Gagging on Gragg
What is the deal with this Randy Gragg guy, and what are he and his developer buddies doing to Portland?
A while back, I hurled some brickbats at Gragg, The Oregonian's "architecture critic." Or whatever he is. And his defenders came out from behind the woodwork to tell me how wrong I was. He's just doing his job writing about architecture, they told me.
Hey, look at this column. Is this about architecture? Or is this just some hip guy in a beret and a turtleneck playing the apologist for the ugliness that has become Portland development?
Well, now that Neil's gone for a while, I guess somebody has to do it.
Look at what's going up all over Portland right now, while the city sits mired in an economic slump. The taxpayers are effectively paying people to put up big, boxy, unimaginative, out-of-place, ugly cr*p. The accompanying sales job is that we need all these multi-story "luxury" apartment and condo towers so that we don't exceed the urban growth boundary. Boy, if that isn't a Goldschmidt speech -- and accordingly, a steaming load of shinola. You could build two or three stories high from here to the furthest ends of Hillsboro, Tualatin and Gresham, and have way more housing than Portland will ever need in the next century. You don't have to wreck the small-town feel of our city with this appalling collection of grotesque, New York-style six- and eight- and 10- and 15-story boxes.
In 20 years, people will look on those buildings the way we look at the Marquam Bridge and the eastside freeway now -- a gigantic mistake that somebody must have gotten rich off of. And wait 'til you see how rundown Portland's older apartment stock, in Northwest and Southeast, gets as the vacancy rates in those neighborhoods go up. We're overbuilding, folks, and when you do that, some places have to go vacant. And then the owners run them into the ground, wait and see.
Whatever the appropriate size is for a building, double it, or triple it in some cases, and that's what the developers are getting away with in Portland now. Look at what they're doing to Hawthorne. Look at what they're doing to Beaumont. Look at what they're doing on NE Weidler. Look what they're about to do next at the Uptown Shopping Center. Luxury apartment tower at MLK and Multnomah? Surely you jest. And in the classic residential neighborhoods, old single-family homes are being ripped out for 15-foot-wide "luxury" particle-board duplex townhouses.
And not only is this City Council (all five of them) encouraging this -- it's subsidizing it, while police protection, mental health services, and public education all suffer.
Our city government says it's concerned that Portland is quickly losing its grip on small businesses and families. But what is it doing about it? It's taking away the things that made Portland attractive to those constituencies in the first place.
For big, boxy, ugly condo towers. The kind Randy Gragg loves to gush about:
One need look only at the current cover of Architecture magazine to see a better outcome. New York's SHoP Architecture (a finalist for Portland's aerial tram project) piggybacked a beautiful six-story, digitally fabricated, zinc-clad addition to a six-story, brick historic building in Manhattan's Meatpacking District.
It's pathetic. Randy, do me a favor. Take your Architecture magazine, get on a plane, fly down to San Francisco, order up a nice Pimm's cup, and think seriously about not coming back. Take a couple of Pearly fat cats with you; I'll buy you all some one-way tickets.
Every building we build has to be the same -- retail on the first floor, six stories or more of "luxury" apartments above. There's a tower on top of the Safeway now. This is supposedly a wonderful thing. Next they're going to knock down a church downtown and put up a new church, with a residential tower on top. Some church. Wait 'til some kid upstairs starts blasting the Eminem over "Nearer My God to Thee." And underground parking for everyone. What are we, moles? In fact, the next time Mr. Tramcesconi goes out for bid on restrooms for the parks, someone will probably come back with six stories of "luxury" studio apartments on top of the outhouse and a parking garage below.
Tower, tower, tower. South Waterfront -- an absolute jungle of towers in the making. This is the 21st Century Portland brought to you by Neil, Vera, Erik, and the rest.
The other Randy, the neighbors' best pal, made a very telling speech right before he voted the city's millions for the Neil-Vera aerial tram earlier this month. He remarked that many of his supporters voted for him so that he would preserve the Portland we have, and resist losing the city's character.
But change is inevitable, he said, and so even he voted aye.
This is not the Portland many of us moved here for. As a critic of the tram noted a long time ago, this is gradually becoming the kind of city we moved here to get away from.
But why bitch? It's a done deal, and it's quite clear that the developers have the city in their grip for lots more of this in the future. If Commissioner Leonard won't vote no on this, there's no way Tom Potter and Nick Fish can stop it. Plus, they'll be eating out of the Pearlies' hands within six months of their swearing-in, anyway.
Ah me. Time to look on the bright side. Think of the money we'll all save on sunscreen in the summertime.