Follow by Email

Visitor Count

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

The Shape of Eugene: Part 1 Downtown

I'm always interested in the history and geography of an area, so I thought I'd start a series of posts about the layout of Eugene.

Eugene was founded around 1846 by Eugene Skinner, who staked his claim in Oregon around a hill that became known as Skinner's Butte, during the days of the Oregon Trail.

Like many American cities it is laid out, as much as the landscape will allow, with Avenues running East-West and Streets, Alleys and Roads running North-South. The Avenues are numbered from 1 southwards, and 1st Avenue runs in line with the highest point of Skinner's Butte. The Streets, Alleys and Roads all have names, and Willamette Street is the central point, which if extrapolated would intersect with 1st Ave at that high point.

Starting with 1st Avenue, the numbers run southwards as far as 52nd Avenue, though by this point we are well into the South Hills area. Downtown is bordered by 1st Avenue to the North and 13th Avenue to the South.

Counting West from Willamette the Streets are, with a few exceptions, named for the Presidents from Washington through to Wilson (1913-1921), before this trend is broken and we have odd and slightly less inspiring names slipping in. Beyond Wilson Street we have a few more streets before Seneca Road and the start of a more open area with larger business plots.

East of Willamette the Streets have older names: Oak, High, Mill, Ferry Street, until they take the names of what I take to be early city Benefactors, Patterson, Hilyard, and Kincaid Street, followed by tree and stone names - Alder, Beech, Onyx, and Agate Street. Downtown reaches West as far as Lincoln Street, and East as far as Hilyard Street in ragged sections.

Downtown is the hub of the city, where theatres, restaurants and cafes rub shoulders with the Police Station, City Hall, the Library, Bus Station, Train Station, The Hult Centre (classical music and other concerts abound), and many small shops and businesses. It's the one area in Eugene where you might have to pay to park, either on a meter on the kerb, or in one of several multi-storey carparks, though two of these offer the first hour for free on weekdays, after 6pm, and free all day at Weekends.

Downtown is characterised by smaller city blocks, one-way streets on most arteries, slower speed limits, and a more closed-in, maybe slightly cramped feeling. There are many residential areas scattered around the centre, with generally smaller, older houses, often let out to students.

It would be possible to live your whole life Downtown and have all your needs met and catered for, though you'd miss a lot of the best of the City. I like the area and it's distinctive feel, though driving through can be a chore, especially if you're looking for a particular sideturn.

1 comment:

  1. Grids are very useful for the sense of direction impaired such as I. I walked London with a VERY GOOD map. I understand taxi drivers (in London) spend a couple years learning the city before they can begin service.

    But if it's only maybe slightly cramped in downtown Eugene...well, there's the west for you (outside of L.A., which doesn't count!) Annapolis comes a lot closer to the layout and feel--with its cramped side streets and tiny wedged buildings--to a town in Europe. But it is, of course, 200 years older.