I spoke to Laurel, a FreeGeek worker who was there to deliver the PAWC statement. PAWC is "a mutual beneficial association for Portland, Oregon area Cooperatives and Collectives" that got off the ground a little over a year ago. Though PAWC held a couple different publicity events this year (including the "World Without Bosses" bike tour), their statement today was their first dip into city politics. Some PAWC businesses are located near enough to the Burnside Bridgehead parcel that they could definitely be affected, for better or worse. PAWC's statement came out in opposition to Big Box stores in general: "These chain retailers would both erode the vibrant uniqueness of Portland and remove money from our economy. 'Big Box' chain retailers also put locally-owned small businesses at risk, based on economy of scale... Additionally, they dehumanize the work experience for those who find jobs there, and they cannot be held truly accountable to their community." |
Indeed. Such sentiments were common, and the fears are well-founded. Kyle Anderson, of Gerding/Edlen -- the firm that includes a Home Depot in its proposal -- was overheard saying, "Once this side of the river gets exploited, the opportunities will be dynamite." Having the East Side and its mix of mostly small and local businesses "exploited" is not what the Portlanders who showed up want. Many neighborhood activists were in attendance -- people who follow these issues and bring them back to their neighborhood associations and community groups. The PDC would do well to listen to them; these are the people who care, and they're the ones who can be organized in their opposition to something as well.
One such activist is Emily Simon, co-chair of the Land Use Committee of the neighborhood association for Kearns, the area in which this project is sited. She and the association are opposed to any "big box" store in the redevelopment for many reasons including increased traffic and the draining of money from the local economy. Emily and many others would prefer a grocery store in the neighborhood, since there isn't a good one now. She is also concerned that redevelopment might push up home prices nearby, and drive away new homeowners. Kearns is still an affordable place to buy a home, by Portland standards, Emily says. Like PAWC, the Kearns Neighborhood Association is in favor of the Beam proposal, which does not include a big box store, but which might have a grocery store. Said Emily of one of one of the Beam developers with whom she's spoken: "He seems to really understand how the district works".
Personally, though I could see that the Beam proposal is indeed the best of the three (it also includes bio-swale constructions for water run-off and is the most pedestrian/bike-friendly), I am not thrilled with any of them. All include tall buildings. That is, structures that are 10-15 stories high. I honestly don't usually care for architecture that's over 4 stories. Buildings start to become monolithic at that point, and to create wind tunnels and big shadows. If it were up to me, I would leave at least the facade of the older building currently facing onto Burnside; it has lovely old arches on it, and more personality than anything the developers were offering.
No one seems to have given much thought to how this redevelopment is going to affect the homeless people who live in and around the parcel, and under the nearby bridges and freeway ramps. Big Box or no, new projects like this tend to give the excuse to shoo undesirables away. And just because an area is "pedestrian friendly" doesn't mean you can panhandle, busk, or hold a sign without getting harassed. "Exploitation" of the East Side in some form is inevitable with this project.
The PDC says it will be passing all the comments collected tonight to the Evaluation Commission, which will then make a recommendation on which proposal to accept. Public Testimony on this recomendation will be received on (and probably up to, via mail, etc.) Jan. 26, 2005. The PDC will make its final decision by Feb. 9. In other words, there's still time to make your voice heard in this process.