Downtown renewal begins with pride

By Ginny Mammen March 13, 2009 03:22 pm

Whether we realize it or not we are constantly evaluating our surroundings. We assess everything we do, everywhere we go or everyone we encounter as positive, negative or a neutral forgettable and toss it into a bin in our mind.

An example of the latter occurred just recently when we were returning from Portland. Having wondered what was on top of the great cliffs in the Columbia Gorge and seeing a sign for a winery at milepost 123 (Phillipi Canyon) pulled us off the interstate for an adventure. We drove up a dirt road about six miles until we came to a small house with several outbuildings. That was Wheatridge in the Nook Winery and it was closed. The experience was immediately tossed into the forgettable category, not because it was unpleasant but because it did not provide enough to make us want to return.

The scenery along the way was great. We passed some wonderful rock formations that looked like giant pillars of shale and later there were hundreds of acres of rolling wheat fields, but the winery itself was not an inviting place. The buildings were drab and there was no signage that drew us in. I came home and Googled their website and saw that they had great plans and potential, but just a bit more done now would have changed my bin.

A day before we had visited Disneyland, “the happiest place on earth,” where positive experiences are around every corner. Enjoying a location designed with great care for all the senses to enjoy creates an experience most want to repeat over and over again. We didn’t need reminders to tell us this is Disneyland and to have fun. The surroundings are not subtle, but it is what it is and remains true to that.

Everywhere one looks there is color — buildings, signs, flowers. Benches and low walls provide seating for relaxing, people watching or visiting. It is spotlessly clean. Background music gives a holiday feeling while hundreds of people, total strangers, mingle with each other in a polite and pleasant manner.

There is no awareness of rudeness, petty thievery or vandalism. These are not specially chosen people; they are a real mix of age, financial status, race and nationality. But they all have one thing in common that has been instilled in them the minute they come through the gates and that is pride.

The creators of Disneyland and the people who maintain it on a day-to-day basis realize that if they have pride in what they are selling, the customer will uphold that pride. My positive bin was overflowing by the time we left this magic kingdom.

Now let us move to downtown La Grande. I have to say that for the most part my forgettable bin gets a hefty contribution when I am there. There are a few bright spots like the new Mount Emily Ale House that creates a fun/exciting atmosphere, and Foley Station, which provides a quiet, more subdued, opportunity to visit and share a meal. But, for the most part the space in between or beyond is pretty drab.

La Grande has been given a wonderful opportunity with the Main Street Program to make some decisions that will change all of this.

Before you say, “Oh, I’ve heard that before” and tune out, I want you to know that this has to be the time to get on board and help those who are working hard to really make it happen. It won’t be an overnight makeover, but we have some really good things about our downtown that need just a bit of help to make them jump into our positive bin.

We first have to start with that basic ingredient — pride. If we don’t think we can be proud of our town, then we are stuck with the way it is forever. All of us need to take on a new attitude and work on our space, and then finally when the spaces merge we will have a downtown we can all be proud of.

We need to make some changes. I’m not saying that we want to look like Disneyland or to create a phony theme. We need to be what we are and be true to that.

I want you to look around town and see what it would take to make you have an overflowing positive bin. Is it color, exciting store windows, music, places to sit and visit, more shopping opportunities, sidewalk cafes, bicycle racks, flowers and trees?

Let me know what you think and I will convey your message.

Have pride! Fill your positive bin to overflowing! Enjoy!

Ginny Mammen is a

La Grande resident.