Crossing into Eden
(Oregon Planners' Journal, August-September 1998)
By Richard Carson
Being an Oregon planner has been a life long journey for me. I was just 15 years old when I first came to Oregon. I was a tall skinny boy with big ears. My parents sent me to visit my grandmother for two weeks in some God forsaken place called Timber, Oregon. I didn't want to go. I had my first girl friend and two weeks was an eternity. But they put me on the Amtrack train anyway, and I left Union station in Los Angeles to begin a life long journey. It was 1962.
Timber is south of Highway 26, halfway between Portland and Seaside. My grandmother helped build the town. It had a post office, a church and a bar - everything that passed for civilization in Oregon. She lived in a house with a wood burning oven. She had electricity, but was a pioneer at heart. She had come West with her parents and had even lived in a cave. She split her own wood and lived alone. She was an awesome woman. Her husband had abandoned her and two children. She had no use for men, except for me.
In the Summer of 1973, I crossed the border into Oregon again in a Volkswagen bus. I was a hippie with long hair, a wife and kids, and a bad attitude. I was now a Vietnam era veteran and bitter that I had been used by the government in a war I did not believe in. I was an idealist and a rebel. I had come to go to school at the University of Oregon to be a land use planner. I remember how in the book Ecotopia it talked about Oregon seceding from America and closing down the border. I read Ian McHarg and Kevin Lynch and I was determined to make Oregon a better world.
Then came the recession of the early 1980s. If you were a planner or a developer, you had no work. It was a hard time. People moved out of the state, families fell apart and a quiet desperation fell over the state. I went to work in the Oregon Economic Development Department, for Governor Atiyeh and then for Neil Goldshcmidt, to put people back to work. Slowly the economic tide changed. First the Japanese came here to build their high tech plants. NEC, Fujitsu and Epson marveled at how cheap land was, how eager people were to work and how little racism there was.
I now have a grand child who was born in Oregon. My hope is that he understands that, although he is a native Oregonian, he is a descendant of immigrants. I hope he will always open his arms to others that come to this great land.
Richard Carson is the editor of the Oregon Planners' Journal.