It’s here: SH livability assessment report released

Scott Swanson

The long-awaited Livability Initiative report, a 177-page assessment of what does or doesn’t contribute to Sweet Home’s desirability and functionality as a place to live, was released Friday afternoon, Nov. 21.

The assessment’s release comes nearly a year after a team of three representatives from the Conservation Fund, and the Federal Highway Administration toured the community and visit edwith local residents, business owners and government officials Dec. 15-19 of last year.

The three team members are Katie Allen and Kendra Briechle of the Conservation Fund, an Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit whose mission is to preserve land for future generations, and Gye Aung of the Federal Highway Administration.

They visited the downtown and neighborhoods of Sweet Home, surrounding public lands, major transportation routes, and other destinations of importance to livability in and around the city. Team members also talked with community members, ranging from high school students to senior citizens, and public land stakeholders to gather information about the unique character of Sweet Home, livability challenges and opportunities, access to public lands and other public services, and other related issues.

Local organizers provided current studies, plans, and other materials to familiarize the assessment team with the area’s resources and trends in livability.

The team’s stated goals were to define livability for Sweet Home and develop a community-wide vision for livability that is consistent across planning efforts; make the case for connecting people to public lands by demonstrating the benefits and values for the community; and leverage the momentum of ongoing projects, such as the South Santiam Community Forest, to “coalesce efforts for on-the-ground change.”

Now that the assessment has been released, local residents can find it on Sweet Home’s city website at For more information regarding the report, contact Laura Goodrich at (541) 367-1431.

The next step is a public forum in which the writers of the report and local participants will review the findings and come up with a plan of action based on the assessment and its recommendations.

That is planned for the evening of March 3 and all day on March 4.

Sweet Home was identified as a participant in the program in July 2013, along with three other communities – two on the East Coast and one in the Midwest.

The initiative will be a two-year project led by a partnership between the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and The Conservation Fund’s Conservation Leadership Network to strengthen the livability of communities that are neighbors to federally managed lands.

It looks at the natural, cultural, physical infrastructure, commercial, and economic health of the community and surrounding landscape, with a focus on how these factors relate to six principles of livability.

Those are: providing increased transportation choices; promoting equitable, affordable housing and lodging; enhancing economic competitiveness by valuing public lands and the assets they contain; supporting existing gateway communities and sustaining their unique character; coordinating policies and leveraging investments within the community and between it and nearby public lands; and valuing the community and its natural, cultural heritage and recreational assets that foster social, economic and public health.

The report praises Sweet Home’s “collaborative partnerships,” particularly as they relate to the outdoors and how various local, state and federal agencies have worked together to develop and manage recreational attractions. It notes the impact of logging cutbacks on Sweet Home’s unemployment rate. It rates transportation between Sweet Home and its outdoor assets as “good,” but states that it needs better transportation in town – sidewalks, bike lanes and “safe transportation.”

It lists “safety concerns,” including dispersed camping, road and water safety, and emergency service access concerns. “Major concerns” are affordable housing and housing security. The report notes that a high number of school-aged children and their families live in “substandard and energy inefficient housing conditions or are homeless.” A need for “stable” housing for veterans is also noted.

The report says that the city and its partners need to establish a process for “setting community priorities, which should engage the community in supporting change, build community awareness of local issues and invite “the broader regional community to celebrate success.”

It offers five main recommendations:

n Take a regional approach to addressing Sweet Home’s challenges – don’t go it alone.

Develop a strategic economic development plan that includes diverse economic development and jobs that incorporate “multiple disciplines” from timber to technology.

“A strategic economic development plan should look at cultivating these opportunities and enhancing regional connections that can support workers and their access to and from jobs in Sweet Home,” the report states.

n Invest in existing infrastructure and downtown. The current infrastructure caters to timber production and transport, which is “no longer pressing,” the report states, so it recommends that the city evaluate ways to repurpose existing infrastructure such as vacant mill properties, downtown buildings, roads, etc. to meet current and future needs of residents, workers and visitors.

n Become active stewards of the community’s character and natural resources.

The report states that preservation of community character and downtown infrastructure is important to developing and sustaining a “sense of place.”

Likewise, it says, the “conservation of the natural landscape is important to preserving this defining element of Sweet Home.

It is important that the town and community recognize the economic value of its natural landscape as the foundation for sustainable tourism and sustainable natural resource-based industry development and reflect this in the cultivation of community character in the downtown.

It goes on to state that the community’s character and natural resources will make the area a “desired destination” and improve its livability.

n Make improving quality of life for residents a priority. “Community planning and development should focus on improving the quality of life for residents,” the report says.

Tourism is one tool to drive economic development and can be successful in Sweet Home by improving the visitor experience, but Sweet Home should not pursue tourism for tourism’s sake.

“Rather, the community should identify priorities that will support livability improvements in transportation, access to jobs, affordable education, access to education and public services that will meet the day-to-day needs of residents and enhance the community’s attractiveness for outsiders.”