Want more trees in downtown Salem? Better lighting? Safe, even sidewalks? Public art and benches?
This spring, the City of Salem is continuing its outreach to residents, property owners and businesses to learn their thoughts on ways to make downtown Salem sidewalks serve the community better.
With the goal of creating a more attractive city hub, the City invited locals to tell them what amenities mattered most to them in three public Open Houses – the final of which will be held April 18th.
“We are hearing enthusiasm,” says Sheri Wahrgren, Downtown Revitalization Manager for the City’s Urban Development Department. “We know there is a desire to get more people downtown and that’s good for existing businesses and future businesses.”
About 200 have attended City events and focus groups since the first Open House was held on November 30 of last year. Attendees heard City presentations, considered maps and completed exercises at work stations, making suggestions about which amenities mattered most to them. Popular topics have included safer sidewalks, more trees, connections to places, and art. Others suggestions have involved lighting, greenery and street furniture. Many placed value on references to Salem’s history.
The Downtown Streetscape Plan project is limited to ideas about the space that exists between the exterior wall of buildings and the curb of the street – just the sidewalks. Streets themselves and traffic issues are not part of the effort.
“We’ve heard from people that the day and evening activities and winter vs. summer seasons have different needs,” Wahrgren says. “There have been comments about creating interest to attract families with young children downtown, to recognize the needs and interests of older residents living in or near downtown, and to understand that more people are expected to live downtown in the future.”
Some Open House attendees have expressed concern that the Urban Renewal funds the city uses for Streetscape changes may not reflect what funding is available down the road for maintenance. Wahrgren notes that Urban Renewal staff has to evaluate projects with this issue in mind. “Ongoing maintenance is a common question,” she says.
The cost of maintaining a Streetscape element can vary considerably. If the City moves forward with new sidewalks, for example, or electrical infrastructure for lighting – ongoing maintenance will be minimal. However if the City were to plant considerable numbers of trees or develop elaborate landscaping, maintenance costs will be higher.
“Most agree that native plants and those that require less water, once established, will be our best approach for reduced ongoing costs for planting,” Wahrgren says. “We have already started talking internally about maintenance of vegetation because we are hearing loudly that increasing greenery has a lot of support.”
In the months since the Streetscape Plan project began, city planners have shaped and incorporated ideas from the community into concepts that will be discussed at the final, April 18, public meeting.
Following that, the City hopes to present a plan identifying first projects to City Council in late spring or early summer. If the ideas are adopted, construction of the amenities will be phased in over time using urban renewal funds.
Final City of Salem Streetscape Open House
April 18, 5:30 – 7 p.m.
Senator Hearing Room
555 Court St NE (Marion County Building Salem