Thursday, April 08, 2010

Arleta Triangle expedition

Arleta Triangle

Arleta Triangle


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I don't usually get visitor-contributed ideas here at this humble blog. I can barely get people to visit at all, much less help me out with suggestions. And on the flip side, when I do get a suggestion I don't always jump right on it. Today's adventure stems from a comment I got on a post of mine from way back in July 2008, about the weird little triangular park at SW Broadway, Broadway, & Grant.

Arleta Triangle

And thus I ventured out to SE 72nd & Woodstock, home to the Arleta Triangle. It's a little triangle of land in the middle of the intersection, which was recently upgraded with a few plants and a sort of wall structure with a couple of benches, and a canopy on top. And like so many recent community projects in Portland, it's made of "cob", a rustic mixture of mud and straw.

Arleta Triangle

So, I don't want to be a downer here. I think it's great that the neighborhood's come together to look after an otherwise-forlorn chunk of PDOT land. And I also realize that the triangle is a perpetual work in progress and a labor of love for a lot of people. I've just that I've never been sold on the whole mud and straw thing. I realize it's cheap, and building with it is so easy that casual volunteers and even hippies can do it. And it looks all rustic and hobbitty and unmistakably made by hippies, which I think is also part of the appeal. And, we're told, it also saves the world somehow. And presumably if you replace the straw with hemp, it saves the world even more.

Arleta Triangle

So this is the second cob structure I've taken a good look at (there's one at PSU as well), and unfortunately they've both been falling apart rather rapidly. There may be other structures I haven't seen that are holding up better, so I'll be charitable and say they have a mixed record when it comes to durability. So, and this is probably going to sound really snarky, but for anyone who hasn't kept up on the technological advances of the last 10,000 years or so, there are these things called "bricks" that might do really well here. Basically the same thing as cob, but fired in a kiln so that they don't dissolve when it rains, and you can probably run the kiln on biodiesel if you have carbon footprint concerns. And even if you don't personally think bricks look better, they make your project look like a real structure and people will finally take you seriously.

Arleta Triangle

I say this as someone whose grandma was born in a sod house in Indian Territory (which wouldn't be Oklahoma for a few more years). She was not nostalgic about living in a house made of dirt, to put it mildly.

Arleta Triangle

Now, I can see one counter-argument here - If your primary goal is to build community, maybe it's a good thing if your structure requires fairly constant maintenance, to keep volunteers engaged and coming to work parties and meeting their neighbors and such. Where a brick structure, or one of concrete / stainless steel / carbon fiber / etc. may only need work every few decades, but then it's accomplished by corporate sponsors and grant writers and professional contractors, and where's the community in that? So yeah, I can see a reasonable argument here. I haven't seen anyone actually make this argument, but hey, you can't fault me for not trying to see both sides, I guess.

Arleta Triangle

Arleta Triangle

Arleta Triangle

Arleta Triangle

Arleta Triangle

Arleta Triangle

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