What’s the “Next Normal” for Eugene?

By Kitty Piercy and Andrew Kalloch

What is normal? Is it what is best, or what we’ve gotten used to? If we could create a new normal, what would it be? The pandemic has given us the opportunity and even the duty to examine our acceptance of what we’ve called normal. That’s why, over the coming months, City Club of Eugene will examine many aspects of what our next normal could look like.

Conversations about reinvention are taking place around the world, but the process is not new. In Eugene in October 1909, a letter to the editor of the Eugene Register Guard, titled “Eugene’s Future Greatness Recognized,” spoke to the seemingly limitless potential of the city of about 9,000 residents:

“The great lumbering industry and fruit and agricultural products added to the greatest educational centre in the Northwest…as well as natural beauty and attractiveness as a place of residence, indicate to the far-seeing visitor that Eugene’s growth has yet fairly begun…The future of no city could at this time be brighter, and it is only necessary for the people here to continue the campaign of improvment [sic] and publicity to again double the populatoin [sic] of the city in another three years.”

What form should that improvement take? Less than a decade later, American inventor Henry A. Wise Wood coined a new term, “The New Normal,” to describe what society would become in the wake of World War I. As he declared to an audience at the National Civic Federation:

“How shall we pass from war to the new normal with the least jar, in the shortest time? In that respect should the new normal be shaped to differ from the old?”

Over a century later, we find ourselves asking similar questions as we once again turn our eyes toward the future – this time prompted not by the political demands of Socialists and Suffragettes or the cataclysm of global conflict, but by a once-in-a-lifetime (we hope) global pandemic that has reordered the economy and society, all while millions pour into the streets to demand climate and racial justice.

Indeed, from public health and the impact of technology to the nature of the workforce and beyond, thought leaders across the political spectrum and across industry/academia have begun to discuss the “Next Normal” of post-pandemic America.

In Eugene and Lane County, we have an opportunity to localize this conversation and ask the big questions about what we want the “Next Normal” to be for our city and region. To that end, the City Club of Eugene is kicking off its 2021-2022 season with a series of conversations about “The Next Normal.” The first, “The Next Normal: Life in Post-Pandemic Eugene,” available on September 10, will be a broad conversation about the perspectives from youth leaders, elders and academics about Eugene’s future.

We will follow this forum with a series of additional, issue-specific forums on what the “Next Normal” should look like, starting September 17 with “Flexible, Adaptable, Visible: The Future of Working from Home” about how home-based work is changing urban design; continuing on September 24 with a presentation from the Executive Director of the Knight Campus called, “How the Growth of a Research Juggernaut Can Change the World…and Eugene”; and adding future forums on public safety, education, economic development, the built environment and more. Check the program schedule at cityclubofeugene.org, and listen or watch past programs on YouTube, Facebook and the City Club of Eugene podcast.

The 1909 letter writer concluded, “The work of building a city requires only civic pride and progressiveness on the part of the people, when natural resources and geographical situation combine to assist in the work, as they do in the case of Eugene.”

For decades, City Club has sought to do just that: Create the civic foundation of this city and region by building community vision through open inquiry. As we launch our free “Next Normal” conversations, we hope you’ll take part – both as we begin our season on Zoom and when we return to in-person events as soon as COVID conditions allow.

After all, the future of our city, county, region and state is ours to debate, ours to imagine, ours to forge.

Kitty Piercy is the President of City Club of Eugene and the former Eugene mayor. Andrew Kalloch is a director of City Club and a member of the Program Committee.