Monday scatter: Rose Quarter blues, theatrical greens, soft-pallette Gauguin, fighting red ink

thomas_paineOur partner-in-Scattering Barry Johnson (who does not look like the portrait here of Tom Paine, rabble-rousing author of the political tract Common Sense) advocates a little citywide common sense in the continuing flap over Portland’s Rose Quarter and Mayor Sam Adams’ push to tear down Memorial Coliseum to make room for a minor-league baseball park and a suburban-style “entertainment district” of aggressively anonymous chain outfits on the order of a Hard Rock Cafe.

Barry writes in his alternate-universe column in this morning’s Oregonian that we all need to think more clearly about common sense the way the thinkers of the 18th century Scottish Enlightenment thought of it, as “an idea based on the best available evidence and therefore potentially persuasive to anyone.”

Barry’s pretty clear about the slapdash quality of the thinking on this rush-rush move. His summation of how we got into this municipal pickle has the blunt ring of truth:

The initial push to demolish Memorial Coliseum came from Mayor Sam Adams, who wanted 1) to make sure Portland got its Major League Soccer team, 2) which he could only do by building a new baseball stadium, 3) which would help him and the Blazers build their entertainment district if it landed in the Rose Quarter, 4) which, in turn, would serve his new convention hotel. Oh, and 5) he’d have to knock down Memorial Coliseum to do it.

Brian Libby, on his site Portland Architecture, also continues to hit hard and tellingly on why Adams’ plan is a bad idea (I’d argue that after Point 1 above none of it makes sense), and Libby’s helped rally the city’s architectural community to the cause. Keep checking him out, because he keeps adding new twists to the story.

I can only add, picking up on Barry’s theme of “common sense,” that we also think of the meaning of the commons — those areas that we hold in public trust, for the greater good of all of us. The division between what’s public and what’s private has long since been blurred: These days, big  projects increasingly come in the form of what’s called “public/private partnerships.” That’s why city and state governments pay hundreds of millions of dollars for big-league baseball and football stadiums, and it’s why, in Portland, the rehab of the old armory building into a home for Portland Center Stage came from a complex quiltwork of various governmental dollars. It’s not a bad thing: It gets things done. But it does muddy the sense of what’s public and what’s private and who benefits most. And it makes it that much more crucial for our political leaders to remember which side of the fence they’re on.

In the case of the Rose Quarter, I’ll argue (and I’m far from the first to say this: Check out our perspicacious pal Johnson in this earlier column at Portland Arts Watch) that the sort of entertainment district being planned by the Portland Trail Blazers and their developer is absolutely not in the public interest. It threatens to substitute a bland national-chain sense of style for a genuinely local  sensibility. It won’t appeal to a lot of people who actually live (as I do) in Northeast Portland. And it’ll suck money away from established local businesses, just as Adams’ massive proposed Convention Center hotel would steal business from existing hotels even as it would require big public subsidies to keep its doors open. Where’s the common good here, again?

The Lloyd Center/Convention Center/Rose Quarter triangle has been a dumping ground for big projects that don’t have much to do with the neighborhoods surrounding them. There’s no question that Lloyd Center pumps a lot of money into the local economy, but it’s also like a walled city inside the city, the antithesis of a healthy open business district where civil, not private, rules dictate behavior. Its last major remodeling, prompted in part by overblown fears of gang activity, changed it from a private district that was at least open and welcoming to the public to one that has turned its back on the city around it and set itself up as a fiefdom with its own rules. The result was an architectural disaster determined by reactionary social engineering — the “cleaning up” of what ought to have been a vibrant and culturally diverse urban neighborhood.

So: What do our commons mean to us? This time, can we think before we cave in? Can we choose to not cave in at all? Will the people we’ve entrusted with our votes to make tough decisions for all of us pause to think about the good of the commons? Tune in tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. Maybe even squawk a little. And keep your fingers crossed.


Also in this morning’s Oregonian, ace reporter D.K. Row gets the skinny on the Portland Art Museum’s new Gauguin, an 1884 garden scape painted before Gauguin threw caution to the wind and became the Gauguin of the popular imagination. It’s a gift from longtime museum patron Melvin “Pete” Mark. …

And on Sunday, Row gave readers of The Oregonian the results of his long and illuminating interview with the prominent arts consultant George Thorn on what the economic crisis might do to Oregon’s arts infrastructure. It’s good reading: not a Doomsday report, but not exactly a rosy-colored romp through the primroses, either.


The Great White Way has got its first green theater, Patrick Healy reports in this morning’s New York Times. It’s Henry Miller’s Theater on Broadway, a state-of-the-art work of environmental efficiency rebuilt behind the neo-Georgian facade of the original 1918 building. Shades of Portland’s Gerding Theatre at the Armory, home of Portland Center Stage and a trailblazer for the idea of green theaters.


Finally, a couple of stories I’ve written for The Oregonian recently, in case you didn’t catch them in print:

— In this morning’s edition (with the much longer version online at Oregon Live), a review of The Vanishing Landscape, abstract painter and printmaker James B. Thompson’s gorgeous and philosophically challenging show at Salem’s Hallie Ford Museum of Art. How does Thompson express his concern with the disappearance of the Western landscape in the vocabulary of abstraction?

— From Sunday, April 26, this piece about Andrew Golla and Portland Theatre Works, the little company with the $10,000 budget that defies the odds and our financially challenging times to produce a series of monthly readings of new scripts. Golla’s confident that his and other shoestring-budget theaters will survive the global economic collapse. “We always do,” he says. “We’re cockroaches.”