It was with high hopes that residents of the Eliot and Boise neighborhoods took time out of their days to be active participants in the Design Advice Request (DAR) on Thursday. This was likely our last chance to voice our concerns over the development of the lot at NE Williams and Fremont and the future development of the overall neighborhood that each one of us has invested quite personally in. When City Council approved the zoning change from R1 to RXd, it was stated that the DAR hearing would be our guarantee of finding that middle ground where neighbors and developer would meet. This was not that place. It felt more like being stuck on a boat in the middle of the ocean, trying to yell for help to the mainland. And we only get to yell for three minutes.
Our voices were not heard. Our concerns were not addressed. Intelligent discussions about the impact of a building of this scale on the adjacent homes and neighborhood were not made. Instead, it became a three hour discussion on the minute details of the building. This was very difficult for us to sit and listen to. How is it possible that we’re already debating about materiality and details of the façade without analyzing the larger context? How do you talk about architecture without talking about place? This is the most basic and essential element of creating amazing, lasting architecture. Architecture should not create its own definition of a place, but should strengthen the existing fabric that has been woven for over 100 years. And we are not talking about replicating historic buildings because of the historic homes in the neighborhood (we’re a little more modern and savvy than that). We’re talking about finding ways through the architecture to express what makes this neighborhood wonderful. What foundation are we building upon?
Numerous neighbors expressed their well-founded concerns about massing, use, traffic, and various impacts such large and fast growth will have on the neighborhood and their homes. Yet no response was given. While it was stated at the beginning of the hearing that developer/applicant Ben Kaiser’s own participation as a member of the Design Review Board would have no impact on their review of this application, it was impossible to feel that the review was fair and impartial. The relationships already established were evident. We can’t help but wonder if that’s why the concerns we brought up were glossed over. To say we were disappointed is an understatement. We felt helpless, frustrated, and angry. Perhaps if we had known that we would more or less be observers to a discussion on materiality and courtyards, we would have stayed at work or at home and done something more meaningful with that time. But what felt the most meaningful, was having a say in what our neighborhood becomes. We came for a compromise and a discussion and came away with nothing to hang our hats on. Instead, we’re witnessing the complete disregard and desecration of our neighborhood. And while it is easy to just wash our hands of the whole process in utter frustration, we’re not going to. We are vested in this neighborhood! And while we may be vulnerable to the decisions made by the few with power, we’re going to keep voicing our concerns and our voice will only become stronger and more united. We have the support of our neighbors, friends, and family. We have the support of neighbors near and far. And if the developer or the city would like to engage in a productive and intelligent discussion (not a three minute statement) about the growth and development of our neighborhood, or even about why we love the neighborhood we live in, you know where to find us. Our doors are open.
We encourage like-minded neighbors of Portland to join in the push for smart growth, not fast growth. It is only as a united front that we have a chance to make a difference in each of our communities! Please visit our website, like our Facebook page, follow our Twitter feed, or contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to get involved.