The Death and Life of Great American Cities should be required reading for every city councilor and city planner in the Community Development Department. Written in 1961 by Jane Jacobs, it is a touchstone for planners who believe in preserving public space. An architecture writer, Jacob had no formal training—and did not hold a college degree—but she helped return cities back toward shared, public spaces. During the '50s and '60s, highway development and car culture were the driving (no pun intended) force for city planning. In particular, in New York City, Robert Moses was creating a network of freeways and the modern concept of suburbs. Most important to our story, his master plan included driving a freeway through the heart of Greenwich Village, specifically, through Washington Park.
And, if it weren't for Jacobs, who helped rally community opposition, the proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway would have decimated Greenwich Village—and, in the process, would have destroyed one of America's greatest neighborhoods, not to mention set the tone that individual comfort should triumph over shared public spaces.
This David versus Goliath victory is a salient history lesson for Bend, which is currently at a crossroads for city planning. No, Bend is not New York City, and the turf war may be much smaller—yet the pending construction of high-end condos at Troy Field holds important consequences for the future of downtown Bend.
In June, the 0.8-acre plot of land, owned by the Bend–La Pine School District, was sold for $1.9 million to an out-of-area development company, which immediately boasted about its plans to build high-end condos. Those condos will reside at the exact opposite end of the spectrum from the space's current use—a practice field for local soccer and field hockey teams, a picnic spot, and a dog park.
We certainly are not anti-development. When Bill Smith purchased the fallow property south of town and created the Old Mill District, along with its adjacent music venue, he helped create a public space that has defined much about what is currently great about Bend. It is home to free outdoor summer events like Pickin' & Paddlin', an event that last month raised some $10,000 for the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance, as well as Les Schwab Amphitheater, one of the most important cultural venues in town—and that draws in millions in tourism revenue and is just plain fun, with back-to-back nights of Phish concerts and Pink Martini this weekend, and on-going free concerts on Sunday afternoons.
Troy Field will not be that: It will be an exclusive housing complex.
The City of Bend did make an effort to purchase the plot of land, and had discussed plans to preserve the public intent of the space. But the Bend-La Pine School District rejected that offer in favor of a higher bid from the private developer. Sadly, that sale has come and gone. But what hasn't gone is the opportunity to preserve Troy Field.
For the developer to move forward with its plans, the City will need to waive the current Public Facility Designation, a zoning restriction. Yes, the potential to change the future rests with city planners—and, more importantly, with residents to voice their desires that downtown Bend not become an exclusive enclave, but remain a public, shared space.
So far, however, City Council reportedly has only received a handful of requests to maintain the public facility designation—and derail the development. It is frustrating to watch the biggest fight over land use to focus on a losing battle, with the Truth-in-Site group filing its fourth appeal to stop construction of the Oregon State campus on the westside. That energy—and those funds—seem so much better spent on preserving the common good.