The City of John Day and Grant County have experienced a number of socioeconomic problems including population loss and the highest unemployment rate in Oregon. The City led by City Manager, Nick Green, worked with Walker Macy to develop a strategy to reverse the pattern of population and economic decline, which was broadly supported by the city council and the local population who are seeing action after decades of stasis. The City’s strategy includes an understanding of and sensitivity to John Day’s traditional values and culture, and expresses a desire to grow in a balanced way to preserve the rural lifestyle and quality of life. The strategy, termed the “Innovation Gateway Project” also acknowledges the community’s desire to have access to the area’s wide range of regional recreational activities.
The study area encompasses 90 acres of land along the John Day River. The John Day River is the cohesive element weaving the Innovation Gateway together. The river and adjacent floodplain areas flow through the city and have been heavily impacted by past and current land uses, including gold dredge mining and urban development. The project conceptualizes the possibility of improving some of the river-related functions and features including steelhead habitat restoration, and recreational access for bird watching, fishing, swimming and floating. New public trails already wind through restored habitat along the riverbanks creating the connections necessary for a wide range of new land uses.
Seeking solutions that improve the environment, create jobs and increase food security, the City led the development of state-of-the-art commercial hydroponic greenhouses alongside the riverfront, indoor and outdoor botanical gardens, and a state of the art wastewater treatment plant, which will provide clean irrigation water. Other proposed improvements include a new hotel, land rezoned for new housing and office space and a system of interconnected parks.
This sweeping set of initiatives will build capacity for long-term resilience and reveals the unique opportunities for place-based planning in rural communities. The Strategy creates a destination for visitors and residents and reinforces the city’s position as a regional hub for a wide range of outdoor recreation activities, spurring a sustainable and resilient economy. This new economy will retain and attract a range of residents and businesses to John Day. Maybe most importantly, at the end of the day, this Strategy honors the culture and intrinsic qualities that make John Day such a special place.