No kids in the Pearl? How can that be?
Portland blogger Jack Bogdanski made me laugh this morning with this post about The Oregonian's architecture writer, Randy Gragg. (To say Jack thinks lightly of Mr. Gragg would probably be a bit of an understatement.) Gragg wrote this story about Portland's ritzy Pearl District, and here's most of Jack's comment:
...the O ran a big front-page splash, with lots more coverage on the cover of, and inside, the enclosed InPortland magazine. In it, the Graggmeister, exercising his full journalistic might, informs us, that... wait a minute, stop the presses, get ready for a scoop, this is really a big one....Even when I disagree with him, Jack is a great read every day. Today, I have no disagreement.
The Pearl District is a lousy place to raise kids, and very few people are dumb enough to try.
Holy moly! You don't say.
Even funnier than the huge play that this obvious fact gets, is the tone that's taken in Gragg's "analysis" of the situation. There's an aura of mystery and wonderment about it. How did this happen? We built huge condo and apartment towers with no real neighborhood around them, settled for a small concrete slab and fountain which we had the nerve to call a "park," and gee whiz, families won't live there. How in the world could this have taken place?
Gee, Randy, I would have thought that your hero, Charlie Hales, who was running a lot of things at City Hall when the Pearl "blossomed," might have told you the reason over coffee. Maybe he did and you were too starstruck to write it down. Or you could have kept talking to Portland's 200 or so paid urban planners, whom I thought we were paying millions to actually think about questions like these in a timely manner, until someone gave you a square answer.
Anyway, let me tell you why there are no kids in the Pearl District: Because families and kids weren't on Homer Williams and Joe Weston and Neil Goldschmidt's punch list of how to get rich down there. And when they said "Jump," [former Mayor] Vera Katz and [former Katz aide and current city commissioner] Sam Adams and [city commissioner] Erik Sten all responded, "How high?"
And that's exactly why the South Waterfront isn't going to have any kids in it, either.
The article adds to the hilarity by contrasting the Pearl with a new development in Vancouver, B.C., where there are gaggles of youngsters living in the high-rises. Suddenly Gragg suggests that we ought to do (or should have done) what was done up there.
You see, that's the whole problem. When the Developer Welfare recipients have a "vision" for Portland, that's just how they sell it. We'll be another Vancouver, B.C. We'll be another Barcelona. To this day you can hear Tom Imeson [a business partner to Goldschmidt] whispering these sweet nothings to Sam Adams over the Caesar salad at Higgins.
What we should be doing is asking, how do we keep being Portland? What has brought so many immigrants to this place? What makes it attractive? What is its history? What are its core values? If we ask these questions, we do not get the Pearl or South Waterfront as the answers. In contrast, when we're always trying to be like somebody else -- and the identity of that somebody else changes depending on the latest spiel being ladled out by the condo moneybags -- we have every right to expect a massive planning failure.
The kind of failure that Gragg's story has belatedly noticed.
And of course, now that it's too late to do anything about it, the O is right on the case.