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Olmsted Scholar Feature: Connecting Eugene - Downtown | Campus | Waterfront

by Christo Brehm, 2010 Olmsted Scholar

During the spring of 2009, about eight months before I was selected as the 2010 Olmsted Scholar at the University of Oregon, I became involved in a significant land use debate affecting valuable University-owned property on the banks of the Willamette River. I am writing this blog posting to give readers an update about that work.

First, the essential background information: In April 2009, a planning and design studio led by professors Ron Lovinger and Thomas Oles at the University of Oregon developed a compelling master plan to connect the University campus to downtown Eugene by way of the Willamette River waterfront. During the studio, we became aware of a University project to enter into a long term ground lease with a private developer to construct a 200-car surface parking lot and generic office building along the banks of the river, precisely at the nexus of that connection between the campus and downtown. The 4.3 acre construction site is part of a larger 67-acre area of riverfront property called the Riverfront Research Park. The research park, as crafted in the mid 1980s, was intended to be a thriving suburban-style office park but has been largely unsuccessful. Only a fraction of the land was ever developed.

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A team of faculty, students, and community partners (now known as Connecting Eugene) responded by organizing and facilitating a series of stakeholder meetings. Connecting Eugene also initiated public dialogue by appealing a conditional use permit timeline extension with the City of Eugene. We then helped to mobilize the University senate and student government to pass a series of formal resolutions calling for responsible development on the University-owned riverfront property. Even in the face of formal resolutions from its Senate, several academic departments, and hundreds of students, the University administration feels bound to bring the proposed project to completion without updating the outdated 1989 master plan.

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Earlier this month, the University of Oregon student government awarded our group, Connecting Eugene, $56,000 to support a new master planning process for the university owned riverfront property.  We will be collaborating with the American Society of Landscape Architects UO student chapter beginning with a design charrette in April 2011 at the annual HOPES conference in Eugene (Holistic Options for Planet Earth Sustainability). Based on the work that comes out of that largely student focused charrette, we will organize a larger scale public charrette during the coming summer months with the assistance of supporting faculty and practicing professionals.  

We are looking for guest speakers and experts whom we can bring to the Oregon campus from across the country to share new ways of understanding our riverfront property, to give public lectures on riverfront development, and to help inform appropriate design options for this valuable riverfront property.

Christo Brehm has completed coursework for the Master of Landscape Architecture program at the University of Oregon, and is now in the final phase of his masters thesis. He is assisting with teaching and research in his department and seeking opportunities to gain professional practice experience. 

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