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first of all, i want to take a moment to thank you for this blog. i have not yet posted a comment, but enjoy keeping up with it...

i agree with potestio that there needs to be a master plan for the city. there are so many disjointed small scale plans, where's the overall vision? that said, i think it is too bad that he doesn't offer a better idea for improving burnside than the couplet he puts down. he doesn't necessarily even say that he thinks burnside needs improving, but i think drawing a comparison between it and the champs elysees might lead one to feel that our main drag comes up a little short on the scale of grand boulevards. (and why pick hollywood boulevard in la? it is the opposite of burnside: one of the only streets in la pleasant for peds, and not really used by commuters). his analogies are useless because none of these streets marginalizes pedestrians as blatantly as burnside.
and it is blatant. it is dehumanizing. on a rainy day, it can be downright soul-sucking. i've imagined, many times, knocking down one side of the street to accomodate everyone. but i can never pick the right side. the couplet is not perfect, it's true. but it is a solution, and the mere fact that it is being addressed at all is heartening. what's more, portland is not paris, or la, or san fran, or anywhere else for that matter. if it hopes to ever be considered even slightly near the level of these cities, it is going to have to do something about the glaring eyesore running down its middle. the fact that traffic would be forced to slow down through the center of town seems, to me anyway, a good thing. a reminder that people have arrived in a different place. a place where people ride bikes and use their feet! of all things! and you know what else, the homeless people will probably still be there, and they will probably appreciate the improved surroundings, and i'm okay with that too.
oh, one more thing: this whole ped friendly couch street thing is a myth. try walking around that area in the late afternoon; it's a nightmare.

Rick Potestio

I am glad to see a response posted to my thoughts above. I do have a proposal, one that I think address the points I have made and those concerns of the proponents of the couplet idea. Yes, Portland is not Paris, or SF or any other city...comparisons can only go so far to offer options or models. In many ways, Portland's scale is more like that of Torino or Bologna...Burnside is an example of this...It is relatively narrow for a street of such importance at a city/regional scale. I agree that the street is not very attractive, and the sidewalks are narrow. The un-attractive character of the street is due to the nature of the buildings that front it. Most have no architectural value and are in poor condition. There are a number of fast food outlets more appropriate to suburban locatons. However, there are great moments. I believe The Fireman's Memorial is designed by Paul Cret, who was with the Univ. of Pennsylvania and Louis Kahn's mentor. The building housing Ringlers Annex I believe was designed by Cass Gilbert, who designed the Woolworth Building in NYC. The Federal Reserve Building was designed by Belluschi. (I will check accuracy of these attributions later when I have my books)
My idea would be to remove the sidewalks, widen the lanes, add trolleys in both directions...this would address the capacity issue and focus on moving people rather than cars. I would replace the side walks with arcaded porticos about 15 feet wide and 25 high on each side. These would be like those of Torino. The precedent also exists on east Burnside. These would offer shelter to pedestrians, persons waiting for trolleys, diners in cafes, and shops displaying wares....they would be grand spaces, could have mosaic floors, great lighting, wonderful shop windows. They would be integrated into all new construction and to the fullest extent possible retrofited into existing structures. More on this later--got to go!


thanks so much for the response. i wish you could stick a drawing of your idea in the comments section (which i'm sure you've found the time to draw up and have just been waiting for someone to ask you to see) as i'm having a difficult time imagining how that all fits together. but then, i've never been to torino.
oh, and it was those few architectural treasures, and the fact that they're scattered along both sides of burnside, which hindered my vision of tearing down one side or the other. if it were all taco bell and walgreens (and, dare i say it? powell's), there wouldn't be an issue.
but back to the idea; about the covered arcades... it is my personal opinion that 'improvements' will probably not, in and of themselves, drive away, hmmm, those who require services. and the arcade idea reminds me of the problems with that parking garage across from the galleria. assuming that these are open to the general public, could these arcades provide a little too much shelter? i feel like a classist snob saying that....but it seems that good design in this city is often sabotaged by questionable public policy.

which leads back to the lack of an overall plan or vision for portland. we need a mission statement. we need to explicitly outline what it means to be a portlander. why it's important to live here. why our values of sustainability and civic generousity are important. why it has proven beneficial, over time, for us to be humble and to grow slowly (if not necessarily always with the best foresight ie eastside i-5). but i think sometimes our humble attitude leads to design that is a little underwhelming, sometimes odd. the difference between new york and portland can best be noted by the placement of our great (bronze? copper?) ladies. they stuck her in the middle of their harbor, for all to see and admire. we put ours behind some trees on the bus mall. why isn't she on the waterfront? are we afraid of inspiration? would we be accused of some sort absolutism?
this underwhelming aspect of portland's vision is in full view in the many renderings of the couplet. i don't know who drew that thing, but the public art they suggested made that awful brush thing across from powell's look interesting. further, the rendering thoroughly blows a great opportunity created by the reconfiguring of the intersection at 12th and sandy and burnside. whether this couplet thing happens or not, and using this extant model as a preview of what an overall vision of portland might look like, would it kill us to imagine, on the east side, at the top of a little hill with lovely views to the west (lose the billboard), at the intersection of major streets creating a bit of a drive around, not a dull, suburban office park looking structure, but something better, like perhaps, a tall monument (natively inspired? classicly rendered? who knows? not ugly?). as a symbolic gesture, it might also be a nice spot for a new elementary school (in addition to the tower). something that said, amidst all the wrangling over school budgets and such, that we really do care about children, and parents, and people, and the explicit and directed fashioning of a dynamic civil society (and this is coming from a single gay man). these are just ideas, but i think ideas work better on paper. especially those which many would argue are unrealistic. what is reality, if not the creation of someone's ideas?

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