Have you ever found yourself grumbling about the “traffic” in Hood River? Whenever I find myself in that space, I always follow the thought with a quick selfie-slap upside the head.
Get real, right?
After an all-too-brief five-day trailer trip out to what surely is one of the most beautiful places in this beautiful state — just stand on Hwy 26 in downtown Prairie City and stare at the Strawberry Mountains — I returned to the Hood in a crossfire of thoughts about population and its impacts.
First, the absurdity of feeling the need to get out of our town of 7.702 people (by 2016 estimate). Need to get some miles beneath the wheels. Escape the skyscrapers, for the open country.
Head southeast, through Oregon’s least populous county (Wheeler), to visit a county with 7,445 souls scattered across a lot of alfalfa farms and ranch land and seven towns, none with more than 1,800 people.
Time to chuckle, at a tourism brochure that distinguishes the town of John Day as having Grant County’s only stoplight.
Sitting at the campfire, out there under the stars, I whip out my phone to stream for my wife the great Eric Clapton and Cream doing “Crossroads.” And I think how that song is a metaphor for so much of life — always crossroads, always choices, always bargains with the devil to be ignored … or taken.
Then, heading home, to pass through miles of good-golly-gosh green forestland and drop into the burgeoning world of central Oregon.
Prineville, home of Les Schwab, pushing 10,000 people, one of whom generously gave me too much soft-serve vanilla for the dog.
And in today’s Oregonian, a story about how Bend is Oregon’s fastest growing city, now just under 100,000 people and the sixth fastest growing in the country.
Bend? Home of the Pine Tavern, the little lumber burg that had fewer than 12,000 residents when we first introduced ourselves to each other?
So we arrive home, dig into the in-box, and find an alarmed e-mail about the Hood River Westside Area Concept Plan.
Letters to the editor, also, whipping up a lather. As if we didn’t all know — or should have — that all that land west of 30th Avenue was destined, eventually, to the same use as all that land east of 30th Avenue.
All of which should provide a safety valve of sorts, for the pressures behind the push to greater densities, smaller lots, higher prices that have come to seem the new normal in Hood River.
Not gonna offer any judgments here, or go too wonky on you, except to say that it’s a classic illustration of supply and demand.
Is it gentrification? Well, maybe a little bit. But is that something evil, in and of itself, absent the other dynamics behind population shifts? Money is clearly driving the bus here — there’s only so much of Hood River to go around, which means the highest bidders win.
But you can’t blame people for wanting to live in a pleasant town, in a pleasant neighborhood, or wanting what the neighbors have, or what the TV tells us the neighbors want to have. Even if it means other people fall behind and load their U-Hauls for Lyle.
Big cities and their issues with gentrification, of course, are a different Petri dish than Hood River. But for those who have watched the impacts of popularity and money on Portland and Seattle, you may find brain sparks in this essay by Dan Savage, in Seattle’s The Stranger, about gentrification (thanks to the City Observatory Week Observed newsletter for the link).
Thinking about my late, great Dad, here’s wishing you all a thoughtful, grateful and peaceful Memorial Day.