Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Down With High Rises

Recently we've seen both a relentless raft of City-enabled, high-rise, hive-like rental apartment buildings, most of them with little or no parking for residents. The backlash from neighborhoods has been considerable but in most cases the developers prevail after applying for and gaining variances from the land use bureau and the City.

In Manhattan, which started as with a manageable skyline and exploded into dark corridors of skyscrapers, the only way to go was up because of the borough's bedrock foundation. That foundation made it an ideal location for highrises and skyscrapers. This isn't the case in Portland.

Rather than swapping FAR rights and applying for variances that result in buildings that don't suit a neighborhood or are too tall, the City should stand firm. If a developer wants to build a 10-story apartment building in a part of town where the limit is 6-stories, for instance, the City should say, "Fine, but 4 of those stories must be underground." This would be particularly valuable for two reasons:

1) The City used to have a guideline that said that building heights must trend DOWN as they approach the waterfront so that views are not impeded. Nobody is paying attention to this at the South Waterfront (the infamous "So What", home of "Boon" and "Doggle" the twin trams to OHSU) and so I must assume that once again variances are in play (propelled by money) or the rule is no longer an active one. Under my new rule, the developers could construct buildings with unlimited floors, except all but 6 stories would have to be underground.

2) Because high rollers would probably prefer to live above ground in units with coveted river views, the above-ground apartments could rent for market or premium rates. The underground units would be priced affordably so that people who don't own a soccer team (for instance) could afford to rent in Portland . . . something that is becoming more and more impossible, the closer one gets to downtown, on less than a base salary of $50,000 to $60,000 a year. This amount is, by the way, above the average income of Portland residents.

Fairy tale planning that posits that apartments built near a bus or MAX will magically attract people without cars is just that. A fairy tale. We shouldn't be buying into this poor planning. These small "flats" without parking may cater successfully to the current crop of young creatives, but populations change. When the people looking for apartments are older or have families, who will rent the cells in these "hives?"

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

It's a SideWALK

After another day of walking into town and back, I'm once again aware that some people need a wake-up call regarding appropriate behavior in regards to who belongs on a public sidewalk.

It's a sideWALK. It's for pedestrians. It's not for bicyclists, skateboarders or Segway riders. The only exceptions should be:

- Disabled individuals on scooters or mobility devices
- Children accompanied by adults and riding tricycles or small bikes with training wheels at low speed
- Bicycles being walked to an apartment or a bike rack from the street

There's no excuse for an adult to be riding a bicycle on the sidewalk. A bicycle is - for all intents and purposes - a vehicle under Oregon law. We now have a plethora of bike lanes, bike boxes and bike routes. If you're going to ride a bicycle in town as an alternate form of transportation, learn to ride boldly and correctly. Riding on the sidewalk is hedging and it's a danger to pedestrians.

Another disturbing trend that makes streetcar riding a miserable crush involves bicyclists who somehow feel they must bring their bikes onto the streetcar. There's a good reason to bring bike on the MAX if one is commuting to Gresham or Hillsboro from downtown, for instance. And I'll be the first to agree that bicyclists get a raw deal on MAX because during rush hour, pedestrians will often stand in the areas where the bike hangers are located and refused to let bicyclists use the racks to hang their bikes. A bicyclist shouldn't have to wait for the next MAX any more than a disabled person should have to wait because an able-bodied pedestrian has decided to take the space allocated for them. However, I digress.

The streetcar routes are small loops of less than a couple of miles that a bicyclist can easily ride, and in doing so can get to his or her destination more quickly than they can on the streetcar. So why are they getting on the streetcar? I might understand it if a cyclist were caught by a cloudburst or if they found themselves with a flat or a broken chain and didn't happen to have the proper tools to fix what went wrong. But that never seems to be the case. And because it's become a lot more crowded recently because of the growing number of aging riders on Rascals and Hoverounds, walkers (which nobody ever folds up when they get on), and homeless people with shopping carts there is just no more room for something as large as a bicycle. And there are no bike hangers on the streetcar nor bike racks on the front or back, such as you would find on a bus. No bikes on the streetcar!

I may be the only person in town who says loudly, "Bikes off the sidewalk!" when some clueless biking idiot comes wheeling at speed right up the middle of the sidewalk and my attempts to shame bicyclists into taking to the street are probably doomed to failure because I have actually heard people justifying bikes on the sidewalk as though it's somehow alright.

It's not. And as bicycling continues to grow in Portland and more pedestrians get sideswiped, hit and flipped off because they might have had the temerity to complain, the sh*t is going to hit the freewheel.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Quality Clothing Is Not To Be Found at Target

Yeah, it's probably not fair to pick on Target. Include WalMart, Fred Meyer or any other store that flogs clothing made by starving people in third world countries chained to a bench and working 24/7 for pennies making cheap shit.

I can't afford to buy new clothing but it doesn't bother me. The stuff available at William Temple House, Goodwill and Value Village includes not only quality vintage clothing made of good material and by no-longer-in-business American manufacturers for less than what I'd pay for Chinese junk.

Again and again, while walking through my neighborhood, I am struck by the plain fact that most of what I see people wearing I would not buy if it were in a $1 . . . or even a "free" box . . . at a roadside garage sale. Yes, there are people tastefully and beautifully dressed but they are in the minority. I suspect that when they realize what a complete and total lack of taste the American public exhibits regarding dress and note its cluelessness regarding what is or is not appropriate, they probably move to Europe, toute de suite.

I see a lot of sagging pants, too-tight tights and leggings on supersized, corn-fed large bottoms and thighs, pajama pants, "Michelin Man" puffy jackets and dreadful cheap fashion boots.

I picture the garage sales of the future where these sad tight pants, ugly down-trodden boots with their useless ornamental buckles and stacked heels, low-rider jeans and the inevitable thongs that accompany them and ridiculous bulgy jackets take the place of Moon Boots, tube tops and Olivia Newton-John inspired leg warmers.

I remember when it was exciting to contemplate a "casual day" at work. Now every day - on every street - is casual day, whether it is appropriate or not.

It's got to the point where the occasional presence of the man who wears nothing but a blue blanket on the Portland Streetcar doesn't even raise an eyebrow.


Another reason I'm listening less to NPR lately

This afternoon NPR reported that arctic glaciers melting had a bright side. It meant that what was under the glaciers would be more readily accessible and various nations were already queuing up to take advantage of it. Yes, no points for guessing what this all-important "bright side" is. Yet again, it's OIL and NATURAL GAS.

So "chirpy-chirpy" it's OK that the glaciers are melting. It's OK that we've got global warming because, hey, we can now drill the hell out of yet another part of the planet and get more oil to satisfy our growing addiction. NPR pointed out another benefit. Melting ice means that the northwest passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific would soon be open, meaning that China could save several thousand miles shipping its shit around the world.

This is the kind of twist that I used to expect of FOX, but -- sadly -- am hearing more and more of on NPR.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

"Jewel and I come up from the field, following the path in single file. Although I am fifteen feet ahead of him, anyone watching us from the cotton-house can see Jewel's frayed and broken straw hat above my own."

Yesterday I received my mystery copy of AS I LAY DYING from New Zealand and am making reaquaintance with William Faulkner in what I consider to be one of his more accessible novels. Others would disagree. A friend once read a review in which someone compared Faulkner to Joyce and that put him off ever picking up any Faulkner novel at all. Mention Bloomsday to him, and he bursts into hysterical laughter.

Sometimes I just feel like taking a chance and this book, as advertised, gave nothing much away. The seller did not mention a publisher, a date or even any thing specific about the condition. He only hinted that it would be - at least - a good reading copy and - at best - an extremely nice copy. It wasn't too expensive, so I ordered it. Sort of like in the days when your wife was expecting a baby and neither of you knew whether it was going to be a boy or a girl.

When it arrived, it turned out to be a sound Chatto & Windus 2nd printing from 1952 with only a little foxing on the page edges and no odors. Not bad, and I am quite happy with it. It's a good size, too, fitting into a pocket.

So now I will, once again, follow the Bundren family with all of their myriad agendas as they make their journey to bury their mother.

And if all goes well, perhaps I will give The Reivers another try.

For the Children

I was sitting at Starbucks doing the crossword when I noticed a woman arriving with several big bags just outside the window. As I watched, she started pulling out a tablecloth, paper and box after box of Girl Scout cookies. At that point no Girl Scouts were actually in evidence. After everything had been set up, two young girls showed up and the older woman (probably a mother) told them what to do. This is so different from the way it used to be, before parents began enabling their kids and not encouraging them to autonomously undertake the task of selling cookies, magazines, etc.

When I was younger, we sold all sorts of stuff at roadside stands -- fruit from our trees, rocks, comic books and cookies. We sold greeting cards and magazines door to door. My sister sold Campfire mints to the neighbors by going door to door - by herself - and filling out and submitting the forms to her Campfire leader without the help of my parents. It was considered a part of the learning process; a part of growing up. Of course with a big family like ours, the temptation was always to leave the candy out on the kitchen table so that we'd buy most of it.

Today kids cannot go into the fields in the summer and pick berries for money. They can't work in the canneries in east county. It's been years since I've seen a kid with an Oregonian paper route; delivery all seems to be handled by adults driving by at speed in the middle of the night and throwing papers in the general direction of the subscriber's house where they land in the street, in the sidewalk, in the yard and (if it is raining) are soaked. Not only do kids no longer have a place in the delivery of papers, another valuable opportunity to learn responsibility and earn money has gone by the wayside.

No wonder so many kids retreat behind electronic devices and headphones. They have less power and opportunity than ever before even as the relentless unempowering warnings about strangers and terrorism limit the scope of their exploration and freedom. They hear - correctly it seems - that nothing they can say or do makes any difference because you have to have lots of money in America before anybody will listen.

I'm glad I grew up in a time when I could earn my own money, explore for miles on my bike, and live without unnecessary fear.

Not a day passes that I don't bless any kid who manages to rise above this insanity and look at the others and feel - at the same time - sorry for them, and also envision what a smackdown they would get from kids in my generation if they were somehow magically transported back in time with their attitudes, isolating electronic devices, sagging pants, untied shoes and aggression and foul language in public.

Understand, I'm not putting all of the blame on them. Somebody has to be standing by and doing nothing in order for it to happen.

Shame on us, as a community and as a nation.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Although I know it makes little difference to people who were walloped by the storm in question, I'm getting tired of hearing the recent east coast hurricane referred to as "Superstorm Sandy." Call it what it is: a class 1 or 2 Hurricane . . . or a catastrophic hurricane event.

Calling this event something stupid like "Superstorm Sandy" is the equivalent of calling the San Francisco Earthquake, "Bigshudder Charlie" or the New Orleans flooding, "Giantwater Glenda."

It's like we don't even care about being accurate. But then what can we expect from people who no longer call our country "America" . . . only the "Homeland."