What the "creative class" needs
Every once in a while, The Oregonian's outgoing soul-patch-and-black-beret architecture-critic-who-rarely-writes-about-actual-architecture, Randy Gragg, gets it right. Yesterday was one of those days. But in typical Oregonian fashion, the most important part of the story didn't appear until way down at the end. As they say in the business, he buried his "lede."
The topic was a new political action group formed by Portland's "creative class" -- a self-identified group of designers and other right-brain types who have either helped Portland gain its reputation for hospitality to talented people of their ilk, or at least been attracted here by that reputation. They're wining and dining Mayor Tom Potter and knocking on other politicians' doors, demanding a better atmosphere for their design endeavors. (By the way, the group is described as "a Portland Development Commission-backed effort to figure out ways to support creative industries," and so I bet the food at the Noble Rot soiree with Potter was darned good and the juice was flowing, heh heh. Wonder if, as a taxpayer, I paid for it.)
It's about time the "creative class" folks got together and started lobbying for change, since quite frankly, their future here is not filled with promise at the moment. Simply put, there aren't very many good jobs for them in these parts.
And they're being used. For example, take the official myth that the alterations that are currently being made to the look and feel of Portland -- that is, the skyscrapers being inflicted on the city skyline by the PDC and the 200 or so paid city "planners" -- are somehow related to these people. We show them the shiny Pearl, which gets them here and starts them salivating, but after a few months they're waiting tables at Oba with no better options in sight. Meanwhile, the Usual Developer Suspects head off to the bank with the latest deposits from Retired California.
As I say, way down at the end of the piece, Gragg hits it:
At the Design Exchange event at Mississippi Pizza, a longtime and successful designer, Steve Sandstrom, maybe summed it up best. Promoting Portland as a whole right now is imperative to success, he argues, because nobody here is buying the services or wares.No kidding. What the creative class really needs is to have some Fortune 500 companies come or return to Portland for their corporate homes. But will they? Not to Erik Sten and Sam Adams's Portland. Those guys have given up on real industry. Convinced that the only hope for the Portland economy is real estate speculation, the med school, and maybe tourism (if we can somehow get our 6,100 homeless residents to disappear), they're busy building condo towers, streetcars and aerial trams. And spending millions and milions on business-hostile socialist-looking projects like hassling the telecommunications companies and pushing public power on a public that doesn't want it.
"My biggest concern as a businessperson is, I don't have any clients in Portland," Sandstrom said. "Without more dollars being headquartered here, we as designers really have a challenge ahead."
I wonder if the creative class will ever be creative enough to see that.
Instead of blowing tens of millions on a Convention Center hotel, the City of Portland ought to build a huge corporate headquarters building somewhere within the city limits -- maybe over in North or Northeast Portland -- and offer any Fortune 500 company free office space for a couple of years if they'll just move a substantial number of executive jobs here.
Don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen. Instead, we'll wallow in the aerial tram and the hotel, thanks.
But I will say one positive thing about the Portland City Council's current economic vision: It's nice having people with masters degrees waiting on you in the restaurants. They're so good with the wine list.