.
C: Where are you from originally?
R: I was born and raised here, then I moved to Springfield and that nearly killed me, tore me up, Springfield is not okay.
C: For my project I am discussing the revitalization of the Whitaker and talking about how it used to be a place for all types of people, all walks of life, how do you feel about the way that the Whitaker is coming up?
J: Well, these big names like Ninkasi and Oakshire are commercializing it and they are bringing more money into it. The money will come in, but the community here is still the Whit. People from the outside come in but they always go back out. So, it does provide money and more resources for the neighborhood but the Whit will be the same, it has been the same up until now. I don’t think it will change.
R: There are always upsides and downsides to every neighborhood and the influences that come in and out. I think of the Whit as place of change and acceptance so yeah, I think it can grow but its roots will stay the same.
C: How do you guys feel about the reputation that The Whit has?
J: I like it. It attracts interesting and understanding people. I have lived on these streets now for four years and I have come to know the owners of stores and there is a mutual understanding. The only thing I really don’t like is, the reputation that some homeless people get down here.
C: And, what is that?
J: Well, a lot of people lump all homeless people together but I am clean, I don’t leave a mess everywhere and to have my stuff, which by the way is folded neatly, stashed in secret areas get thrown out. It kills me. Thats all I have. All of the photos of my family and children were in there.
C: How many children do you have?
J: I have two boys and a girl. The eldest is in jail so I don’t get to see him. The middle boy is 20 and in school with a baby on the way, and then my daughter who is 13. She and my ex-husband come down here and serve food every saturday.
C: Rusty, how do you feel about The Whit’s reputation?
R: I think that it gets a bad rap. It’s because of what it used to be. It’s still messy and not everywhere in The Whiteaker is nice but to assume that the Whiteaker is only Sam Bonds, the whiskey lounge, Ninkasi, and Tiny Tavern then you haven’t spent that much time down here.
C: Being on the streets, having seen the past, present, can you talk about the future. As a person of the streets where do you see The Whiteaker headed?
J: All I really care about is that somehow it stays the same for homeless people or I won’t have a place to sleep at night.
R: Yeah, same. I hope it stays relatively cheap, keep out those yuppies! and save the grunge for us haha
C: I would just like to thank you guys for letting me speak with you. It’s not every day that I make it down to this area but I really like it and meeting people like you makes it seem even better.
Four years ago, at 17 years young, Asia Von Sonn took a leap of faith. She packed up all of her belongings, said goodbye to everything that she knew, the island of Maui and traveled 3,000 miles to end up in Eugene, Oregon. She knew nothing about Eugene, where she was going to live, what neighborhood and if she could even make any friends.
At first glance one would assume that Man, this girl has it all figured out. “It wasn’t always that way,” Von Sonn laughed while sitting at her place of employment, Laughing Planet, “It took making good friends, finding a sense of community, and lots of growth to get where I am now.”
On June 18th 2012 Von Sonn will commence what she has worked so hard for and graduate from the University of Oregon with honors in the Planning Public Policy and Management Department with an emphasis in environmental planning. “I am sad at the end of the summer to leave here, Eugene, mainly the Whiteaker, it has been such a great place,” Von Sonn said, “The Whiteaker gave me a home and a job.”
Von Sonn has been in and out of The Whiteaker as a resident, a neighbor, and a place to hold employment. “In my time here I have really seen this place [The Whiteaker] grow and every year it keeps getting better and better.”
Von Sonn has worked all four years in Eugene at 30-40 hours a week in addition to attending school full time for three years and one year part time to gain residency. Currently, she works at Laughing Planet. “I really enjoy working at Laughing Planet, the people here are fun and there’s always new faces coming in. I get to meet people from the community and then when I am out and about it’s nice to see familiar faces.”
This summer Von Sonn will keep her employment at Laughing Planet. “The easiness of the this city is what I love about Eugene, I don’t think there are that many other cities this small with so much going on and so much culture.”
Von Sonn enjoys the dynamic of The Whiteaker, “there is always new art places, always new ideas coming in, and to see this growth is outstanding.” A coworker, Tanner Johnson, who is also a resident of the Whiteaker chimed in, “I like where the Whiteaker is headed, it’s adding new and improved places all of the time.”
Coming to the Whiteaker in the next year will be two new already local brew houses, Oakshire and Hop Valley. “I think that the change, the influx of money can only improve the Whiteaker,” Johnson said. But, on the other hand Von Sonn comes back, with her Planning Public Policy and Management knowledge, “It’s a nice thing, change and it’s a great idea to hear about but with all changes comes positive and negative reactions.”
Von Sonn believes that the growth of the Whiteaker is a good thing but at whose expense? What will happen to the homeless? Will there always be a place for them? Or are the revitalizations to the Whiteaker only things that people with money and class can react to?
Von Sonn said she doesn’t have all the answers and that would be ridiculous to assume, but “I believe that all places eventually change. Look at San Francisco, Brooklyn, Chicago, everything is ever-changing.”
This summer Von Sonn will stay at Laughing Planet and attend all the things Eugene has to offer from the Country Fair to the Whiteaker Block Party. “The Block Party is the thing I am most excited for, I have missed it the last four years and I continually think to myself I have to make one before I go.”
Johnson, who is also graduating and moving to New York hopes that one day when he makes it back to The Whiteaker that it, “will bring found memories back, I really grew here, and I think Asia did too.”