Paradise lost?


Last updated 2/28/2023 at Noon

Many of us are old enough to remember the hit classic “Big Yellow Taxi” by 10-time Grammy winner, Joni Mitchell, whom Rolling Stone called “one of the greatest songwriters ever.” Two lines by the Canadian songwriter are indelibly etched in folk music. The first — “They paved paradise, put up a parking lot,” feels like a metaphor for the tension one feels when walking around town these days.

Sisters Country residents are concerned about planned or proposed developments, most notably the consideration of a Space Age modernization that would include an eight-tower (16 fueling pumps) island and an enlarged 3,500-square-foot convenience store (see related story, page 1). In the process Richard’s Farmstand who has occupied part of the location for 22 seasons, and C&C Landscaping’s nursery operation would be forced to relocate or, as some fear, cease business.

As an old marketing guy who relied heavily on polling and focus groups, I put up an online survey last week in an effort to take the temperature of the room. The 10-question survey was taken by 275 as of Monday morning, February 20. That’s a statistically significant sample by polling standards.

In response to the first question: In general terms which best describes your feelings about growth in Sisters? 61 percent selected “I would be okay with limited, low-density growth.” 30 percent selected “I would like Sisters to remain as is with no further expansion of housing.”

Eighty-six percent were opposed to multi-unit housing over three stories, while 14 percent were okay with it; 64 percent said tiny houses (under 500 square feet were okay; 36 percent did not like the idea. Fifty-two percent think affordable housing is possible in Sisters, and 48 percent said it wasn’t possible.

With respect to homelessness in Sisters, 26 percent said “I feel badly for anybody in this situation”; 18 percent said: “I have safety concerns about the homeless/houseless population causing fire or damage.” Another 18 percent said: “I am worried that Sisters will become like Portland, Salem, Eugene, or Bend.” And 37 percent selected: “I am worried that this problem will get worse in Sisters.”

Fifty-one percent are in favor of the City providing or assisting with housing for the homeless in city-owned land; 49 percent said no to that.

To the question: In terms of housing affordability in Sisters, what best describes your feelings? 45 percent chose “We need to have some level of entry-level or workforce housing” as their answer; 18 percent opted for “We should require more affordable housing options”; 17 percent expressed “It is a matter of supply and demand over which we have no control”; 10 percent answered: “We cannot attract necessary or essential workers”; while the remaining nine percent lamented: “My/our children/grandchildren cannot afford to live in Sisters.”

To the question: Which statement best describes your feelings about the look/appearance of Sisters? 58 percent want Sisters to maintain its traditional/Western look; 19 percent are worried that Sisters is starting to look like Bend; 12 percent are OK with the way Sisters looks; 3 percent are bothered by its looks, and 9 percent want to see more design options.

Remember, this is what we call in the business an attitude survey. To the question: What statement best describes your attitude of the kind of place Sisters is today? 38 percent answered: “A small town that is losing its character.” Twenty-five percent chose: “A place that is growing too fast.” Twenty-five percent, like me, selected “No other place I would rather be.” Eight percent said it’s a town for rich people, and 4 percent found it to be a place for retirees or empty nesters.

Forty-seven percent of respondents live inside the city limits; 7 percent are from Cloverdale; 7 percent from Black Butte Ranch; and the rest, 39 percent, somewhere else in Sisters Country.

Twenty-seven percent have lived here under five years; 23 percent over 20 years; 60 percent who weighed in are over 64, a full 82 percent are 55 plus; 30 percent men, 70 percent women; 19 percent live alone and 66 percent live in a household with one other; 95 percent live in a single family detached home. Fifteen percent who took the survey have kids or grandkids in Sisters schools.

The most lopsided question result was 80 percent to 20 percent: Do you think City managers, planners and officials are doing a good job in managing growth? with 80 percent saying “no.”

The survey intentionally did not provide the option of “other” or room for your own narrative, as my experience has taught me the results would have been all over the map. You can draw your own conclusions and do your own analysis, but I actually found the results encouraging. There is a certain optimism that comes through, all things considered.

As for the second line of Mitchell’s classic, the refrain….

Don’t it always seem to go

That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone

As it plays in my head, I’m hearing is as a cautionary tale.

For complete survey results go to

Editor’s note: numbers may not equal 100 due to rounding or insignificant responses.


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