Urban designer: Eugene needs 'bold actions' downtown, public safety at 'crisis level'

EUGENE, Ore. - An urban designer urged the Eugene City Council to take "bold actions" to make better use of public spaces downtown - and turn around crime and behavior problems in the city's core.

Meg Walker from the Project for Public Spaces in New York City said downtown Eugene lacks "everyday activities" for regular people and families.

"Particularly in your public spaces - to attract a critical mass of people and a variety of people who will help to diffuse the problem and also make it safe and vibrant," Walker said.

She also urged the Council to consider tearing down the concrete walls in the Park Blocks downtown.

"They're blocking views, they're creating hiding places, they're creating sleeping places," Walker said. "We think it needs to be more open - and also provide you with more space for programming."

Walker said the compact size of Eugene's downtown concentrates problems.

Eugene's issues are quite serious, she said, suggesting public safety downtown had “reached a crisis level and must be addressed.”

It's a welcome conversation for the City Council.

"It was at least a couple of years ago when I first started imagining what the park blocks could be and how we should, after so many years of neglect, have that conversation," Councilor Chris Pryor said.

Councilor Greg Evans last week said he had "been approached and harassed downtown" by "people wanting money, and I tell them I'm not giving them money. They're cursing at me."

The City launched the Places for People initiative last year to focus attention on public and civic places in Eugene.

Also in the news at the same time last year: an aggressive crowd that surrounded police in Park Blocks.

City leaders don't want behavior issues to impact downtown's economic rebound - with offices, shops and restaurants.

Downtown Eugene has enjoyed several years of redevelopment and revitalization. Former vacant "pits" are now buildings, and many shops and eateries line the streets not far from new housing developments.

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