River Road Transit, Southbound
This chapter good to read, august 7
italics is Naj talking
bold is Naj narrating or thinking
regular font is others speaking
Today, the Newbies meet for our first Apprentice Connections field trip. The Apprentice Connections Program, ACP, is part of growing up in Eugene. Other towns in Cascadia have similar programs. The overall idea is for young people to gain a broad awareness of the social and economic life of the community. Participants, usually 16 and 17 years old, are often referred to, affectionately, as Newbies. They are becoming full partners in community life.
The Newbies visit various parts of town to see what their fellows are doing in their apprenticeships. Just as important is to forge life long friendships. Just as important, these youngsters gain a first hand acquaintance with what it takes to make our community of 25,000 function.
Today's destination is City Hall. Even after the Transition and its profound changes, City Hall remains the center of community administration and organization. It is where the many programs and services that help Eugene function are coordinated.
I had an errand at the hardware store in "downtown" River Road and would meet Misty for the horse trolley ride to downtown Eugene. The hardware store was mostly salvage. You could still find the old bubble packs of screw hooks or drill bits but most of the items were salvage and reconditioned. Considering how much hardware the average house had BT and the fact the mortality rate was so high, that meant a lot of empty houses and tons of salvaged hardware, tools and materials.
Early in the Transition, there was a good deal of looting and violence as people fought over stuff. When it became apparant so many people died people realized there was a ton of unowned stuff. The violence came to a quit stop. There was no need to fight over stuff.
The big box stores had a similar story as the looting. As social disorder deepened leading up to the Transition, some people bought as much product at the big boxes as they could. Some might call it hoarding. Some groups pooled several thousands of dollars for a combined purchase before the stores closed. Priority items were screws, nails, gloves. saws, wire, non electric hand tools of all kinds, blades, clamps, duct tape, buckets, pvc pipe, heavy duty caulk, tarps, long lasting plastic roofing sheets and more. Some has been used, some is traded, some is in storage.
As it turned out, most of those items became free for the taking. What happened to the big boxes? That is an interesting story for another time.
Looking around River Road and Hilliard Street, to say downtown, seems a bit generous. There is a clinic with a full time MD and nurse. There is a consignment store, two cafes and bike repair. The consignment location had items for sale one would expect at a large garage sale BT.
The most important economic and social unit in Eugene is the residential co-op. With 50 to 75 people, thats large enough in scale with enough skills to take care of many basic and intermediate needs people might have needed to go to the store BT. Especially when co-ops near each other might coordinate with each other on any needs or issues they cared to.
Each co-op, for example, has at least four people with basic medical training. Co-ops often make their own clothes. Some make tools. But by far, the most important change between BT and the Recovery is that people simply do not want so much stuff, particularly if its not practical.
A useful metaphor might be working in an ice cream shop. For the first few days, the the new ice cream server has all the ice cream they want. At a point, after having as much as they can eat, and experiencing the physical upset of excess, that person becomes tired of all the ice cream and just doesn't want it anymore.
For several generations of middle class people in America, like us Baby Boomers, life was like living in the ice cream store. After the Transition, people gained a new perspective on stuff and most of them said, “I don't want to do that again.”
If a typical Cascadian did a time travel to shopping mall, BT, that person would likely have found the experience oppressive. Peoples' material lives are much simpler in Cascadia. Their inner, social and civic lives much more rewarding.
So I waited at the trolley stop in the shade for only a few minutes.
Just in view, across the street - forty years earlier I had painted a mural here at Hilliard Street and River Road. It was a huge painting of my ideal future- permaculture landscape, small businesses, people meeting and greeting. The mural also included a trolley. The painting had become a sort of neighborhood icon, something of an artwork that foresaw the future. Every 8 or 10 years it was touched up and we had a good look as we passed by.
And here comes Misty.
Hello Elder Naj! So nice to see you! I am really excited to take our trolley ride, meet my fellow newbies and talk with you.
“So nice to see you Misty. I could say all the same. I have been looking forward to our little adventure downtown.”
Within a few minutes, we heard the distant clip clop a half a block away of the horse trolley. It grew louder and soon came to a stop in front of us. the horse had a chance to drink and take a short rest.
The trolley was a modified school bus. The motor and all the heavy parts removed. We climbed the several steps into the coach and found an empty seat good for two people.
“What have been doing today, Misty?”
“Just setteling in. I did some arranging in my room. I talked with Sue and Fred for a bit. I am interested in just about everything. Sue told me about her insulated drape business. Fred was checking on some recently made kim chi and then heading off to salvage a metal roof several blocks away.”
“Your place has a nice feel to it Elder Naj. Simple, Open. That must have been strange, BT, when your place was looking a lot like it looks now but all the other properties still had lots of grass and fences. You were living in the future.”
“Hmm. Thats a very astute comment, Misty. You know, I had exactly those thoughts many times. I really did consider the place, and my life style to be sometthing of a preview.
Always something to do.
We were at cruising speed, maybe the or twelve miles per hour. River Road, the street, is pretty quiet now. There are lots of bikes, many with trailers. Some bikes have multiple persons pedaling for pulling larger cargo. Now and then, one might see an electric vehicle. They were jazzed up golf carts. On the rare occasion, one might see a methane powered ambulance.
Lucky for Eugene, there had been a strong bike culture for generations. Bike shops, bike lanes, bike bridges and places to bike away from cars. Still, even with all the great bike stuff, BT, northern Europe had far far more impresive bike infrastructure and riders.
We were just passing Rasor Park. This young six acre oak savanna was threatened forty years ago with construction of a huge indoor soccer center and multi acre parking lot. Locals in the neighborhood did not want to see that happen.
Several people in the neighborhood lead the charge when planning meetings to decide what to do with the city property where an overwhelmingly number of people were in favor of leaving the park the way it was. To do nothing. Now the park is looking like it must have before the Europeans arrived, back in 1840. That was 200 years ago.
“Elder Jan. Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure Misty. I like questions.”
“I've been thinking and its just occurred to me. You know, for income, my co-op in south Eugene was heavy into salvage. Our co-op business was salvage. We went up into the hills and took down dozens of very fancy houses to reuse the glass, wood, hardware, furniture.
And here we are in an old school bus adapted fur use as a horse trolley. Back at the house, Sue making insulated drapes out of salvaged material. Jim off to salvage a metal roof.”
Recall all the newbies last week telling us about what they are doing. Its almost all about re using the shopping mall, downtown buildings, various equiptment, old church, on and on.
“My thought, we are a society that occupies the remains of a previous civilization. We don't really produce anything. Even new tools are made from recycled metal, the new tools aren't so new.”
“What's the future for what we are doing? How long can we live in the leftovers of an earlier society?”
“Hmmm. Again, Misty. You are visiting a conceptual place where others have also been.”
You know, the Elder Council has talked about this on numerous occasions. They don't let me vote anymore because they think I won't live long enough to suffer the consequences of my advice. That was ten years ago.
So here are some thoughts.
You have a good idea of our history. Many people you know lived on both sides of the early 20's.
We live in a changing world. Its always changing. Nothing lasts forever.
We made a stop to pick up several people across the street from another one of River Road's former gas stations. There were fifteen between the railroad tracks and Santa Clara in the mid 1950's. By 2000, there were none, even though there were far more cars and traffic. People bought gas somewhere else. By 2030, there were no gas stations and this time, no cars either.
“Many of us had a front row seat to witness the not so glamorous end to the most ostentatious and destructive period of human history. All of us from BT knew a lot of people who died. Our climate is changing. We saw species go extinct.”
“Now you see Bald Eagles, otters, some beaver, salmon in the River. You did not see so much of that thirty years ago. We don't have newspapers, or internet, full of stories from nearby and all over the world describing the worst of human behavior.”
“Many of us have those memories fresh in our minds, even though we are 15 years into Recovery. People your age did not have the experience of living in the most affluent country the world had ever seen lived on credit and then to see how that affluence ended up paying its bills.”
“We are trying to find the sweet spot, Misty. You probably don't know what tennis is.”
“Yes, I have seen some fotos in an old magazine. There's even a group in town that plays. I have seen them.”
“Really? Tennis, still? Ok. So you have seen the racket you whack the ball with. There is a special, almost mythical part of the racket in the middle of the frame where the strings impacting the ball produces the best results. Its the small area where the ball responds with speed, accuracy and the best chance to win the point.”
“That spot is the sweet spot. I used to play tennis, I know what that spot feels like. Its smooth, without vibration, it feels good and you know it the instant you made contact with the ball. It didn't happen often enough for me.”
“In regard to Cascadia, we want to find the cultural and economic sweet spot. Its the best place to meet our aspirations. Its the place when culture and economy have the best possible interaction to produce the best outcomes we are looking for, both the present and the future.”
Could that sweet spot be a myth, Elder Naj?
We were just crossing the railroad tracks into Whiteaker and about to pick up some more passengers out front of the Red Barn. Then a couple more stops and we are downtown.
“A myth? That's a fair question, Misty. I don't think the sweet spot is a myth at all. I am certain we can learn from historical experience. Large aspects of the world, the economy and culture I spent most of my life in doesn't exist anymore. Its dramatic end didn't happen for no reason.”
“It did come to an end. No one can deny what happened. As it happened, and even still, some might not completely agree on the causes but, there is a very high level of agreement.”
“So we have both an historical event and we also have a high level of agreement about the causes. Importantly, we have a high level of agreement on what to do about it. A large percentage of Cascadians agree on the causes and that we want to find the sweet spot – the optimal place where we can design the relationship between values, culture and economy for best results.”
“Elder Naj, what about the people who have a different idea of sweet spot?”
“Another deep question, Misty. You are right. Not everyone has the same ide of the causes of the Transition or what the preferred sweet spot looks like.”
As well as we could in the time during the Transition and into the Recovery, we had discussions with groups that disagreed. They were a very small minority and some of them disgreed with each other. They were all, maybe 3 or 4 different groups were offered a part of Cascadia where they could essentially, design their own sweet spot. This seemed to be the best solution.”
“I didn't know that. So what became of them? How long ago was that and how long since regular Cascadia people have had contact? Can those people come to Cascadia? Where are they? What were the disagreements?”
Great questions. I don't have all the answers. There certainly were agreements made in how they might or might not interact with Cascadia and each other. I don't know all the details. I know the differences were more social and spiritual. One group's disagreement had to do with technology.
“Again, I don't know the details but every now and then, there is a meeting with these groups to update and maintain friendly relations. I do think people from these settlements can visit in Cascadia, its more difficult for Cascadians to visit them.”
“Its all about sweet spots.”
Closer to downtown, the horse trolley slowed. There were more people and bikes but it wasn't crowded. Downtown featured lots of green. Many of the buildings had balconies full of container gardens. Former parking lots were all gardens, mostly raised bed. There was a lot more space for bike parking.
Eugene's five trolley lines all ended downtown at the former city bus station with the library and the community college across the street. There was a large indoor theater nearby and Eugene's half dozen or so buildings seven or eight stories high.
“Thats amazing Elder Naj. I want to know more about these places. And I want to talk more about sweet spots – what do you mean culture, values and economy? Especially in regard to Cascadia?”
“And we are just about to arrive at the station. Ok, Misty. We can continue the conversation. I am glad you are interested in all this.”
“Oh, I am interested Elder Naj. I am so curious I ask questions in my dreams.”
The horse trolley came to stop and we all stepped off. We threaded our way through the bus station crowd and had several bocks to walk to city hall.
“Makes me think of Manhattan. I havn't been downtown in a couple months. Quite the adventure. Do you come downtown much Misty?”
“I used to sneek downtown when I was ten. I'd tell my parents something. I'd go downtown.”
“Did they ever find out?”
“Yes they did. They grounded me for a couple weeks. Then after that, they let me go whenever I wanted as long as I told them and went with someone. And I did tell them and always went with someone. At 16, it was ok to go on my own”
“Now, I pass through, usually on my bike or take the trolley out along Nozama Creek. It goes within blocks of where I used to live. I used to come downtown with my friends from south Eugene. You know there are lots of concerts and art shows. Outside in the summer, inside in the winter. Always something going on. Lots of talks and lectures at the Community College. I liked going to the University, too.”
“And that mention at the Windmill meeting last week, I have been to the coast, Roseburg, Portland, the East Side. It was all travel with others. I just like exploring, I've always been this way.””
“That's good to hear about you, Misty. You are an explorer of places and ideas. Those experiences help make you who you are. That has to all add up to make your life more full and to help you become a wise and positive person.”
“Thanks Elder Jan. I appreciate your saying that. I think about how I want to be as a person. I felt it was important for me to come live at Windmill. Its related to what you say. Somehow, I feel like there is a purpose for all this. I need to find my place in it.”
“Hmm. The meaning of life. If we are not curious and creative, taking a few risks, have positive intentions to help make it all better, what else is there to do in life then make best use of our opportunities to raise the vibe?”
"There it is. City Hall."
So modest downtown River Road is a good example of how Eugene is reorganizing itself so that important community services are more accessible.
Mobility was the mantra BT, make it easy to travel to where you needed to go. That meant urban areas were designed for cars. Life is Cascadia is designed for accessibility, not mobility.
Each area of town that counts ten to fifteen co-ops, thats about a thousand people, has a clinic with what would be called a nurse practioner. So at Hilliard and River Road, there's a clinic, the hardware store and a consignment store. River Road and Hilliard is the largest service center in River Road so there's also a bike store, a lumber yard a community center, a couple restaurants, machine repair.
Its a bustling place. Much of the car parking areas are depaved and replaced by greenery and public spaces. Slowly, the remaining pavement is removed and goes for sale at the lumber yard.
Important to understand, needs has a very different definition in 2040. Life in Cascadia is enormously downsized in terms of material, resource and energy concerns.