Community must create livable neighborhoods _ opinion _ eugene, oregon

In his March 16 guest viewpoint, “High-density redevelopment won’t help Eugene,” Brian Wanty is right in saying that Envision Eugene and the South Willamette Special Area Zone will affect livability, equity and sustainability throughout Eugene for decades to come — but he is wrong about how. Pretending that we can increase housing affordability, reduce our impact on the climate and enhance our neighborhoods without planning for growth presents a much greater risk to Eugene.

Eugene’s population has grown every year since 1880. In the 20 years between 1993 and 2013, just under 40,000 new residents made their home in Eugene. State law requires Eugene to plan for an increase in population of 34,000 people over the next 20 years.

Barring building a wall around the city to prevent the arrival of new residents or making Eugene such an unappealing place to live that no one wants to move here, the question isn’t how do we stop this growth. Instead, our task is to plan for this growth in a way that preserves and enhances livability, equity and sustainability.

Eugene does have an affordable housing problem. Nearly two thirds of our residents spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. But failing to build enough housing won’t make that better; it will make it worse.

San Francisco tried the “no-development” option, and it failed miserably — the city is now known for astronomical housing prices and sprawling commutes as people struggle to find housing they can afford.

Housing follows the law of supply and demand. Building enough housing in the places that people want to live and in forms that meet their needs will help ensure that prices remain reasonable. If we don’t ensure that we have enough homes for households of all types, working class families will lose out in the bidding war for a limited supply of housing.

Eugene’s Climate Recovery Ordinance requires a 50 percent reduction in communitywide fossil fuel use over the next 15 years. Roughly half of our greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation uses. All residents — both current and new — will need more sustainable options to get around town. Centering new development along key transit corridors and building walkable, 20-minute neighborhoods ensures that residents have the option to walk, bike or take transit for their daily transportation needs, and reduces the impact of car-travel-related greenhouse gas emissions.

Construction based on outdated codes that assumed that everyone traveled by car can produce poor quality development. The explosion of quickly constructed student housing, such as Capstone, is an example of development that doesn’t enhance our livability as a community. We must also preserve the farmland and natural areas that surround our city in accordance with statewide planning goals, and so building out isn’t a viable solution.

But Capstone or sprawl aren’t our only two choices. Livable neighborhoods come in many different forms. There is increasing demand for urban housing, including both multifamily rental units and owner-occupied housing in a smaller, more compact form — rowhouses, cottages and condos. More and more people are saying that what livability means to them is the ability to live in a space that is just big enough for their household and allows them to get to shops, jobs, schools and entertainment without driving.

Eugene has a shortage of these kinds of livable neighborhoods. We need to encourage the development of housing options that fall in the middle between a high-rise apartment and a single-family home, particularly near commercial centers and transit routes, using carefully crafted code to ensure that the design of those buildings enhances our community and neighborhoods.

Eugene is at a crossroads. We can refuse to plan for how our community will grow and develop, and reject the ideas that have been proposed about how to meet our future needs. We can pretend that if we don’t build it, they won’t come. And then we can watch as they come anyway — housing prices go through the roof and what new development happens is of poor quality and design, located far from transit and destinations resulting in increased traffic and pollution.

Or we can come together, as a community, to build upon the work that has been done in the Envision Eugene and South Willamette processes, to determine how we are going to meet the challenges of the future in a way that increases livability, sustainability and equality.

The writers are members of WE CAN, the Walkable Eugene Citizen Advisory Network (www. wecaneugene. org), a group working for increased access to walkable, 20-minute neighborhoods in Eugene.

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