Brent Thompson on the Oregon Coast—

See also -


  In 1984 Ashland resident Brent Thompson was appointed to Ashland’s Citizens Planning Advisory Committee (CPAC).  The first issue dealt with that year was what to do about future drive up window requests.  Ashland already had several, mostly to service bank customers, but more would surely be planned for fast food restaurants. 

          Ashland had a brilliant young Planning Director named John Fregonese who had spent summers in Rome, Italy with his film director father.  During those months John roamed throughout the city, and as a result he developed a strong sense about what made a city comfortable for people to walk, stroll, and live in.  

          John’s vision of and enthusiasm for what it took to create comfortable cities was infectious.  And as he explained it did not involve focusing on vehicles.  It focused on people being out of their cars not waiting in their cars at drive up windows.  

As a result, drive up windows became restricted in Ashland to what already existed with additional drive up windows permitted only when the city added increments of 2500 people.    

         The next year Brent Thompson was appointed to the Planning Commission where he remained for 10 years until being elected to the City Council.

           During those years the entire planning code was rewritten to focus on pedestrian and bicycle amenities; building aesthetics; parking for normal need not maximum possible need; open space for parks in subdivisions of ten lots or more; an open space program for the entire community; mixed use zoning; accessory dwellings; site design guidelines; landscaping requirements; solar access; energy conservation; maximum as well as minimum setbacks; minimum as well as maximum densities; and other issues.

           After hundreds of meetings it became clear to Thompson that although people were afraid to explicitly condemn, discourage, or reject growth, their words amounted to the same thing.  People believed that approval of this or that project would diminish the character of the town, and only by the rejection or radical modification of the project would the city’s character be preserved.   People tended to blame developers but never Congress which actually is the body that controls growth in the US.

          There were annual planning conferences at the University of Oregon in Eugene which featured visits to projects in the Eugene- Springfield area to demonstrate planning principles.  At the 1989 conference one visit was to the new Gateway Mall or shopping center in Springfield. After arriving Brent Thompson was struck by the absence of sidewalks to the shops from surrounding streets nor from the housing area of about 5000 people nearby.  The entire mall was built as if no one would ever walk to it.  It was built solely with automobile trips in mind. 

           This caused Thompson to vocally object to the entire project and subsequently write a column he called “We Want to Walk”.  He took his hand written column to the Oregonian whose editor published it with the title “Planning Urged to Make Cities More Comfortable”. It appeared on September 19, 1989.  It was also published in one or more newspapers in Southern Oregon, and after being presented to Susan Brody head of the Department of Land Conservation and Development, she had her staff begin the “Rule Writing” for Goal 12 (Transportation ) of Senate Bill 100.  That rule was called The Transportation Planning Rule.  The resulting frame work or rule specified that non automobile transportation amenities must be included in all multi-unit residential and all commercial projects.  It was a great beginning towards more bicycle and pedestrian amenities in all Oregon communities. 

         Thompson followed up that column with many more about planning, transportation, livability, citizen involvement, and accommodating growth based on his travels, public testimony, and planning actions put before the Planning Commission.  He was also hired to write editorials concerning local issues for the Ashland Daily Tidings during a transition period of editors. He became convinced that population growth was ruining the character of Oregon and the whole country along with its environment and that population growth in the whole US needed to end if we were to preserve in Oregon what we professed to want.

Thus, a good place to start in this website is the section titled “GROWTH”. One piece deals with the reality that a new perspective in the US is needed regarding growth. Another lists questions about growth that would cause squirming in Congressional representatives if asked.

Thompson realized that the least resource wasting and environmentally damaging way to accommodate growth was to not annex land but to increase densities or to use land more efficiently with what are called “infill” strategies. Once on the Ashland City Council in 1995 Thompson successfully continued that campaign for Ashland.

Finally after many years of involvement including the presidency of three land use organizations Thompson decided to form a website that dealt with growth issues anywhere called “Alternatives to Growth” featuring both how to accommodate growth through infill not geographic expansion while pointing out the cumulative adverse environmental and social effects of population growth in Oregon and in the US as a whole. 

         Some of Thompson’s columns and editorials are included in this website along with (often futile) communications to some decision makers or leaders regarding the adverse effects of growth and what national visioning is needed to maintain in communities and states what most people would profess to want.

Note: The name “Alternatives to Growth” is from an organization founded by Andy Kerr around 1999 after he headed the Oregon Natural Resources Council through the 1980’s and 1990’s. One of his columns where he tried to convey the undesirability of never ending U.S. population growth was called “Population is THE Growth Problem”. With global warming there is no case for population growth in the heaviest consuming nation on the planet, but those who we send to Washington DC still fail to act on that reality. A pity isn’t it?