Wednesday, January 25, 2006


[Ok, the network's finally back to normal, and I can post here again. I was starting to suffer withdrawal symptoms. This "blog" thing is oddly addictive.]

Today's rant once again involves our local Powers That Be. One of their current silly notions is that our fair city desperately needs an official Public Market (not to be confused with the one in Portland, Maine). As the story goes, we really need to work on being a properly European city, and one of the absolute necessities is a government-operated (or at least sponsored) fresh produce market, open-air if possible. This is absolutely essential, a non-negotiable point, they tell us.

Furthermore, the perfect site for this hypothetical market has already been identified: Precisely the spot where the successful Portland Saturday Market has operated since the 1970s. This means Saturday Market is going to be pushed aside, and they'll need to find a new home, with little or no assistance from the Powers That Be.

It's important to note that we already have quite a few sources of high-quality local produce, both grocery stores and farmers' markets. To date, "Public Market" proponents have offered no compelling reasons why we need a taxpayer-supported competitor to these existing businesses. They just think we need to do it, regardless.

I see several reasons behind the recent push.

  1. First, our perennial inferiority complex vs. Seattle, home of the famous Pike Place Market. They've got one, so we need one. This is the yuppie version of the argument that we desperately need a publicly-funded baseball (or football) stadium, just because Seattle already has both.
  2. Second, the existing Saturday Market only runs on weekends (hence the name), and during the rest of the week the area's fairly sketchy. The Powers That Be are stoked about gentrifying the area, and they've arranged to relocate a nearby fire station to make way for even more high-rise yuppie condos. Apparently firefighters are insufficiently upscale, and therefore need to be shuffled out of sight / out of mind. A public market in the area would boost property values, and thus property tax revenuse, therefore it's absolutely imperative that we do it. It's down to greed, basically.
  3. As our current Powers That Be are for the most part a clique of affluent Baby Boomers, the existing Saturday Market is an inconvenient reminder of their more disreputable days back in the 70's. Saturday Market is still your source for tie-dye apparel of all sorts, 100% organic hemp macrame, a thousand kinds of incense, you name it. Our glorious leaders would rather not be reminded of their youth. They'd much rather have us think they've been the same pretentious Bordeaux-swilling cigar-chomping foodies slash deep-pocketed patrons of the arts since age 18 or so, and therefore we need to sweep any authentic vestiges of those days under the rug, ASAP.
  4. It's just a naked show of influence, showing the world who controls all the levers of power in this town. We've been told that any public market built in this town will involve big payments to our bloated "creative class" community for various design services and so forth. It's important that everyone understand that nothing should get built within the city limits without an official Creative stamp of approval. Meanwhile, the restaurant folks and their "foodie" groupies were lured on board with the idea that the market will be named in honor of James Beard, who was from here originally. Honestly, if you're going to put your loyalty up for sale, the price should be higher than that. In the end, a memorial is just pure symbolism, nothing more. How this city handles monuments and memorials is a fairly appalling read, but I'll save that for another day.

The really sad thing about the whole debacle-in-progress is that we've already tried this once before. We've already demonstrated quite clearly that, so far as this city's concerned, the term "Public Market" is an oxymoron. Back in the 1930's, our city fathers decided we needed to replace the existing produce market (which had come into being without state involvement) with a gigantic Art Deco market right on the waterfront (pictured above). Well, I'll grant that the building was pretty cool, but the market went bankrupt after just a couple of years. By which time the existing privately-run produce markets had been driven out of business, and we were condemned to a life of nothing but tuna casseroles and Spam for another 4 decades or so.

They say those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Normally I'd say that's a tired cliche, and quite often the opposite is true -- as in, those who know too much history are the ones doomed to repeat it, see the Balkans for one choice example -- but in our case the old cliche is true. As I've noted before, the people running the show here don't really believe the world existed prior to 1970, and even if it did, they don't belive it has any relevance whatsoever to the utopia we've built here in the last 40 years.

We ignore history at our peril, that's all I'm sayin'.

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