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'This is what Medford is about'

Sometimes it takes an outsider to put into words what everyone already subconsciously knows. Medford city and community leaders owe an Idaho consultant a debt of gratitude for delivering those words.

Mark Rivers, whose Boise-based firm, Brix & Co., helped develop the Commons project in downtown Medford, told the City Council last week that it has an opportunity — and a responsibility — to develop a vision for Medford. Implicit in that message is that Medford currently lacks that vision.

We hope the council members do not get defensive over the suggestion that the city has no vision because we are all guilty of not demanding it. Former Mayor Lindsay Berryman led a community effort in the late-'90s to create a vision plan for the city. Some of the items in that 11-page plan have worked out and there certainly have been improvements made in the city, from downtown to the large sports park in south Medford.

But community vision is irrelevant without community understanding and buy-in. We dare say there are no more than a handful of people in the city today who could describe what was in that vision plan. We had to look it up ourselves and discovered some admirable aspirations, generally around making Medford a safe and livable community.

Rivers says the community can aim higher and suggests that we use our natural advantages, namely locally produced food and wine, as the centerpiece in creating an identity for the city. He suggests the farmers market be moved downtown, that the community develop "the largest urban garden on the West Coast" and a food center to incubate developing businesses and support local growers. The city could develop an economic opportunity zone for urban wineries and distilleries, he said, and build a brand throughout the city that celebrates the food and wines of our region.

It's an idea worth pursuing, in part because it matches well with other efforts already under way from groups like the Sustainable Valley and Thrive, that support the idea of reinvesting in our own community businesses. We have the food industries, from Harry & David to boutique chocolate and cheese makers. And we have a winery region that is steadily gaining recognition.

It could be that Rivers' vision is the right one for Medford or it may be that our future will take us down a different path. But the City Council members — and the community at large — need to take up the challenge Rivers threw down and create that future.

Medford is a well-run, efficient and frugal city, living within its means and making progress here and there and in fits and starts. It has some notable accomplishments to its name, including a much-improved downtown (empty storefronts notwithstanding), a higher education center and an impressive sports park. But those are individual success stories, and not necessarily the result of a larger vision, an identity that says, "This is what Medford is about."

We all should hope the legacy we leave behind is something beyond "efficient and frugal," but to do that we have to act and not wait to see which direction the winds will blow us.

The council members and community leaders do owe Rivers a debt of gratitude for challenging us to find our own direction. And we owe it to ourselves to take up that challenge.