How to save downtown: "equity" and more "open plazas"?

I was reading this story about downtown Portland's utterly tanked economy, and it didn't exactly get me running off to place a bet on a good future.

The reporter asked the city council members what they were doing to help the bombed-out city core, and four of the five responded. They all blamed Covid, of course, but as I said more than a year ago, Portland's problems go way beyond the pandemic. You could wipe out Covid tomorrow, and sensible people would still be avoiding downtown. It's too dirty and too dangerous, and many of the things that used to attract people down there have been run out.

Anyway, of the four council members who answered, only Mingus Mapps had anything reasonable to say, although he is a lot of talk and no action. His solution, not in so many words, was cops, shelter beds, and tent camp sweeps. Which is right, but you'd have to go big, which they'll never do. Oh, and "urgency." That's a good one, Mingus. We've been waiting on "urgency" for a couple of years now.

The mayor reminded everybody how hard he's working on the problems, and so it's all going to be fine. What a dud. Isn't he about due for another pepper spray facial?

But then you get to Carmen Rubio and Jo Ann Hardesty, and one sounds daffier than the other.

In a statement, Commissioner Carmen Rubio said “COVID leveled the local economy, to be sure, but it only crystalized the deep economic and racial disparities that already existed. Our economic recovery must leave all our communities stronger, and that means bringing all communities into the local economy as full and equal partners.”

Rubio added “we need to increase our strategic investments and opportunities for BIPOC and women-owned businesses and make equitable investments in all parts of our city—especially in East Portland. And we need to sustain and grow Portland’s rich history of supporting small businesses, especially in the hospitality sector. But our city cannot do this alone: we need regional collaboration, and the more we collaborate the stronger our recovery will be. I am committed to working with community, labor, and business leaders to recover from the pandemic and build a local economy where hardworking families, regardless of their income level, can thrive.”

In other words, until we get our "equity," it can all rot. I can understand that position, but I'm not sure I want to live through the noble struggle. As for "regional collaboration," what's that the dog-whistle for? No other town anywhere around here wants anything to do with Portland's problems.

Meanwhile, Hardesty's flailing around trying to keep the best job she's ever going to have, and somebody's let her know that her fan base no longer has anywere near enough normal people in it. And so her latest strategy seems to be to say "everything's getting better, and it's thanks to me." That's what she says about that empty police union contract – it's 100 times better than what we have presently, according to the bullhorn lady – and it's her answer about downtown, too:

“The unprecedented destabilizing effects of the global health pandemic has no doubt been a struggle for all, including our business community and their employees. I am in complete agreement that the status quo is not acceptable, but also share optimism that we will turn this around. Just today, the City of Portland announced that beginning in April, our employees will move to a hybrid model, which means more City workers will be downtown soon. In my role as the Transportation Commissioner in charge of PBOT, I have extended the healthy business permit program that has offered a lifeline to businesses during this pandemic, while waiving all associated fees. I will be advocating to make this program permanent in City code. Next month we will be sharing news about moving forward with more open plazas that promote community, business, culture, and sustainability. I’m also excited to see a summer concert series coming downtown this Summer. We have work to do, but as more people are able to safety return to recreational activities and enjoy the warmer weather, I expect to see better safety outcomes and more commerce downtown.”

Wow, more "open community plazas"? Can you imagine what they are going to look like?

If this is who we've got running things, recovery seems a long way off.


  1. With Portland's reputation long gone building a new one will be a long haul. Longer yet when the destroyers in charge are still pretending they had nothing to do with losing it.
    It's quite the phenomenon to see the weirdness ruin the place while the leaders and many of the residents cling to weird being cool. It's not. Never was. Not even when Keep Portland Weird was cooked up.
    It's a lousy identity, an embarrassment and excuse.


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