So, I asked my friend Rosie Scenario: I know you just sold your prediction business for a big loss after the last election, but what would you do now about City Hall?
“Well, I wouldn’t move to EWEB,” she says, “even if that siren sounds like a cheap and easy way out for people grown weary and ready to stuff six pounds of wax in their ears.”
“Edifice complex, rock-in-the-pond, ‘Old Town’ and T.S. Eliot.”
“The narrowly focused discussion on the proposed building’s symbolic front face, its supposed Eugenean transparency etc., is just an ‘ediface complex.’ It’s a distraction from not facing and thinking about the more critical role of a new City Hall.”
Which is … ?
“An obsessive focus on this building as an object, however energy efficient, has obscured and overshadowed its central role in uniting urban relations into a City Hall place. PPS, the Partnership for Public Spaces, which I know sounds like a double afterthought, has doubly underscored this point. Our focus should be on trying to create good urban places and not just good things.”
She continues, “The overarching objective should be trying to create a new City Hall placed in a newly consolidated city-county seat.”
Didn’t Skinner designate the North Park Blocks for a county seat? They don’t seem big enough these days, and the Public Service Building covers most of the northeast one.
“Yes, cities have grown since Skinner’s mudhole days, and so have seats. Just look behind and around you. A city-county seat in 21st-century downtown Eugene will now need to cover two city blocks, not just two Park Blocks,” Rosie tells me.
“By rock-in-the-pond, I mean that a City Hall project will have two big impacts — two big and consequential rock-rippling effects. The first is its urban design potential for solving multiple urban design goals in one fell swoop: Park Block and N. Park Street restoration; Farmers and Saturday markets much needed support; ‘butterfly’ parking lot to ‘butterfly heaven’; a return of City Hall to a significant site in its historically significant city center; a whole block site for the new courthouse; and the steel-frame of the old courthouse to remodel for City Hall phase II, when we decide to return to the idea that there are some face-to-face city services that really do need to be centralized again,” Rosie says.
“But,” she says, “the second and even bigger rock, if that’s possible, is economic.”
“Downtown needs this developmental energy to continue its post-recession, hard-won progress. It’s just hard to image downtown losing out on this once-in-50-year opportunity to use the multi-million dollar impact of a two-block, City Hall-County Courthouse governmental seat and Park Block restoration for the development of downtown,” she says.
According to Rosie, “Downtown needs this project in order to remain, progress and shine as ‘downtown.’ The riverfront doesn’t. You really don’t want 2021 visitors asking “How do you get to Old Town?” when they come to Eugene.
And we tend to forget that the river will have its seasons, as T.S. Eliot reminds us:
I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
Is a strong brown god — sullen, untamed and intractable,
Patient to some degree, at first recognized as a frontier;
Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyer of commerce;
Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.
The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in cities — ever, however, implacable,
Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder
Of what men choose to forget.”
So, Rosie says, “Here’s my City Hall scenario: The county get its needed full city block and tears down the ‘butterfly’ lot, moving its parking temporarily to the city’s empty block. The city gets the half block of property under the north end of the ‘butterfly’ along 7th that was not a part of the Skinner donation for their new City Hall.”
Rosie says, “The county retains and restores its N. Park Block and N. Park Street and builds the public square that Skinner wanted to support market and other public ‘county seat’ activities. As a part of the trade, the city acquires the old courthouse for future use.”
And finally, “Since there is no longer any conflict with Skinner’s wishes, there is no longer any legal barrier in the path of my Rosie Scenario.”