I am a Bend resident, and I support limiting events downtown and in Drake Park.
When I first moved to Bend five years ago, I was drawn by the blend of both the excitement of city life, including excellent restaurants, concerts, shopping and city parks, with a more relaxed pace emphasizing the outdoors, a slowing down to smell the roses philosophy, and a “Be nice, you’re in Bend” attitude. I loved that residents and visitors alike could visit almost any park, trail, restaurant or venue with minimum of planning, and without concern for fighting traffic, parking challenges or crowds. I still love that an outing to the grocery or hardware store, usually includes running into somebody that I know, and who is genuinely happy to see me. I enjoy meeting and mixing with out of towners, bringing news of their world and their great appreciation of our little corner of the world.
But, in the last few years, I have noticed that this ease of living has slowly, steadily, deteriorated, and it is a shame. The boom in growth combined with a significant rise in the number of visitors, has already resulted in congestion-related challenges that cities such as Portland and Santa Cruz face. One of the things that I have most admired about Bend, was it’s proactive style of city planning, with an emphasis on balancing development and the needs of an increasing population, with the wishes of its many residents, to maintain the quality of life that comes from managed growth.
I used to laugh at the “Bend Sucks, Don’t Move Here” bumper stickers. (I came from a place where the bumper stickers promoted keeping the town weird). I used to shake my head at disbelief when long time locals complained about the 5-10 minute back up at Reed Market. (Try 45 minutes to go 4-miles any time of day, which was the case in my previous town).
I even used to joke that, having arrived in this special oasis of a place, we should now build a wall between Oregon and California, and make California pay for it ... (A sarcastic nod toward the notion that we could limit those who choose this place for many of the same reasons that my husband and I did) Well, it is not so funny anymore, as I make conscious decisions to avoid downtown during the summer because of the crowds and congestion, to pass on one of my favorite restaurants because suddenly it has become impossible to get a table, and even to skip a hike on one of my beloved trails due to overcrowding and the resulting trail deterioration.
I realize that Bend cannot control growth entirely. Nor, do I think that should that be our goal. No matter what we do, people will find this special place and want to visit and move here. But, Bend can recommit to the principles of smart growth that have been the foundation of this town — hearing all voices (even the quieter ones) and seeking sound compromises. Compromises that ensure both the viability and the livability of this town, will surely be painful. That is why they are called “Growing Pains.” But the only way to successfully move forward, is to be inclusive of all stakeholders, and to balance the wishes and needs of the community, with the acceptance that things will inevitably change, and growth will happen. One of the guiding principles of achieving this delicate balance, is to become comfortable as a community, with setting new limits, even when they represent a change from how things have previously been done, and even at the cost of financial gain for some.
In order to avoid the mistakes of other cities that have faced similar issues, this principal will need to be applied consistently as Bend continues to face growth related challenges. Supporting limiting events downtown and in Drake Park may be just the place to start.