Absent Gorilla

May 20, 2016

The question of how to properly develop Portland in one particular was the topic of today’s Portland City Club Friday Forum. Are the arts getting squeezed out by the rapidly rising property rents? The answer currently is, yes. All of those east-side and other industrial properties that owners were so glad to rent at what might be termed reasonable or even very low rates are now, predictably, more valuable. A cynic might say that the artistic community got a great deal for many years. Yet another cynic might say that the artistic community paid the taxes for all those owners in the lean years and perhaps some gratitude is in order. Not being either a property owner or one who rents space in the city, living outside of the city, but with a strong interest in it, I can only comment as follows.

At today’s forum I doubt there was a single person in the room who was not a supporter of the general idea that art in a very general sense is essential to the life of the city. Absolutely essential if the city is not to become a monotonous, monolithic money machine. There is a sense that our city can become a striking example of what an American city could be. Everyone in the room at today’s forum at the Sentinel Hotel (decent lunch by the way!) likely shared something of that feeling. And they felt or know that the artistic community, or should I say creative community, is already part of the reason Portland is experiencing; I won’t yet say enjoying; such rapid growth.

The panel spoke about ideas they have. Artists from a variety of endeavors spoke of their rent hardships. One could almost feel the consensus in the room that yes, this part of our community, our civic life, must be supported somehow.

What was missing from the discussion was the ‘gorilla’. There was no-one in the room, on the panel, who was presenting the case or ideas from owners and developers. The ‘gorilla’ did not even make it to the meeting. To have a meaningful discussion all interested parties should be present. Otherwise we are just nodding our heads at our joint analysis that we agree the situation is challenging and something must be done.

If you are going to have a discussion about property and its developments it is probably a good idea to invite owners, developers, and maybe even bankers to the table. Some ‘gorillas’ are surely very creative themselves and if anything is needed in this issue it is that, creativity. Persuading owners and developers to forego revenue for art’s sake is hard. Inviting them to be part of solutions is not. Who speaks for them as one? I do not know, but I’ll bet they would be interested.

Nevertheless, I congratulate the City Club for beginning or continuing the discussion, I enjoyed the meeting. It confirmed my feeling that Portland can be that striking example. Gorillas and Artists hand in hand!