When my wife, Marilyn, and I first moved here in late October 1993, the population was 750 people. We lived in a double-wide trailer across East Cascade Avenue from the elementary school. The trailer is now a duplex.
We walked our dog Cody up and down the banks and the dry streambed of Squaw Creek where the homes of Timber Creek and Buck Run now sit. We weren't too happy to see homesites staked out in "our" playground. We were going to lose it to "gentrification." Of course it was private property, but still...
Today those are neighborhoods full of people who moved here to share in the same quality of life that drew us to Sisters. And the streambed is no longer dry - the creek flows all through summer and may soon again host steelhead and salmon. The name is different, too.
The biggest change Sisters has experienced was the construction of a municipal sewer system. Installing sewers was extremely controversial and contentious. Opponents feared that Sisters would be swamped in a sea of development if a sewer system went in, that its quaint charm would be lost forever. Others found something less than quaint and charming in having to pump out septic systems multiple times every year and didn't think that capping growth based on an inability to handle waste was good public policy.
The citizens voted, the sewer came and it did, indeed, bring development. There were a bumpy few years while the city and its citizens sorted issues like how much density was too much density and the like. But in the end, Sisters navigated change and is the better for it.
Many changes in Sisters have been controversial and contentious. There's nothing wrong with that. It means that people care. Virtually everybody who lives in Sisters Country chose to be here. Most of us moved here from elsewhere, looking for that something that Sisters seemed to offer. A few were born here and chose to stay here, even though it's not easy to make a living and there's a big ol' world out there beyond our mountains and forests.
We want Sisters to stay Sisters, to keep the qualities that drew us here in the first place. A beautiful landscape offering endless adventure; a small, engaged community; good schools; a thriving arts community ... and tranquility.
There are two broad attitudes toward change: "Sisters is fine the way it is; don't screw it up." Or, "Sisters is could be even better if..."
Most of us operate somewhere on a spectrum. Sometimes we're conflicted in our own desires. Part of me would be - like John Lee Pettimore's granddaddy - perfectly content to hide out in the woods and "only come to town about twice a year."
Another part loves the hustle and flow of a music event and wants to have a "scene." Options for shopping and dining out are nice. And I like to see people prosper.
Those who want to create new amenities, events and activities in Sisters aren't necessarily greed-heads out to ruin Sisters. And those who are skeptical of new amenities, events and activities in Sisters aren't necessarily obstructionists. Some see change as opportunity, some see it as a threat - and most of us see a mixture of both.
How to navigate all of the varied and passionate attitudes toward change?
First, everyone wants to feel that their voice is heard and listened to. (It helps if the voice is informed and civil.) Endless "visioning" is not enough. Ultimately, things boil down to action on the ground - and that's where things get contentious. Better to put together a proposal and let the debate begin.
Sometimes competing visions just have to fight it out. Will Sisters have a sewer system; a new high school; an amphitheater; a skating rink; paved trails in the forest? Or not? Sometimes there's a middle ground to be found, as there was on the Cascade Avenue renovation.
Neighbors will sometimes find themselves opposed on one issue and aligned on others. Hopefully, they'll be able to continue being good neighbors.
Hopefully some workable ideas will come out of last week's economic summit. Perhaps there will be some consensus on projects that a solid majority of folks in Sisters can get behind to maintain and enhance our quality of life - and the experience of those who come to visit us.
But there's always going to be controversy and contention. Because we're human, and that's how we roll.
Posted: Tuesday, May 13, 2014
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Ever since I first came (back) to Sisters in 2010 I have been convinced that Sisters is one of the best places on the planet to think. And now I have independent empirical support for my belief. Of the many words missing in the English language, perhaps one of the most important is the word to describe how one feels when they encounter an innovation that they could have made themselves. The closest we have are the questions, “Why didn’t I think of that?” or “How could I have been so stupid?” I uttered both those sentences the other day at Mick’s Shell station as I noticed that Mick was using a long-handled squeegee to clean my bug graveyard of a windshield. “Where did you get that squeegee?” I asked Mick. “Oh one night one of our guys took the handle off a broom and attached one of our squeegees to it.” I was dumbstruck. How many times have I washed my own windshield with a “normal” squeegee? After so many wasted minutes, why didn’t I realize that the fundamental problem was the handle was unnecessarily short? Turns out at least one human on earth who works right here in Sisters finally figured it out. Gustavo “Guz” Diaz is my man. Bravo Zulu, Guz.
Oh and Mick wasn’t done. After he told me the Guz story he reached for his cloth duster and proceeded to clean the dirty rear window of my pickup without making a mud puddle in the truck bed. Two brilliant ideas in one place? I forgot to ask, but I suspect I know who is responsible for this second innovation. Yep, Guz. If I’m wrong, I’m even more right: Sisters is such a great place to think that two different people in Mick’s employ came up with obvious and brilliant ways to solve the second most common problem customers bring to a service station (empty tanks and dirty windows).
Mick’s crew not only blew my mind, for me, Mick and his crew became the poster child of economic development for our town. The Nobel laureate, Michael Spence, rightly observed that the most reliable and self-sustaining source of economic growth is innovation. Innovation doesn’t have to be complex and expensive. We don’t need to bring genetic engineering companies to Sisters to enjoy this kind of sustainable economic development. We just need to follow Guz’s lead. We need to pay attention to the details around us and find the small changes with inordinate consequences. Mick told me that the long handle not only left me with a cleaner windshield in less time, it was a boon to his men when they tried to clean windows on big trucks and RVs. Funny thing about innovation: it tends to have babies. One innovation leads to two then to four then to eight. And it never stops growing.
So Sisters, pay attention. You are among the best places on the planet to think. So don’t sell innovation short. You won’t make any money that way.
Oh, and the next time you fill up at Mick’s Shell station, look for Guz and if you see him, thank him for his service. I know I will.