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TO BE EVERYWHERE IS TO BE NOWHERE By Randy Nishimura, AIA Robertson Sherwood Architects Few shifts in the cultural landscape have so profoundly impacted our shared conception of the public realm as the advent of the Internet, smart phones, and social media. The smart phone has changed every aspect of our social interactions, with profound implications for the future of communities everywhere. Just as the automobile prompted the decline and replacement of much of the productive urban fabric of our cities (think urban renewal, freeways, parking lots, and exclusionary zoning), the Internet and, more specifically, social media now jeopardize the reversal of that decline. The irony of social media has been an attendant rise in loneliness, depression, and a sense of detachment among its heaviest users. For the compulsively addicted, virtual spaces become more attractive than real ones, virtual exchanges more appealing than in-the-flesh interaction; entire worlds are just a keystroke or finger-swipe away. The 2,000-year-old words of the Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca—who speaking in his time of the price paid by obsessive travelers—now aptly describe this contemporary condition: “To be everywhere is to be nowhere.” Nowhere is not where anyone should want to be. Nowhere is not a place. Being nowhere means lacking the prospect of progress or success. The risk posed to cities by a collective preoccupation with virtual communities is the possibility we may eventually forget what it takes to make real places: successful civic, public spaces that are accessible, comfortable, sociable, and truly used. We made this mistake during the Age of Automobiles and paid the heavy price; we cannot afford to make a similar mistake again. If we do, we’ll surely struggle to retain our community identity and sense of place, much of which may have only been regained and/or established in the past few years. AIASWO.ORG

So, what is a realistic future for our cities, Eugene in particular? In the face of stresses that would topple dominant urban planning paradigms, how do we avoid being both everywhere and nowhere at once? The answer is to redouble our efforts to maximize the public realm as a shared interest because it is our public spaces that most effectively differentiate here from everywhere and nowhere. This means recognizing what makes Eugene’s cultural, physical, and historical context unique. It means countering the banality of many of Eugene’s public spaces. It means stressing the importance of physical structure and identity—the vividness of unique elements and conversely a grasp of the whole—by celebrating design excellence. It means building upon the recent revitalization downtown, which is a more vibrant place today than it has been in many years. As the region’s historic center for business, governmental, and cultural activities, the success of downtown Eugene is critical to our community’s sense of identity. We commend the City of Eugene for its promising efforts to improve the Park Blocks using the “lighter, quicker, cheaper” strategy to enliven public spaces promulgated by its consultant, Project for Public Spaces. If and when City Hall occupies the location of the “Butterfly” parking lot, the Park Blocks will assume an even more important civic role than they do now. We consider the public-private partnership that brings a highspeed fiber network to 120 downtown Eugene buildings equally promising. This project capitalizes on Eugene’s emergence as the “Silicon Shire,” one of Fast Company magazine’s “Next Top 10 Cities for Tech Jobs.” We’re encouraged to see developers regarding downtown as desirable ground for housing projects attractive to urban professionals and retirees. And we’re pleased downtown at last has its new Whole Foods outlet. (Continued on pg. 6)

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AMERICAN INSTITUTE OF ARCHITECTS | SOUTHWESTERN OREGON CHAPTER

By Sara Assista

Profile for AIA Southwestern Oregon

AIA-SWO 2017 Design Annual Publication  

The AIA Southwestern Oregon Chapter (AIA-SWO) publishes an annual newspaper insert to promote the value of design to the community.

AIA-SWO 2017 Design Annual Publication  

The AIA Southwestern Oregon Chapter (AIA-SWO) publishes an annual newspaper insert to promote the value of design to the community.

Profile for aiaswo
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