May 5, 2005 | Opinion Section | By Editorial Staff

The closer the old Fairview property gets to being redeveloped, the more Salem, and perhaps the nation, will be watching.
The owners, Sustainable Fairview Associates, envision a 275-acre community of apartments, condos, homes, businesses and public spaces, all built on environmentally friendly principles. The first stage of 190 homes includes a neighborhood of “net-zero” homes that will generate more energy than they use. Most lots will be small, but there will be plenty of open space with paths to encourage residents to walk and bike to shops, services and parks.

Many current residents will welcome this kind of option. It also could put Salem on the map for the “green” urban professionals who are flocking to Portland these days.

Attracting these young people – well-educated, with money to spend – is a kind of economic development. It can be just as crucial for Salem as attracting new employers and high-paying jobs. If creative young people see Salem as a place where they can live out their environmental values, it will help our community prosper.

Environmentally friendly design isn’t just chic. In the long run, it can be cheaper, too. That makes smaller living spaces, solar paneling and used-lumber floors attractive to folks of any age, even those who don’t think of themselves as environmentalists.

When you buy a house, you don’t just pay the sticker price; you also commit yourself to the unpredictable costs for heating it, cooling it and lighting it all the years you live there. If your house is designed to keep those costs at a minimum, or even to sell some additional energy back to the power company, you have freed up a lot of money for other uses. You may be able to retire or to live on far less.

That’s one reason the Fairview project is so intriguing. Developers are incorporating these values here and there – but a community of 1,700 to 2,000 homes, focused on environmentally sustainable principles, still is pretty unusual.

If the project’s backers can stick to their high standards, others nationwide will want to learn from them. Salem may get used to seeing its name on magazine covers for some time to come.