In Sunday's Oregonian D.K. Row interviewed John Jay, who is not only executive creative director at Wieden + Kennedy (more or less the #2 guy to Dan Wieden), but also is playing an increasing role as a developer - particularly in the Old Town/Chinatown neighborhood.
Row: Why should Chinatown be important?
Jay: Chinatown represents both the past and the future. It may well be potentially the most interesting and influential neighborhood in the city waiting for reinvention. It sits on the edge of Broadway, an area of creative energy with the Museum of Contemporary Craft and other galleries in the DeSoto Building. Then there's the 511 building owned by the Pacific Northwest College of Art that's poised to be the new incubator of artists and designers. From the Pearl, Chinatown leads to Old Town, which will evolve with the emergence of a rejuvenated White Stag building and its focus on architecture and design.
So, Chinatown sits in the middle of an emerging creative corridor.
I wish I knew. I don't know. I hope the city will have a vision. I hope people at the Portland Development Commission understand that there are wonderful things happening in Old Town -- the White Stag building, for example, and much more. But that's not Chinatown.
What will Chinatown look like in the future?
The growing prominence of Asian creatives in the world at large is huge right now. That's intersecting with the fact that there is this place called Old Town/Chinatown on the verge of being remade by someone -- by the city, by ground forces. And what does that future look like? The future may be a very contemporary expression of what used to be a Chinatown that is a multi-Asian ethnic neighborhood that includes a lot of creative forces. When you think about the early days of the Pearl, about TriBeCa and SoHo, it was always the arts that drove them. But this opportunity here is based on Asian culture, the importance of Asian culture and China and Tokyo. (Note: the above photo is by Michael Rubenstein.)
How do you keep this part of town distinct from the Pearl District?
This is wishful thinking but I would like to keep the area a little more affordable and younger. It's hard and difficult, of course: I can't blame developers because for them to make things work financially, they have to build luxury condos. We need the city's help. I remember talking to Sam Adams before he was elected. We were talking about the enthusiasm in Chinatown. He was very positive and supportive of the creative businesses in this town. I think he understands how important this area is.
Historically, what held the area from progress?
Well, the 900-pound gorilla is the presence of social services. I think those who live here have to embrace that because it's the authentic DNA. But whether or not the area can absorb more or not is up to the city. It's an area that's been down on its luck for a while -- businesses open, then close, and some people haven't felt entirely safe. Young people, however, don't fear that. I go back to my business and think about an encounter with Jay Chiat, who opened the advertising firm Chiat/Day. I saw him one time on Fifth Avenue in New York. He had just moved his offices there in the 1980s. I said, "Congratulations." He said, "Yeah, yeah, but we should be over on 10th and 11th avenues, where it's more shady and dangerous. This is a creative company. We shouldn't be that comfortable."