If you can’t find your way downtown, does the downtown actually exist?

By Nicole Ginley-Hidinger

As you drive by on the I-5, you get a glimpse of Medford’s downtown on the horizon. You see the iconic old style buildings such as the Holly Theatre, the Elks Lodge, and the Sacred Heart Cathedral, as well as the newer booming businesses such as the Lithium Headquarters, the Rogue Valley Community College and Southern Oregon University Building, and the new Library. However, as you exit onto Crater Lake Highway, the downtown disappears from the skyline and trying to find it amongst the weaving streets and changingroad names becomes nearly impossible. Then when you get there, there is no way to determine whether you’ve made it or not.

To solve this confusion, several Sustainable City Year Program (SCYP) classes are working together to create and place signage that will direct more tourists and residents to the downtown area. This term, a Geography class in Advanced Geographical Information System (GIS), will be inventorying the current signage in downtown Medford and determining its effectiveness. During summer, a Community Planning Workshop will take the information and determine the types of signs and where they should be. Next year there is a plan for a Digital Art class to design the look and feel of the signs.

“There’s a need to direct people in the right direction and there’s also a need to inform people that they are now entering this district known as the downtown,” says Geography Professor Chris Bone.

It is more important than ever for people to locate downtown, as Medford’s downtown grows. Several new businesses including Pacific Retirement Services, Rogue Disposal, and Procare Software are planning to move downtown, increasing the number of people who eat and shop in the area.

“In the last twenty years or so, the Medford Urban Renewal Agency was formed for the downtown and they did quite a lot of work there,” says the City of Medford Principal Planner, Kelly Akin. “There’s been a lot of investment so it’s a great place to be, but it’s important to get people here.”

Bone’s GIS class will create an interactive and editable map using an iPhone and Android app that will show the locations of the signs, have a picture of each one, and have information determining their effectiveness and a physical inventory of the wayfinding signage in Medford. Afterwards, they will preform spatial analysis to show what types of signs are located where and then recommend where Medford should consider putting more signs.

This project will include creating signs for drivers, bikers, and pedestrians. The road signs will direct people to the downtown area and other Medford landmarks from multiple parts of the city. The bike signs will be placed on the Bear Creek Greenway to assist bike commuters on how to get downtown and the pedestrian signs will focus on where the important shops and businesses are located when people are walking around the downtown district. 

Medford takes pride in bringing the community together downtown for several events that show the character of the city, including the Saturday Market and the Pear Blossom Festival.

“I think the downtown, at least the historic parts, are the heart and soul of any city,” Akin says.

This is a great opportunity for both the UO classes and the City of Medford. The city is looking forward to seeing a fresh perspective and getting results that they can implement over time, sign by sign. The classes are anticipating getting experience with an actual client.

“It’s a great project for a GIS class,” Bone says. “It almost acts as an internship, in a sense that students in the class are working for an external agency, so they get real world, hands on experience, with the need to develop something that is going to be utilized by an agency outside the university. That’s not something you often get experience with, so that’s a big thing.”