Re-establishing The Linkage ©
South Western Oregon
Wm. Bruce Bartow
South Western Oregon is an extensive, mountainous region. Travel routes, community connection and common identity can be, and has been, difficult to retain. In Josephine and Jackson Counties, with an area that covers over 4,400 square miles and a population close to a quarter million, the sense of unity and common purpose has become greatly diffused. This is compounded by economic clutter as the area's economy is in the throes of a transition from the old resource based economy to one that is dependent on new technologies and tourism, practiced by new residents. Thus, retaining the linkage between rural and urban, electorate to government, and community to community has been difficult. Old values and wisdom are disrupted or lost, and a sense of unity and direction has become indistinct.
One of the primary impacts of this phenomenon is a sense of isolation and frustration by citizens in the small rural communities. Communities that originally were agricultural and then timber production centers for the region have now acquired new members that have brought their own wealth or production skills that do not depend on the area's raw materials. As a result, the commonality and sense of purpose that used to exist in these communities has been disrupted, as has some of the traditional methods of maintaining linkages, e.g., granges and churches. Some communities have been successful at retaining these bonds; most have not.
This same transition and disconnection is generally true of the regions' urban centers. Their dependence on natural resources, e.g., hops, pears, timber, etc., has been greatly reduced, and their commerce energy has been directed to national and international markets. Because many of the values, laws, and sources of wealth are now external to the counties and even the state, the relationship to the land, environment, and outlying communities (which had been the source of raw materials) has shifted. The attitudes towards land, timber, water, and their uses as a "resource", has transformed from production to aesthetics and "quality of life".
Re-establishing the Linkage
There are a wide range of tools and techniques to identify commonly held values, ideals, and goals of a community. Many local, regional and state programs have tried, or are in process, to aid communities in the articulation of common interests, wishes and expectations. The results of these efforts then become strategic plans, studies or other projects (e.g., Federal Enterprise Communities, the S.W.O.T. documents, leadership training, etc.). Parallel to these efforts is Oregon State's Land Conservation and Development's Unincorporated Communities land use planning requirements, Oregon Department of Transportation's Corridor Analysis, and other such programs. However (as local citizens are painfully aware) all of these efforts are competing for finite resources and limited community energy. Finally, as has been discovered on a number of occasions, the requirements and outcomes of these programs brought in from the outside, may not be compatible with each other, and in some cases will actually conflict.
Because of the lessons learned from previous efforts, it is clear that the initial issue that must be resolved in any effort to maximize local involvement is: " Are there existing programs that can be linked or modified to meet common objectives of these new programs?" Inevitably the answer is yes. A review of programs in operation, their aims, and resources will generally show that there will be significant benefits in the linking of existing programic resources, administration, and implementation tools to augment or accomplish the new mandate.
In 1994 the Rogue Valley Civic League embarked upon the development of a "Vision" for Josephine and Jackson Counties. Their first symposium was the "Healthy and Sustainable Communities". It established the basis for a number of ancillary and parallel efforts in the two county region. There has been subsequent programs and sub-projects that matured from that parent gathering.
The primary benefit of the Civic League's effort and sponsorship is that they are comprised of wide segments of the two counties communities. The business and community leaders of the Rogue Valley came together in the establishment of a program that is truly encompassing in its representation and sponsorship. At the same time this holistic strength is its weakness. Since each segment of the community has its own desired ends or mission, one group cannot be, in a definitive fashion, all things to all participants. Thus, the true role and function of the League is to establish a forum for the community to design, and begin the process of activating the collective Vision. It has, and will, provide the arena for all to develop a common understanding of, and agreement on the form, shape and quality of life in the two counties for the next 50 years. This community Vision will become a common reference for a myriad of systems and programs for years to come. Communities will need to agree on such questions as: How should we relate to and use our land?; What type and level of social support programs are needed?; How shall we transport people, goods and services?; and, What are the cultural, spiritual, and social qualities of life that reflect the values of each community and thus, need to be requisite elements of any long range Vision or plan?
In Josephine County, over 55% of the residents live outside of urban growth boundaries - those areas in and around cities. This population resides in 22 communities and on 60,000+ acres of residential land. In Jackson County, the same settlement pattern exists though not in as great of percentage. The cities provide goods and services, but rely on the wealth and materials provided by the countryside. Rural communities have articulated different needs and goals than urban residents, as expressed through the strategic plans and the S.W.O.T. analyses that have been developed. Therefore, it is important that a link be maintained between this scope of residents of the two Rogue Valley counties. With such a wide range of views and needs, an organization such as the Civic League, may be the only entity that could sponsor such an effort and be successful .
Because of its structure as a non-regulatory, volunteer organization of civic leaders from both counties, the Civic League is in the best position to facilitate the Visioning process for the entire Rogue Valley. The primary role of the Visioning effort will be to bring diverse groups together and facilitate discussions regarding community direction and resource expenditures. Once accomplished, this Vision, which will be embodied in goals, benchmarks and various strategies, can be used to guide government and community leaders toward fulfilling a set of common aspirations.
This Vision will be important not only for urban areas, where demands are great and resources are scarce; but, also in rural areas where the economic and social needs are as great but not on as wide a spectrum, and where the resources and human skills are even less. Although not well recognized, an important component for improving the public and private sector abilities to deliver needed services is improved connection between urban and rural residents of the counties. This is another reason for the Civic League to provide the leadership.
Maintaining the Vision
The orchestration and ultimate articulation of a common Vision, with its vast array of sub-parts and implementation activities, is an almost overwhelming effort for any organization, least one like the Civic League that is comprised of volunteers and financed through donations. The maintenance of such a venture would be even more prohibitive. Efforts will be needed to maintain the communication networks established, the linkages created, the data bases, and the administration necessary to insure the vitality of the Vision. But maintaining the Vision will not be easy. That common focus that is requisite for aligning the activities and wise use of resource takes a permanent, competent and accountable administrative body that is sanctioned by the community to perform this function. The Rogue Valley Council of Governments is in the best position to perform these duties for this two county region.
A number of benefits of having the R.V.C.O.G. as part of the Visioning team is their ability to consolidate a wide range of resources to compliment the efforts of the Civic League. Since both counties are required to work with smaller communities, limited funding from various sources may be combined to more efficiently use available financial resources.
Once funds become available, the R.V.C.O.G can create a common methodology to determine the local values and desires for the future to be employed in each community. By learning how to implement the program in the most cost and time efficient manner, duplication of energy and administration costs can be reduced. Additionally, the demands on exceedingly finite community volunteer time and resources can be applied more efficiently. By developing a streamlined methodology from various agency requirements (e.g.. EDA, DLCD, etc.), a more coordinated approach to community training, information-sharing and planning will result. The products from this effort can become the basis for programs and services to those communities. Additionally, (and this may be one of the greatest benefits) by aggregating community Visions and program needs, a regional view of how government and the private sector can best address area problems comes into focus.
By having a single agency provide the technical support to the Vision project, a common methodology is implemented. This is important for comparison purposes and for continued monitoring.
Although each community will determine and articulate its desired view of the future, R.V.C.O.G. can assist in promoting a coordinated and realistic Vision for the region. For example, establishing a Vision that promotes tourism as its main economic venture may be a good strategy for the region. However, each community must be aware of its own capabilities and role in supporting an overall strategy. In other words, every community cannot plan to hold a Shakespeare festival just because of Ashland's success, but other communities may be able to market complimentary concepts which offer to the area's tourist a reason to extend their visit. The R.V.C.O.G. will be able to assist the area's communities in identifying complimentary activities that can build on the area's strengths and successes. Thus, the role of assisting and then, monitoring local Visions to assure that the Rogue Valley succeeds in developing and maintaining a coordinated regional Vision is extremely important.
One of the vehicles that may be utilized to synchronize the activities of the various communities into a coordinated Vision is the Unincorporated Communities Rule (required by the Oregon State land use planning program) that Jackson and Josephine Counties are just beginning to implement. These land use regulations provide direction for planning established rural communities. Under these rules, the community must agree on its ultimate size, boundary and future land uses to be allowed. This will require considerable skills in organization, listening, and converting of information into the required documentation. Since the community training and information provision necessary to accomplish this task is similar as that necessary to accomplish Visioning, it would seem appropriate to combine efforts.
The R.V.C.O.G can serve several other functions. As well as being the implementer of a consistent methodology, they can become the custodian of the results. For the Visioning effort to remain contemporary and be relevant to existing communities and new members, the citizens of these communities must reconvene periodically. (e.g. once every year) to review past goals, the current status, and affirm or amend earlier positions. To perform this review on a regular basis, a permanent, funded organization is required. The R.V.C.O.G is in the best position to serve this function. By entrusting them with this responsibility, it ensures that the Visioning process will continue.
A final component that the R.V.C.O.G. can bring to the Regional Visioning effort is ongoing Leadership Training. This would be a program where community members develop skills, from serving as community leaders roles to information on how to negotiate and build more effective partnerships. Residents would learn to create the linkages necessary to recognize common interest, concerns and needs. These skills will allow communities to shape the development of their future economy by providing technical assistance, training and access to resources. Once a community coalesces, they can better articulate their requirements and expectations and share them with other communities as well as with service providers and elected officials. Therefore, it would be beneficial to establish a leadership component in the community Visioning exercise. It would allow the creation of a permanent, ongoing, integrated, local training program that can be refined as the program matures. By having the program available local citizens could be provided access to training identified through the community Visioning process.
Linking Programs - Benefits
By truly working as a region, the ability to create a common Vision will become possible. The Rogue Valley Civic League was created by the community leaders of Josephine and Jackson Counties to serve as the forum for regional discussions of regional issues. This organization has already achieved community sanction to embark on the development of a community Visioning program. Symposiums have been held, information collected and analysis made. The effort is underway.
By expanding the effort and incorporating an existing organization as an administrative support center as well as a custodian of the flame, a permanency will be brought to the current effort. As with all symbiotic relationships, the total will be greater than the individual parts. The Civic League will gain an administrative component to free its limited resources to be used on the larger effort. The R.V.C.O.G will be better equipped to justify and acquire the resources and community support to develop and maintain a program that has been needed (and affirmed by the process) but was difficult to establish.
The development of a community Vision will aid in the re-establishment of linkages between residents. Past and possibly forgotten values can be resurrected and, when appropriate, reaffirmed. In many cases and for a wide range of reasons, totally new values will become identified. In both cases, this process provides the opportunity, means and the wherewithal to capture these values. This exercise will establish the basis for the clarification of the culture of these communities. The revisiting of these Visions, and all of the components, becomes a method of communicating and passing on this culture to new members and outside interest.
The provision of leadership training will lead to a citizenry that is educated about and better equipped to deal with various programs, funding and governance. Upon the completion of the Visioning exercise, the level of articulation, interaction, and communication will become greatly enhanced. The regions' communities will be better able to determine their own needs and convey those needs to their elected officials. This program will provide participating citizens with a greater sense of control and understanding of how government functions.
A major benefit of the Visioning exercise will be to change the relationship between the citizens living within the two counties and their elected officials. Laws and political decisions must maintain (and reflect) their linkage with the values and the beliefs of the communities. By becoming fully involved with this program, to include the Leadership Training, the community members will have an understanding of the wishes of their peers, understand the value of making connections with local and state programs, and have the skills to do so. Elected officials will have a skilled, articulate group to interact with. With the significant economic and cultural transition occurring within the communities, the commonality of values has changed, and the political support for government has been weakened. Additionally, there has been an increase in laws and requirements from the state and federal governments that have added to the burden of governing at the local level. Before the job of governing becomes exceeding difficult, if not impossible, one can hope the success of the Visioning program re-establishes the linkage between government and the citizens of Jackson and Josephine Counties. With a shared Vision, and a mutual respect and support this will happen.