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Change can be a positive force

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When my family moved to Lake Oswego in 1984, there was a lot of talk about the need to redevelop downtown. According to the Chamber of Commerce, that conversation had already been going on for 10 years.

Everyone agreed that downtown was depressed. A casualty of regional shopping malls and a revitalized downtown Portland, our village core consisted of an unsightly hodgepodge of deteriorating buildings, with merchants unsupported by foot traffic, restaurants or anything to draw people there for any but the most basic purchases. No one was there on evenings or weekends. And traffic was a nightmare.

It took almost 20 years from that time for Lake Oswego to finally cut the ribbon on Lake View Village, which spurred the remarkable transformation of a downtown that time forgot into the thriving, charming place it is today.

We hear a lot these days from citizens who say they like LO the way it is and don't want it to change. But if it hadn't changed previously, it wouldn't be the town they are so fond of now. And if it doesn't continue to change, we will again face deteriorating buildings, this time the ones housing essential services like police and emergency, city staff and the library. As unsettling as change can be, it is actually an essential and inevitable part of life. If planned well, it can be very positive.

The transformation of the downtown core finally came about because of the confluence of three forces: The tremendous energy and dedication of Barry Cain of Gramor Development; the vision and dedication of former mayor Judie Hammerstad and the city councilors she worked with; and an engaged populace. Those councilors, and the mayor in particular, are frequently derided for their 'vision,' as if it were a bad thing. In reality, if you don't have a vision, nothing happens or it happens in ways that you can't control.

One thing I learned from that experience is that those whose job it is to envision something new often see things that I can't. I would never have thought that a major new retail development and several blocks of additional medium density housing would not only create a more friendly, small town feel, but actually improve the flow of traffic. Thoughtful, visionary planning, with input from citizens, has resulted in a city that is better than it was. And as nice as it is, it can get even better. We have serious decisions to make in the next few years regarding our public service buildings, transportation, and where to put the increased population that will come whether we want it to or not. We can use our experience with Lake View Village as a template: It takes skilled developers; an engaged populace to express their desires and ask questions; and an active city council to make sure the developers produce what the populace wants.

Change is unsettling, there's no doubt about that. It's also an inevitable part of the cycle of life. There are always those who resist change, but my experience has been that once the change comes, they actually like it. Let's work together to make change work for us. We've done it before; we can do it again.

Jan Castle is a resident of Lake Oswego.