Bethel hopes a new sports park at Golden Gardens will draw visitors and businesses to the neighborhood. At the City Club Dec. 1:
Tai Pruce-Zimmerman (Active Bethel Community co-chair): My name is Tai Pruce-Zimmerman. And I’m very excited to talk today about all the strengths that I love about Bethel, why I love my community so much, as well as our areas of growth.
[00:00:23] I was born and raised in Eugene, left for college in 2002, and spent a little over a decade bouncing around southern Oregon. And when it came time for my wife and I to find a place to settle down, where we knew we would want to raise our family, coming back to Eugene was the option that made sense.
[00:00:43] And it was then a happy accident of the housing market that that house we rented was on Golden Gardens Street. Golden Gardens Park was the first amenity of the Bethel neighborhood that I personally enjoyed after moving here.
[00:00:54] We have amazing parks. The parks in Bethel, if you haven’t been out to the Bethel neighborhood, if you live elsewhere in Eugene or in the area, come check out the parks in Bethel. We’ve got some really, really nice spots. And our school district is fantastic.
[00:01:09] We fell in love very quickly with the neighborhood, with the school district, with the community we found. And it was a very easy decision, when we were ready to buy a house in 2017, to buy something in Bethel as well. And that remains where we are and where we shall stay.
[00:01:27] And from there I was already starting to engage in the community, and I started looking more locally at what I could do in the neighborhood. That was when I found the report, Building a Better Bethel, published in 2015, and it had a bunch of great ideas, none of which I could see being actively implemented. So I reached out to a number of our elected officials in the area asking how could I help with it. And to a T, every one of them said, ‘Please reactivate the neighborhood association.’
[00:01:59] By the end of 2017, we had a steering committee and 17 meetings later, the city approved reactivation. We held an election to elect our first board and I became co-chair of ABC.
[00:02:12] And one of the best things that happened in that reactivation meeting is: Lin Woodrich showed up. She took on the role initially of event chair, and by the second year she was the co-chair. And she’s been a boots-on-the-ground force that’s really helped ABC do a whole bunch of amazing things in our community.
[00:02:32] We’ve been holding as many community events as we can. We brought back the ‘We Are Bethel’ annual celebration that had been on pause. We’ve been supporting food pantries in the neighborhood and in the schools; organizing gatherings in the parks; holding meetings with representatives from the police department to focus on public safety options in the neighborhood; help people establish neighborhood watch units; organizing recycling drives, and so much more.
[00:03:03] In addition to all of those pieces, today with talking about the future of Bethel, we organized a visioning project over the past year or so, where we put together a series of surveys, held events in different neighborhood parks, got people filling out the surveys, distributed them online as well, and gave people in the neighborhood an opportunity to talk about what they would like to see for our neighborhood moving forward.
[00:03:30] There’s also some things we really lack. We are an extremely residential neighborhood, very short on amenities for the people that live in Bethel. We mostly have to leave our neighborhood to get most of the things we need on a day-to-day basis.
[00:03:47] With that comes transportation challenges, as we have a lot of cars coming and going from the neighborhood for that reason.
[00:03:54] John Q: Traveling outside Bethel for services strains the transportation system and strains families.
[00:04:02] Kraig Sproles (Bethel School District superintendent): This isn’t unique to Bethel, but it’s something particularly important to Bethel, is having resources come to us. Because it’s really hard for families at times and we talked about transportation as one of the hindrances, but if you set up appointments and the family needs to get their student from Bethel all the way downtown and then back in the middle of the day for a 45-minute therapy appointment when you have two working parents, that is almost an impossible barrier / hurdle to get over.
[00:04:28] So one of the unique partnerships we’ve established is bringing our community health providers into our schools. And so we’re really proud that we now have a mental health provider in every one of our 11 schools. And at a place like Willamette High School, we have several different providers doing both on-the-spot emergent needs, but also things like drug and alcohol therapy.
[00:04:56] There’s also a movement right now to be able to create a recovery high school in Lane County which I’m really, really excited about, which are people who are students who have been struggling with dependency and to be able to create a route for them to be able to get a high school diploma and address the fundamental issues that have led them to develop a dependency at the same time is a profound way and we’re partnering with a lot of local agencies to be able to make that happen, and we’re excited about that possibility.
[00:05:28] John Q: A sports park at Golden Gardens could help draw amenities to Bethel.
[00:05:34] Tai Pruce-Zimmerman: One of the things that would benefit our neighborhood greatly is something that brings people into Bethel and the sports park can serve that purpose. There really isn’t anything, any other piece of land where it could fit. And so I definitely hope that the sports park can both benefit the neighborhood by its presence and as a tourism draw, and the implications that can have on other business development and providing us some of the other amenities we currently lack, including maybe helping us be less of a food desert.
[00:06:07] But also, I hope that that can happen without disturbing what’s beautiful about the park now. There’s still another round of civic engagement on exactly what the designs for that park will look like before anything is finalized. So I’m hoping we can find a good balance on that.
[00:06:22] So more amenities that can give us community gathering options is something that everyone always talks about wanting and needing.
[00:06:29] And then we also would like to have more public events for us to gather and for people from outside of Bethel to come visit us and join us as well. That would be another piece that would really drive how we could justify some of those amenities we want is if people are coming into Bethel instead of just living there and leaving for work, leaving to go shopping,
[00:06:53] John Q: The school district is filling many gaps in the neighborhood.
[00:06:58] Kraig Sproles (Bethel School District superintendent): We are now one of the largest providers of food in our neighborhoods. We’re providers of mental health services. We’re providers of gathering spaces. Like Tai said: Bethel doesn’t have a large community center for folks to gather. So by default, the school district is that…
[00:07:16] We would love to be able to think broadly about the Golden Gardens and have a large community center as part of that dreaming and visioning as a possibility in partnership with some place like the Boys and Girls Club or the YMCA.
[00:07:32] John Q: Bethel will soon start drafting a neighborhood plan, using a brand-new city process.
[00:07:39] Tai Pruce-Zimmerman: We do have a planning process coming, so now our job is just to engage with that process, and I hope any Bethel residents listening that have thoughts are going to come out and join us when that happens through 2024. And make sure that that process gets us the results we actually need as a neighborhood to fill in some of these gaps, the things that we’re still missing.
[00:08:00] Council has proposed more streamlined planning process. The exact details and logistics of that process aren’t quite clear yet, there’s still meetings going on, and then we’re going to get a pitch on what it exactly looks like. So our mission is to make sure streamlined doesn’t mean it’s just another visioning round, because we already have our vision, we’ve done that before, we need implementation, we need results.
[00:08:25] John Q: Proud Bethel resident Pat Farr described improvements to the Beltline, the Bethel fire station, and parks, made in partnership with the city.
[00:08:34] Tai Pruce-Zimmerman: The things that we have gotten in those partnerships with the city are excellent. Councilor Greg Evans has definitely led a whole lot of that in his tenure as city councilor for us.
[00:08:46] All of them have come from extensive citizen involvement first. So it feels like we have fought for what we’ve gotten and we’re going to have to continue fighting for more. So I’m confident that we can continue to build on that growth that’s happened and work our way towards a point where those gaps are fully erased someday.
[00:09:09] We’re not there yet, and we really do need to continue building upon those partnerships with the city and continue bringing in more and more. And so we’re still out here fighting.
[00:09:19] John Q: A new sports park at Golden Gardens could help bring more visitors and services to the Bethel community.