Tuesday, November 05, 2013

People's Bike Library of Portland

People's Bike Library of Portland

At the corner of SW 13th & Burnside is this odd thing: A tall pole topped by a gold child's bicycle, with a bunch of junky kids' bikes chained to the base. This is the People's Bike Library of Portland, a combination art project and bike rack. The official RACC description of it:

The Peoples Bike Library of Portland is a functional bike rack, bike ‘lending’ library, and monument to the vital bike culture of Portland. Erected by artists Brian Borrello and Vanessa Renwick in collaboration with Zoobomb (www.zoobomb.net), an iterative design process led to the current sculpture. An accumulation of small kids’ bicycles are locked to the sculpture, lent to the public for weekly ‘zoobomb’ rides.

A BikePortland article about the grand opening raved about the thing, or at least the symbolic value of the thing. As did a blog post about the event by a visitor from Austin, our compatriot/competitor city in hip urban hipsterdom.

People's Bike Library of Portland

The "bike library" replaced the previous, unofficial pile-o-Zoobomb-bikes at 10th & Oak. There was some sort of muttering about that pile being unsafe or something, but in truth this is just the Portland Way. The city gets to replace an unofficial thing with an official thing, because unofficial things can't be trusted. The people who get the new official thing are flattered, because, I mean, who wouldn't be flattered by the city suddenly spending a bunch of money and endorsing your odd little hobby? Artists get paid, designers get paid, construction people get paid. Obscure bloggers like your humble correspondent have something new to blog about. The end result, ideally, raises property values or helps with the city's "branding", which in turn convinces the Right Sort of People to move here, and maybe lures in some free-spending cosmopolitan European tourists as well. And they all pay taxes, and then we can afford even more urban goodies. And the whole thing becomes a delicious glowing ball of locally-sourced win for everyone.

I'm not disputing the underlying theory, mind you. It seems entirely possible to me that investing in a bit of official bike squee will attract the Right Sort of Person to our fair city, assuming that hipsters and "young creatives" are the Right Sort of People. A shallow theory, but quite possibly an accurate one. The important thing here is that the rain dance works, not that it working makes a lot of sense. And I get the bike thing too: Building even the fanciest bike rack is orders of magnitude cheaper than building a parking garage, and bike lanes are cheaper than freeways. And, ideally, people who've gotten used to a bike lifestyle won't flee to the 'burbs the moment they have kids.

I do think we place too much emphasis on everything needing an official seal of approval from City Hall, though. I keep thinking of times when a holiday's come along (New Years, Mardi Gras, etc.) and the city's neglected to organize an official celebration event. Every time this happens, people show up at Pioneer Courthouse Square and wander around, looking lost & wondering where the city put the party they were supposed to organize. This is probably the same mindset that gives us such a low crime rate for a major US city, but expecting the city to be your party planner is just kind of embarrassing, don't you think?

Couple of minor quibbles though. First, the gold bike on a high pedestal reminds me of the of the golden calf corporate logo in Dogma. But that's just me, probably. More importantly, what happens to the People's Bike Library 20-30 years down the road? It looks fairly permanent, and it's designed to facilitate zoobombing. Is that still going to be popular a few decades from now? If not, is there anything else it can be used for? Or will it just sit there, empty and mysterious, for future bloggers (or whatever the replacement for blogs ends up being) to wonder about? At some point down the road the gold leaf is going to need regilding too. I imagine the city's on the hook for that, but if zoobombing goes the way of roller disco, are they going to bother? As far as we know, in 2043 all the cool kids will get around with giant robot exoskeletons powered by organic hash oil, and they'll sneer at the crappy little-kid bikes their parents were stuck with. I can't prove that won't happen, and neither can you.

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