In today's Oregonian, James Mayer reports on how the soon to open Ikea store along Airport Way beside I-205 at the bridge over the Columbia came about on that site only after plans to attract smaller-scale developments (Ikea is a gi-normous place) were unsuccessful.
Usually it would go without saying that I'd be upset about this. Big-box retail outlets surrounded by seas of surface parking are to me the ugliest, most isolated and depressing eyesores anywhere in the built environment.
But I happen to be, like a lot of my friends, a sucker for Ikea. I've never even been in one of their stores, but I've perused their catalogs countless times, and admired friends' furniture from there - however cheap and flimsy it turned out to be. I grew up in a house with lots of Scandinavian teak furniture, and I've always adored it. My parents have moved on to a rounded-oak style which is not my thing, and so I've co-opted the stereo cabinet, coffee table, nightstand and various other Danish or Swedish-built pieces. So however cliche it may be to love midcentury modern furniture now, I was on this bandwagon from the beginning.
When Portland's Ikea store opens on July 25, I'm dying to drive out to this mammoth big-box store. Which of course feels pretty weird to be writing.
I've asked myself questions like, couldn't Ikea have been coerced into building a more urban-friendly store? But Airport Way has never been that kind of environment anyway. It's also arguable, naturally, that a metropolitan area has to have these kinds of purely large-scale, auto-oriented environments. They are just another part of the anatomy from a downtown or surrounding pedestrian-scaled mixed use environment more in the center of the city. or so the argument would go. And besides, there is indeed a MAX stop, so plenty of people can get here without a car.
I also think back to a presentation I went to several years ago about the Cascade Station area in which developer Trammell Crow talked about the kind of smaller scale offices and shops that would be planned. It certainly sounded better than the kind of airplane hangar scale that is most big-box retailers. But I always remember one of the speakers explaining that it would "Look urban, work suburban." And that doesn't necessarily sound ideal to me either.
In writing this, I'm not trying to express a particular argument so much as an open-ended question. Is a banal big-box alright if the designs inside are good enough? Is Airport Way going more big-box an inevitable reality check, or a depressing cop-out? And just how many consonants can these Scandinavian languages cram into each word?