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Community Values & Part 3

(Community Values . . . )

And speaking of water, I want us to firmly commit ourselves to the protection of our existing water supply, which is only possible by protecting our national forest watershed east of town. We should not have to tolerate dirtier drinking water because of poor timber harvesting practices in national forests that we, in fact, own.

I would also want to protect and preserve our historic structures. There is something magical about being able to see, touch, and roam about in buildings that pre-date the turn of the 20th Century. It gives us a sense of “roots,” even if they are adopted roots. It gives us a sense of place and continuity, an understanding of the order into which we fit in the scheme of things in this community. Our historic structures are a defining element of our collective soul; they provide content to what it means to be a Salemite.

I would elevate the importance of our neighborhoods in our planning for the future. For it is in our neighborhoods where city policies affect real people, and define what “quality of life” really means on a day-to-day basis. We must not sacrifice the quality of life in existing neighborhoods in order to serve the interests of development on the outskirts of town. Additions to our city should make the community better off, rather than damaging existing neighborhoods; otherwise, what’s the point?

We also need to protect and promote other important assets which make life so enjoyable here: our outstanding library, our beautiful parks, the abundance of trees throughout the core and in every neighborhood, and our good public schools. We must not become complacent about the future of any of these important assets, lest they be damaged in the blink of an eye.

We must also be vigilant to see that each of us has a fair and equal opportunity to enjoy all of what our community has to offer, without regard to race, culture, religion, sexual orientation, or economic class. We must work harder to affirm the basic dignity of each of us in this community, based only on the content of our character.

Finally, we’ve got to make our youth a real focus of our effort to successfully sustain ourselves as a community into the 21st Century. With youth vandalism and violence on the rise, it is apparent that there is something seriously wrong with the way we are fulfilling the most basic function of any community: to successfully perpetuate itself by teaching its youth what it means to be good citizens.

Because the cost of living has far outstripped the rise in real wages since the 1950’s, many, and perhaps most, families require that both parents be employed full-time. This means that thousands of our children are coming home to empty houses after school.

We also know that most youth crime and teen pregnancy occurs between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. Understanding that, we must seriously invest sufficient resources to provide our youth with a broad variety of activities, as well as places to simply “hang out,” in every neighborhood, so that there is constructive activity available for every child in our commu-nity during that high risk time period.

We have a shared responsibility to make certain that every child has the opportunity to learn what it means to be a worthwhile and contributing citizen in this community. We owe this obligation not only to those children and their families whom we know, but, perhaps more importantly, also to those in our community that we don’t yet know. They are an important part of our community.

It will be expensive to reverse the trends that we have seen developing amongst our teenagers over the last several decades. Moreover, no one program, regardless of how well designed, will provide all of the answers. The problem is complex and subtle; the solutions will necessarily be just as complex and subtle. However, we must get as serious about the prevention of crime as we have been about punishment for crime. Ultimately, the answer is not in building more cells, but creating fewer criminals to house in those expensive accommodations in the first place.

So there you have, at least in skeletal form, my hopes for our community’s future. We have all chosen to come here, or chosen to remain here, because we believe that life in Salem is measurably better than life would be in other areas of this country. That being so, we must exert every ounce of our effort to preserve and protect the essence of our quality of life, which ultimately defines what it means to be a resident of Salem. That will take the wisdom of many, rather than the influence of a few, if we hope to be successful. I want to be a part of that visioning process, and it is important for you to be a part of it, too.

Mike Swaim is the Mayor of Salem, Oregon. He is married to Kellie Swaim and they have two sons, Matt and Darrin. A Family Practice Attorney for 27 years, he and his family have lived in Salem for the last 20 years. He is seeking re-election in May, this year.

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