Urban matters: getting used to the idea

 The Walker Macy design for Waterfront ParkSo, yes, it’s taken some time for me to figure out how to occupy space at both Art Scatter and Portland Arts Watch, not that you were holding your breath or anything.

Here’s what I’ve come up with. My straight-ahead arts stuff will land at Portland Arts Watch, which is more or less business as usual. And I’ll try to be better about letting you know what’s cooking over there. And on Art Scatter, I’ll get very scattered and talk about urban design (especially as it relates to the arts and culture) and media (ditto), both of which I’m following closely these days, as well as more, um, speculative matters. I’m going to call the urban design bits “Urban matters,” just so you know what you’re getting yourself into (or not).

As a sort of intro, here are some of the city threads I’m following right now.

The history of Pioneer Courthouse Square Our old colleague Randy Gragg has developed a visual history of the city’s central square, which would have been a massive parking lot if the city’s mayor in the early 1980s (Frank Ivancie) and business interests had had their way. It’s over at the AIA gallery in the Pearl District and worth a visit.

The Rose “Quarter” We’ve always thought the name “Rose Quarter” was pretentious, especially since the planning for it was so abysmal when the Rose Garden first opened in 1995. It was an urban design disaster in many ways — a new arena and an old arena surrounded by parking structures, only in use on game or concert nights. Its placement on the MAX route was smart, but the failure to develop any other activity around the arenas has been (and continues to be) a massive missed opportunity.

Efforts by Blazer executives (and owner Paul Allen) haven’t repaired it over the years. And its problems remain, just more acute with time, the most obvious one being what to do with Memorial Coliseum, but including the lack of access to the river and the disconnect with the surrounding street grid and Lloyd Center (all of which were pointed out by the aforementioned Randy Gragg in a column in 2000). It’s a difficult nut to crack, though, we admit: the area is surrounded by freeways and ring roads, grain elevators and railroads.

The most recent round of thinking about the Arena Area has focused on it as a possible site for the Beavers minor league baseball team stadium. I don’t exactly get this, because I don’t see how a baseball stadium fits into the footprint of the space. And that discussion has flushed out the Blazers’ current thinking about the area, which imagines it as an “entertainment district” full of clubs and restaurants, according to Mark Larabee’s account in The Oregonian. Which is a lot like their old idea. I don’t get that, either, because the capital investment involved seems so much more massive than the typical club or restaurant in the city, even the successful ones, can generate.

In this financial climate, it’s unlikely that much major investment is going to happen in the area, except possibly for a baseball stadium, which is why that piece of the Major League Soccer expansion to Portland announced last week (and which makes the soccer fan within us stand up and cheer!), has gotten so much ink — it underscores the enduring nature of the problem the Blazers created for themselves.

We’ll be following along, in case things get sorted out one way or another.

The I-5 Bridge Don’t worry, I’m not going to plunge into that one right now. Just understand that I’m very skeptical of what a gigantic , 12-lane bridge will do to the city — both the “dead zone” it’s likely to create around the ramps and bridge itself and the implications for more sprawl development in Clark County and environs. I think the “solution” the bridge proposes flies in the face of our successful history managing the automobile in the region since the Mt. Hood Freeway proposal was finally defeated in the ’70s. But more on this later.

TriMet’s transit/pedestrian bridge across the Willamette River I’m increasingly worried that an inappropriately large and aggressive cable-stayed bridge is going to join our suite of Willamette bridges. There’s a better proposal on the table (a hybrid cable-stayed/suspension bridge) and one on the cutting room floor (a new wave design bridge). Again, we’ll be following this here.

Saturday Market moves to Waterfront Park Although there have been various “incursions” into the green of Tom McCall Waterfront Park, this is the most aggressive (see photo above). Construction was going on when I walked by on Thursday, and once we get to see it in action, we’ll report back.