The Nov. 22 front-page story in the Gazette-Times tells about a newly arrived Oregon State University professor from Nashville who finds it a challenge living in the small town of Corvallis. I wish to share a different perspective.
First, Corvallis is NOT a small town. I know the difference, having grown up in one, where the population was about 3,000. Even it was considered a larger small town, since surrounding communities were in the hundreds. The dynamics and overall ambiance of these towns is qualitatively different from Corvallis. Corvallis should more accurately be termed a small CITY.
Second, the more meaningful challenge (compared with the professor's challenge) is for those of us who have lived here a long time being asked to adapt to a dizzying range of increases in scale and complexity. A complete listing is too long for this letter, but it begins with OSU's insane increase in size, which could have stabilized below 15,000 students, thus avoiding the angst and ramifications with which Corvallis is struggling. Add to this all the issues with traffic and parking and destruction-of-traditional neighborhoods-to-build rentals; and the additional numbers of boards and advisory groups the city and county now need to manage our collective affairs. Corvallis is not nearly as "user-friendly" as it used to be, when, for example, Highway 34 was a two-lane, lightly traveled, rural road going east to Interstate 5 and with similar ease going through Philomath to the coast.
At what point will we be satisfied? Do we not now recognize that civic matters are much more complicated — bordering on being ungovernable? — than they were even 20 years ago, or 40-50 years ago?
The same edition of the G-T included a story about a new Corvallis vision group getting underway. We need to initiate an alternative discussion, as its mission should include an approach that could serve as a model for other jurisdictions and regions in western Oregon to emulate. Work toward the establishment of a dynamic, steady-state economy operating within a stable population. Without this as a guiding principle, our collective future is simply uncontrollable. Be reminded that even with a "small" annual increase of 2 percent, a population will double in only 35 years, to be repeated ad infinitum. If actualized, this translates to 111,000 people in Corvallis by the year 2052, 222,000 by 2087. Is this not-too-distant horizon an appealing one to contemplate?
Two historical reference points are relevant here. The first is to recall conclusions from the 1972 Rockefeller Commission, which said "there would be no net benefits to further growth in our Nation's population" and that our problems would be easier to solve if we stopped growing. This was presented over 45 years and 120 million people ago. Few would suggest that our nation's major problems have abated.
The second and more local reference harkens back to April 3, 1995, when the Corvallis City Council passed Resolution 95-17, calling for the establishment of a National Optimum Population Commission, spearheading a process to determine the long-term, sustainable population for the United States. The Benton County Board of Commissioners also endorsed creation of the population commission. It is time for the council and commissioners to do locally the same thing they asked the feds to do. A local "demonstration model" could assist similar efforts elsewhere. This approach is sorely needed as an antidote to the cancerous "continuous growth" model.
You may think this to be an impossible mission. But if we do not change course, in a century or two, the Willamette Valley will likely become another (better-planned?) Los Angeles. A nightmare is unfolding. We need to wake up and change the dream.
Oregon is the perfect place to start, having been first with our bottle bill, public beaches, land-use planning and Death With Dignity act. May this discussion begin anew and its advocacy continue.