The Sorry Treatment of Old Town

In today’s Oregonian, Steve Duin considers the proposed changes in the Skidmore Old Town Historic Design Guidelines that we’ve been studying for nearly two years here in the neighborhood.  But his real coup is uncovering a heartbreaking presentation of the sorry treatment Old Town has received in from well-intentioned developers.   

Portland blogger Dan Haneckow’s Stewardship  is indeed a cautionary tale.  The photographs are spectacular and his insightful social history once again shows how this district has long been the football kicked around by City officials.  

In this case, the goalposts are far apart and the middle ground vast and frozen, like an Old Town parking lot.   Will City Council have the judgment and wherewithal to forge a compromise?  The Landmarks Commission is mounting a strong advocacy campaign at the expense of the Planning Commission.   The Neighborhood Association is standing by its incredibly hard-working Land Use Committee despite a recent appeal, trusting the process of design review to consider new development building by building.   Still, on these days when downtown streets turn to wind tunnels and we emerge into the sunlight of Old Town streets, we find ourselves cursing the shadows that tall buildings throw on our path.

But let’s get a grip.   We are a neighborhood. Flesh and blood people live, work and do extraordinary things here.  Is there anywhere else in Portland that people crisscross so many boundaries of income, age, ethnicity and gender and enjoy a such diversity of personal dreams and aspirations?   The more of us the better, I say.  This dynamic diversity diversity can thrive with housing ownership opportunities for working people, with centers of excellence like the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, and with other development aligned with the long held, well-articulated community vision.  

Yes, the historical legacy is important.   The removal of every brick, stone and lovely piece of Italianate cast iron is rightly seen as a tragedy.  But look more closely.  There’s a living legacy here in the Heart of Portland.  Don’t try to put us in a museum that may never be built.

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