When a story gets Gragged
The Oregonian pretty much missed the story on last week's historic Portland City Council vote to deny permission for a super-sized condo tower in the Goose Hollow neighborhood. Commissioner Randy Leonard said the City Council dialogue and decision were "the most important discussion on development the council has held in decades." The Trib was all over it, and I'm told the Northwest Examiner was too. But the O reported the council action in a fairly anemic piece on page B2.
Why was that?
It's because the O had handed the story off to Randy Gragg, its resident "architecture critic" (or whatever he's supposed to be), and he had made his usual hash of it in the InPortland insert the week before. Once a story gets Gragged, the O goes into a stoned trance about it for quite some time before it enlists actual reporters to come back in and stitch together what really happened.
Gragg's piece on the Goose Hollow proposal is a classic illustration of his modus operandi. The basic premise is always that high-rise development throughout Portland is inevitable -- a force of nature, almost -- and it's always a given that it's a good thing. "Building big sculpts a new urban skyline" was the headline of the latest piece. There's no debate to be had about it, folks -- it's a done deal.
If there is any discussion of the legal issues surrounding a development, it's always buried far down in the story. In the case of the Goose Hollow tower, the key issue was the transfer of floor area ratios (FAR) from one part of town to another; Gragg saves that for way, way down there, and he spins it, as he always does, the developers' way. His readers rarely get to form an informed opinion about what's really at stake. The architects and developers always know best.
When there's controversy, Gragg never gives the neighbors any respect. He hardly ever names or quotes them, and he inevitably employs a condescending put-down in describing them. In the latest story, the Goose Hollow neighbors are "plucky" -- how cute. Most times, he's even more hostile than that.
Meanwhile, all his developer and architect chums are named prominently, and most of them are quoted reverently. If they stage a little demonstration of support for their money-making schemes, as they recently did at a City Council meeting, you can bet old Gragg will be there to shine a light on it. "'I like height,' founding principal Mark Edlen says." Yeah, Randy, no kidding; he likes money even better.
Recent condo transplants who come to Portland with big bucks and no common sense are always prominently featured as well. This time some poor soul who just paid upwards of half a million to live in an apartment in Portland is talking about how much nicer it is in the Pearl than in Miami. What that has to do with the appropriate height of the buildings is beyond me.
Then there are the comparisons to Seattle and San Francisco. Gragg never lets up with these. As if the only way Portland will "succeed" is by turning itself into one of those two very unlivable places. This time around, our buildings aren't as tall as theirs, and so I guess that means we should make ours taller. Next time, it will be some other trait for comparison. We'll never be good enough.
When a story gets Gragged, the developers and their beret-and-baseball-cap architect cronies are all happy. I'm sure Gragg gets a lot of free wine and cheese out of it from his pals. But as coverage of local politics, it stinks. The O was a lot better off when this fellow was at Harvard.