Bend's best future


Published Oct 27, 2013 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

Of all the words I hoped I had heard the last of, at the top of the list were West Side Consortium and charrette.

You recent arrivals could not imagine the emotion that surrounded those terms and others, like the southern crossing where Bill Healy Bridge now spans the Deschutes River.

They were fighting words 10 years ago, as Bulletin reporter Sheila Miller described in a recent story on page A1.

On the surface, the issue was pretty simple to define.

Bend was in a huge growth spurt, and the west side of the city was under particularly acute pressure.

The city administration was whispering the word “moratorium” if solutions couldn’t be found to the traffic increases brought by the rapid growth, especially on the west side of the Deschutes River.

Getting the growing numbers of cars back and forth across town was the challenge, and the chief obstacles were the overtaxed, existing bridges and the major intersections.

The city and businesses, including The Bulletin, all of which understood that they were the traffic generators, supported the creation of the now-ubiquitous roundabouts as well as the construction of the bridge.

There you have the makings of what the let’s-freeze-Bend-in-time-and-place crowd loosely described as a greedy and wrong-headed consortium.

On the other side of the issue, truth be told, many saw their opponents as hopelessly naïve and in denial about the realities of contemporary life.

In any case, the real issue was — still is — something very different.

At its heart, what was in question was, and remains, the definition of Bend.

John Schubert, former city councilor, and opponent of the bridge, told Miller, “To me what we got is a much larger city, with a few new amenities but an overall decline in our quality of life, and a financial collapse that caused considerable harm to most people in Bend ...”

“As many of us predicted ... were left facing huge infrastructure and staffing costs that we would not face if we had managed to agree to grow more gradually ... ,” he said.

Leaving aside Schubert’s claim of envisioning a worldwide mortgage security collapse five years before it occurred, there is in his assertion the essential element of the debate.

Many have labeled the tension as growth versus nongrowth, and in some ways that’s correct, but focusing on it leaves you in maddeningly circular arguments of good versus bad over the inevitable.

Looking beyond the bridge, which is a symbol, albeit a significant one, of a much larger discussion, the heart of the matter centers on the word amenities.

To Schubert and the minority of citizens who sincerely agreed with him, few amenities could come from Bend’s continued growth.

They see more cars, more people, clogged roads, skimpy bike lanes, insufficient public transit, over-taxed and failing infrastructure.

The irony is that all of these, in small or large part, are true of every dynamic city where the old is being challenged by the new. It is equally true that the new almost always prevails.

If you want more higher education, expanded health care, new shopping and dining options, more tech jobs, a better airport, more tourists and an expanded tax base to help build schools, libraries and parks, you had better be prepared for disruption.

If you don’t want the disruption, be prepared for stagnation, and in case you’re confused, that can be just as expensive.

— John Costa is the editor-in-chief of The Bulletin. 541-383-0337,costa@bendbulletin.com