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Monday, August 30, 2004

The Detroit-ization continues

Oregonian architecture dandy Randy Gragg weighed in yesterday on two new projects about to slime their way through the Portland City Hall "planning" "process." These latest developments are -- hold onto your hats, I'm not sure you're ready for this, it's really breathtaking, can you believe your eyes and ears, yes, yes, it's...

More giant condo towers!

Oh, the imagination! Oh, the innovation! And as Gragg points out, it's about time:

With PGE Park across the street and dozens of early and mid-century apartment buildings nearby, this is one of the densest, liveliest areas of the city. Yet there are scarcely any condos available for purchase, little shopping beyond Walgreen's and Fred Meyer, and only a smattering of restaurants and bars.

Oh my God. A neighborhood without condos? The absolute horror of it. Thank heaven that the selfless developers are rushing in to fill that void. Randy and his fellow goatees worked it all out over Pimm's Cups at Clarklewis, and the fix is in:

[S]urrounded by nothing more precious than the poured-in-place concrete stadium and the car wash across the street, the project won't have neighborhood advocates carping about how the architecture needs to "fit" into some mythical notion of historical context.

Damn right, Randy. Those ridiculous "neighborhood advocates" who have invested decades of their lives and most of their savings in Portland neighborhoods -- they're such a nuisance. Carping about their "mythical notions" of what they moved to Portland for. Screw them. "[A] public agency and one of the city's most respected and talented development/architecture teams" -- that's who should say how people live around here.

You know, the people with kids have already left Portland. I guess it's time to drive out the rest of the people with real lives, too. Then the whole place can be populated by California retirees and black t-shirt types. The "creative class" -- of unemployed arts and design majors. Let's throw the "mythical notions" of Portland away so that Nicholas Cage's mother and Jason Priestly can own a condo here for five years or so. Well worth it.

Even worse than the usual noises from Gragg are the quotations from the source authorities on these behemoths in our fine city government:

The Design Commission has to approve the extra height [of a monstrous four-pack of condo towers on the west side of the Willamette River just north of the Broadway Bridge]. At an Aug. 19 "design advice request" in which developers and architects get early feedback, commissioners said they would happily consider an exception to the height -- but only for an exceptional set of buildings.

Commission member Jeff Stuhr called Pemcor's current proposal "a little Disneyland." Likening the scheme to Donald Trump's proposal for similarly repetitive towers on Manhattan's western shore, commissioner Francesca Gambetti pointed out the scheme would stretch 850 feet along Northwest Naito Parkway without a single access point to the river. Commission chairman Mike McCulloch argued that repeating "the same building four times in a row equals one big thing."

But echoing his colleagues, McCulloch added, "If something is really cool, we'll waive the regulations."

There you have it, Portlanders. If it's "really cool" to some people named Jeff Stuhr and Mike McCulloch, it's a done deal, even if it violates all the city rules -- the same city that forbids the average homeowner to even plant a turnip without an expensive permit. And you can bet that people like Neil and Lady Di Goldschmidt, Jim Francesconi, and Homer Williams have old Jeff and Mike on speed-dial.

Commenters, please let me have it this time. Tell me again how wrong I am -- how wonderful the Detroit-ization of Portland is. It's either four-packs of condo towers right on the riverbanks, or else we'll just have to have urban sprawl. There's no middle course.

Tell me again. Because so far, I think you're full of it.

Comments (16)

Personally, I have no strong opinions either way about downtown housing. Obviously there must be some people who want to live there - I just wish they could build the stuff without incentives.

My real concern (and I'm guessing that I'm preaching to the choir) is that as much as Portland and Metro talk about wanting to provide housing "choice," they're doing a miserable job. Unless of course we all choose to live in downtown condos or single-family homes packed together so you can hear your neighbor flush their toilet.

As a mild-mannered public servant, I wish I could afford a house in the metro area where I could take my daughter to the backyard to play. If I wanted that now, I'd have to move to Vernonia or Mollala.

Choice should mean real housing choice. That doesn't have to mean sprawl. That's what design is for.

"It's either four-packs of condo towers right on the riverbanks, or else we'll just have to have urban sprawl."

Straw man.

I'm more interested in the middle course. What do you think it would be? How about a little constructive criticism: debunk their suggestion, then offer one of your own. The commenters are waiting :-)

I'm all for the condo towers, done appropriately, but what you've described doesn't seem to be. For one thing, it's ludicrous to block off 850 feet of waterfront like that. Let's have a little parkway action, and a little greenspace.

I just re-read that article, after posting, and I find it hard to believe that we read the same thing. The excerpts you posted change drastically the tone of the article, unless I'm really mis-reading it. The quotes you've pulled read very differently in context.

The only thing I take issue with is the use of the word "Detroit-ization."

The view I saw from the various freeways heading into the city and then north on 75 last weekend didn't reveal any condo developments, or even much new construction.

Instead, I saw the same old abandoned buildings, bombed out warehouses and vacant lots that I've been seeing for years and years and years (moved away from the area in 1990)...should I have headed further in towards the river or something...?

i didn't read the article in the (b)oregonian, but the ww will surely have an "expose" on it soon.

i'm all for density. i think we should build higher and higher. ever been to a big city? puddletown is a great place to live and i've been here all my 34 years and wouldn't trade it for anything, yet we do need to progress. i don't want to sprawl and i don't think you do either, so what are the choices? how many 2-3 story buildings in downtown and oldtown could be re-done to offer the same business/retail space with housing on upper floors. safeway and new seasons are spearheading these types of mixed use environs in the suburbs, so why don't we do it elseware. we need some additions to our skyline other than the big pink and i love going over the bridges and looking at how dramatic the changes in the past 5 years have made to the pearl.

Last time I looked, Northeast and Southeast Portland were not being detroit-ed. They were being gentrified. Have real estate values in your neighborhood collapsed like they did in Hamtramck and Highland Park, Jack? No, they've skyrocketed.

You can argue all you want about building big condo towers downtown. To accommodate people moving to Portland we can either build them, build lower-rise multi-family blocks in neighborhoods like yours on the east side (obliterating many of the single-family homes there) or accommodate them somewhere between Sherwood and Newberg, or between Gresham and Sandy, or between Forest Grove and Banks.

But to argue that building big condo towers downtown is leading to the detroit-izing of Portland is completely devoid of factual basis.

That's a pretty funny posting Jack. As usual I disagree with you, but that was funny. It is true, Gragg has never met a condo/developer he didn't like.

While I tend to support high density buildings, you do have me second guessing the PDC. I read that article and couldn't believe some of the quotes either. Is the standard for making an exception to Housing regulations determinative on what is "really cool."

Also, I tend to agree that Homer and Neil have their pulse on what's "cool" and what isn't "cool" in Portland.

Letting Texas Power buy PGE Electric, that's cool. Sleeping with 14 year old girls, thats "really cool." Having a quality educational and health care system... hmmmm... not so cool.

The PDC has one mission, and one mission only. Increase overall property tax revenues. They don't give a damn if they do it via gentrification, densification or abatements. They don't give a damn how many businesses, living wage jobs or low income housing units they displace while doing it.

The Detroit part will come in 15 years, when no one wants to live in those awful buildings any more and they get turned over to the Portland Housing Authority.

Doesn't the Housing Authority run the condos at the MAX/60th Avenue station?

Personally, I like nothing more than to drink a Pimm's Cup at Clarklewis while wearing a black t-shirt. But that's just me...

Yeah, I'm just being a grouchy old coot. But I don't like condo towers and I don't like snide put-downs of the neighborhood activists who make this city great. "Creative class," my a*s.

No, I share your disgust. We REALLY need to clean house ASAP at city hall.

It's ludicrous that the PDC is run "semi" privately. Members of the PDC should elected by the taxpayers, otherwise there's just too much opportunity (as we've seen again and again and yet again) for favouritism. It's OUR city, we pay the taxes that run it and we should have much more of a role in determining how urban renewal monies are spent.

The PDC seems to exist just to fund certain key developers, whether it's with urban renewal monies or tax-abatements to people who don' t need them. And as always, they side with the developers, never the citizens. We Inner South-easters are directly experiencing this as the PDC insists on locating a big-box retailer (99% sure it will be Home Depot) at the base of the Burnside Bridge. This despite impassioned testimony against putting a Home Depot there from neighbours and small business owners in the area. As usual with the PDC, by the time the public is informed, the deal is done.

I really think a comparison to Detroit is unfair to Detroit. I would offer up Bucharest during the salad days of Ceacescu (sp?)

Once the commissarat decides on the official design (overpriced 2 bedroom rabbit hutches in loft format), then we can replicate as decided by the worker's collective with appropriate tax breaks for the higher income arts types.

The collective will be happy that Mr Gragg approves. Now if we can get them all to dress up in that expensive bag-lady retro chic look Vera favors (especially the different patterned leopard prints) we may be able to control the workers rebellious creative side.

Great post, Jack. As a PDX employee, my stomach turns on a daily basis over endless asinine decisions that our beloved City "leaders" make.

As for Gragg (or GAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGG, as I lovingly refer to him), Sunday's article is just another of the pompous, self-righteous drivel he's so well known for. Gosh, if we (Portland) could only be more like....hmmm...which really neato, cool, cutting-edge, blah, blah, blah other city in the world...New York...Vancouver BC (hey, don't you know it's a modern day nirvana!)...Barcelona...Hong Kong...Paris...etc...etc...

I'm constantly amazed at how many people move here from somewhere else (often because of that wonderful buzz-word - livability!)and then turn around and bitch because it's not cool enough for them and we need to be more like (see above). I don't know...I moved here from someplace else because Portland was Portland and specifically because it WASN'T like any of those other places...but what do I know.

As for the "creative class" B.S. that the pseudo-intellectual (i.e., cooler than me) crowd is eating up, well that's just another fad that will be pushed aside in a few years for the next BIG THING. Amazing how sheep-like people become because of one book. But that would explain why so many in this city need to follow (i.e., be like) some other place rather than truly creating something unique.

Blast away!


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Penda Diakité - I Lost My Tooth in Africa
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William H. Colby - Long Goodbye
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