EUGENE — A consultant hired to help improve downtown Eugene has told city leaders that the area is in "crisis" and is widely considered unsafe.

The Oregon city hired New York-based Project for Public Spaces to recommend ways to make the downtown public spaces safer, welcoming and more active, reported The Register-Guard.

The firm presented several ideas during a Wednesday meeting. Vice president and design director Meg Walker said the project has found problems with homelessness in other cities but that the situation in downtown Eugene is the most serious she's seen.

"And I want to say this frankly, that because you have a small downtown and you're a small city and this (homeless) population is concentrated in a small area, it does come across as a much more serious problem . than it would in another city like Seattle or Portland or New York City, where it's more diffused," explained Walker.

The city is paying the firm around $160,000 for its work.

Project for Public Spaces conducted a survey to gauge public opinion of downtown Eugene, and many residents said they don't go downtown because they feel unsafe or intimidated, according to Walker.

"People felt very uncomfortable and often are fearful," she told city leaders. At the same time, she said residents are concerned that not enough is being done to help Eugene's homeless people.

When the company asked residents to describe the downtown's public spaces and the area in general in three words, the top responses were "dirty," ''homeless" and "unsafe." Of the top 10 words "potential" was the only positive one, Walker said.

Walker and her colleagues proposed several designs to make downtown spaces more appealing. The firm's recommended upgrades include moving stone walls and shrubbery that make some areas seem insular and bringing in more adult-oriented activities like chess, yoga or dancing to some public spaces.