Sunday, September 06, 2009

Howard's Way

Howard's Way

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Some photos of a spot called "Howard's Way", a shiny new park/plaza/whatever located between the shiny new Civic Condos and the Portland Housing Authority's somewhat less shiny but equally new Morrison Apartments.

It's right across the street from PGE Park (home to "Facing the Crowd"), and just a 'block' from Portland Firefighters Park, due east, and not far from TriMet's Civic Plaza.

(Oddly enough, there's another Howard's Way nearby, an obscure city street a few blocks due south, near the 18th & Jefferson MAX station, just downhill from a flight of public stairs. Also, let's not forget the 80's British TV series of the same name (which I admit I'd never heard of before.) )

The project

morrison apts. & civic condos

Howard's Way and the adjacent buildings replace the distinctive but scary old Civic Apartments, the Portland Housing Authority's previous property on this spot. As far as I can tell, the project was their attempt to cash in on our fair city's late, lamented condo tower bubble. You've got "market rate" (i.e. expensive) condos on one side, low-income public housing on the other, and "Howard's Way" in the middle. The place is the proverbial class divide, given literal, physical form.

I'm of at least two minds about the project. On one hand, nothing gets done in this city unless well-connected developers benefit disproportionately. On the other, the fact that it's not exclusively market-rate condos is above par for the course these days, which is something, I guess.

The theory behind mixed-income development is that locating low income residents along side market rate is that it'll have a beneficial effect on the poor, who will benefit from being around normal, gainfully employed middle-class folks. Possibly it'll rub off, and won't cause resentment.

It's not a new idea by any means. Look at New Columbia, for instance, and the apts. near Union Station. At Union Station there's one subsidized building mixed in with the "market-rate" apartments, and they all look the same. Although the low-income building has apparently become known as the bad part of town, within that development. See also the Pearl Apartments near Jamison Square. And I have to agree it's a better notion than the earlier, classic idea of urban renewal, where you drive everyone out of the area and replace them with a better sort of resident (e.g. Portland's South Auditorium effort back in the 60's), or no residents at all (e.g. Memorial Coliseum). It's a step up from that, at least. Whether it actually works, only time will tell, I guess.

A little history of the site from The Red Electric: Swapping Names on West Burnside.

Although the city was trying to cash in on the condo bubble, results so far have been mixed, though, leading to condo bubble schadenfreude around blogospace.

As you might imagine, the project got a mention on Bojack a few years ago. Unsurprisingly, Jack and friends didn't like the old building here, and they don't like the new one either.

But condo bubble mania may not be the full story, as it turns out. I happened across what is possibly the real underlying reason for the project: The old Civic Apartments were losing all kinds of money:

PORTLAND HOUSING: S&P Lowers Series 1997A Bonds Rating To BB+
Standard & Poor's Ratings Services lowered its rating to 'BB+'
from 'BBB' on Portland Housing Authority, Oregon's housing revenue
senior-lien bonds, series 1997A, issued for the Civic Apartments
project. The outlook is negative. The rating action was based on
the authority's potential long-term deteriorating fiscal and
operating performance.

"The unaudited financial and operating results for Civic
Apartments, based on the year ended March 31, 2004, indicate that
the property continues to underperform," Standard & Poor's credit
analyst Debra Boyd said. "Civic Apartments must achieve both
occupancy and income to maintain the property and to service

Portland Housing Authority has identified two possible actions to
take over the medium term in response to its fiscal and
operational challenges. It has created a redevelopment plan that
would infuse more than $21.5 million into the project. The
redevelopment project would include a complete renovation of the
existing units, a new parking structure, and construction of
retail space at ground level. The authority indicated that
it ceased leasing efforts on the property in April 2004 in
anticipation of these efforts, which has contributed to the
property's high vacancy rates. If financing for the redevelopment
plan cannot be secured, the authority indicated it will sell the

The bonds are secured by a first mortgage lien on the Civic
Apartments, an older property with 138 units.

The Portland Housing Authority has owned the property since 1997.
The property is run by Income Property Management, which has been
associated with the property since 2001.

The "park"

Howard's Way is your generic modern public plaza. It's probably "green" and "sustainable" in some way, and it's got a few bits of public art designed not to give offense. We'll get to that shortly.

The planter bit between Burnside & Morrison looks like some sort of groundwater remediation bioswale-ish thing, probably. Bioswales are all the rage, and I'm sure it's a wonderful thing that we have people out there who wet themselves with joy over this sort of thing. I'm not one of them, but still, i guess it can't hurt, maybe. I mean, not unless they dump all sorts of nasty herbicides on the place in the dead of night, to keep the weeds out or something.

The art

detail, howard's way

detail, howard's way

The art's by Lee Kelly, the same guy behind the infamous Rusting Chunks #5 and a number of other pieces around town. I griped at length about his works in a semi-recent post about his "Kelly Fountain", on the once-and-future Transit Mall. As I mentioned there, he's stuck with the same basic chunky style for several decades now, although recently he's taken to welding insipid affirmations to them, I suppose in the hope of making them "mean" something. This time around, we have inane, mild, vapid, and mostly harmless phrases informing us that democracy works (maybe), the common good is good, and community and understanding are also desirable. So now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

There's a mention of his Howard's Way stuff here, mentioned right after the boneheaded dragon art the PDC tried to inflict on Chinatown.

Howard Who?
The affirmations on the, uh, art, are quotes from Howard Shapiro, former head of the Housing Authority, in whose honor Howard's Way is named. They're nice, bland, innocuous noble sentiments nobody could possibly disagree with. I hope. I mean, if the public really, seriously, needs to be lectured about the desirability of democracy, society's in a lot more trouble than I thought. In fairness, I don't know what context these were first uttered or written in. They may have been throwaway lines spoken at 6 AM over Belgian waffles, in front of the local Toastmasters group, for all I know. I doubt somehow they were spoken with the idea they'd be enshrined in stainless steel someday.

I'm sure it's all well-intentioned and do-gooding in the classic Portland way and all that, but the place rubs me wrong in a couple of ways. First, I'm not too keen on being lectured by old men who know how everyone ought to live. I suppose it's either that or listen to them prattle on about World War II, but still. Second, it's named after a living person (he merely moved on to 'other challenges' at end of '03), and you know (I hope) how I feel about that.

There's a mini-bio of Mr. Shapiro here (in his role as a trustee for a social-responsibility type mutual fund), and an interview with AARP Magazine.

For what it's worth, I did run across at least one very,
opinion about Mr. Shapiro. I can't speak to the merits of that, and I don't really want to get involved either way. Just thought I'd pass it along, in the interest of being "fair and balanced" or whatever.

Since retirement he's been in the news a bit, fighting against the Burnside-Couch couplet proposal, as resident of the ritzy Henry condo tower next to Powells.

The old Civic Apartments
I don't have a photo of the old Civic Apartments for comparison. They were pretty grim looking, built in 1945 and completely looked like wartime housing, thrown together on a tight schedule and tighter budget. I'm not sad to see them go.

I did run across a small photo in a post on Man Made Lake, plus someone's photos on Flickr, including a few of the demolition, and a couple of interior shots too. It didn't look any nicer on the inside.

A while back, a temporary art installation at the Portland Building reproduced the interior of a typical Civic Apartments unit. I'm not sure what the point of this was.

Couple of articles about project

So anyway, here's the art, affirmations and all:

Howard's Way

Howard's Way

Howard's Way

Howard's Way

"the more we know about each other the less we fear"

Howard's Way

"democracy works when the least of us have the same advantages as the rest of us"

Ok, but I'm not holding my breath waiting for that to happen. At least it doesn't say "only works". That would probably count as taking too much of a stand or something.

Howard's Way

"good community allows people to do their best"

Howard's Way

Howard's Way

"what we should strive for is the common good"

Howard's Way


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