Why would you want to live here?

This is a condo building in the Pearl District. Housing 76 units on about ten floors, the North Park Lofts is a beautifully renovated old building with a modern hat. While many of the units don't have balconies and the ones that do are not large, this building is across the street from the North Park Blocks; a front yard big enough for all to share. (Amenities include: basketball courts, bocce courts, large green trees, and the Portland Dog Bowl fountain for our smaller four legged friends. Also very near is the train station, some future light rail stations, and various sorts of shops and grocery stores. I chose to post this particular building as I happened to walk by today and snapped this lovely photo.

On this same property, if transported cleverly to the suburbs, you would probably see three or four houses occupying the same space, and most likely only one story each. But that is what the people want, right? Some say they can't afford to own a unit in a building like this, so they live in the suburbs and drive to their job in the city, but many people seem to want it. Most people view the suburbs as the only way people live, without giving a second thought to other possibilities. Maybe a few people live on farms or maybe poor people live in the inner city, and maybe someone lives in the Congo... The suburbs have been around for the last 60 years or so, which actually isn't very long.

Americans are accustomed to their large living spaces and their large driving spaces. We cover so much ground each day that living in one city and commuting to another for work is normal. Driving to a third city for shopping, and then driving to a fourth city for an evening of entertainment is normal. We can go where we please, when we please, and as far as we want and it only costs energy. We want our own space and we don't want to share anything. We don't want to change.

I propose that we can't all have everything we think we are entitled to and think we want, just because we have been told that we could have it and perhaps we do have it right now. The American dream. I am only a few years out of college and still paying off debt. I don't expect that I have a right to own any sort of home right now, in the city or the suburbs. Some day perhaps. The sub-prime lending crisis, the threat of peak oil, and global warming all tell me that everything isn't rosy and we need to be fine with that. Are we willing to give up our cars, our multiple flat screens per house, our unused front porches, our guest room, junk room, office room... how about having more bedrooms than children?

Some good documentaries, both by Gregory Greene are, The End of Suburbia (2004) which predicts an end to the quintessential American residential landscape and Escape From Suburbia (2007) which explores some ways that certain people are leaving the suburbs. If we consider that our way of life could be a troubled path, we have opened the door to doing something about the problem, and even admitting that there is a problem. The suburbs might not be around forever, or they might at least be very different than they are today.

So, why would you want to live here, so many feet off the ground without your own eighth acre of land? Because you are not the only one who matters. We need to distance ourselves from the suburban lifestyle which is made possible by cars and oil. If you were not able to drive tomorrow, could you get to work or buy food? According to the July 14, 2008 issue of Newsweek (page 45), 69% of petroleum in the US is used for transportation, and 96% of the transportation sector gets its energy from petroleum.

Purposefully setting aside certain freedoms is something that most people have never done. We are running out of oil and energy is becoming more expensive. To a certain degree we just pull out our wallets and take the hit. But sooner or later we won't be able to withstand the pain. Our choice is to implement another energy source that allows us to maintain our current lifestyle without a reliance on oil, or we must change our personal reality at its very core and live differently. We can search for new ways to power our cars so we can get around, or we can sell our cars and live near to where we work and play. We can buy locally so that our goods don't have to be shipped around the world with ever increasingly expensive energy. Living simply and separate from dependence on oil is just good common sense. If we require less, then we will need less; as most of our needs are a manufactured farce. Rather than try to maintain our freedom to have whatever we want, we need to desire less and be happy with what we have. This includes living on a smaller footprint and sharing some space with our neighbors. Choose to be a good steward of the earth before you don't have a choice.


Urban Parking Lots

The urban parking lot is a little black hole in the dense fabric of the city. I pass them wearily as I walk from block to block and I imagine which Smart Park will stop selling its soul for $12 a day and grow up into a building of some consequence. Preferably at least three storys. Maybe nine. Or which derelict one story office building with its smashed-in windows and peeling beige paint will be the next to go, ceasing to need its private surface parking lot which can only accommodate the cars which serve paying customers for a few hours a day.

While the city is overwhelmingly growing through density, small asphalt rectangles of a violating lifestyle are content to hide in the shadows of increasingly taller neighbors. During the day they support an influx of cars that wait for their humans to return, making oil puddles that shimmer in the sun. At night...um...nothing happens. We need to hide these parking lots underground and under buildings.

I suppose it is unscientific or nonliterary to say they are just plain ugly. They are just plain ugly. The Hive Modern Furniture store (above center) which is housed in a one story green box surrounded by a parking lot on all sides is bound to be replaced by denser development sooner or later, as it is situated on the North Park Blocks in the Pearl. What is outside does not resonate with what is inside. Modern furniture is about the modern city and modern living...not the parking lot. Perhaps Hive will soon occupy a nice ground floor retail space of a mixed-use building, maybe on this very site. Perhaps one with an underground parking lot to bury the vestige of Henry Ford, and with several welcoming residential floors above for people to actually live in with their modern furniture.

Boo to the surface parking lot. You are ugly.