Friday, November 05, 2021

Squirrel/Salmon Benches, McCoy Park

November seems to be a designated month for people to do ambitious projects: Writing a novel in 30 days; growing a luxurious handlebar mustache in 30 days to raise prostate awareness, and other worthy causes. I'm not feeling anywhere near that ambitious, but it occurred to me that my infamous drafts folder is a mix of recent hiking & outdoor posts that lately seem to take forever to finish, and a smaller set of public art and city park posts from a few years ago that I never quite finished for various reasons and kind of forgot about. So I thought I might switch gears and start at the back of the drafts folder and see how many of those I can finish this month. Unless I get chosen for jury duty later this month, in which case all bets are off.

So the first thing we're looking at this month is "Squirrel/Salmon Benches", a couple of cute circa-2005 park benches in North Portland's McCoy Park. The second link, which goes to the freshly-redesigned-again RACC public art database -- has this to say about it:

The squirrel & salmon benches were designed to reflect Northwest wildlife. Mufu Ahmed is a Nigerian poet, sculptor and textile artist who combines the imagery, traditions and stories of his Yoruba culture with the techniques, materials and applications of the Western world.

I really like the squirrel design, and the salmon one is fine as far as salmon art goes, although it's a heavily overused theme in this part of the world. At one point I started tagging posts about salmon art with "Heroic Salmon", as the fish are usually depicted bravely struggling back to their streams of origin to spawn and promptly drop dead. An inspiring life story from which the public is meant to draw important life lessons, I guess. Or maybe I'm reading too much into that. Anyway, the really striking thing about the benches, and a big clue that they're from 2005 and not 2021, is what's not there: No metal bar down the middle to keep people from sleeping there, no spiky bits to make it unpleasant to sit on, no electrified razor wire or whatever the latest anti-homeless technology is. They're just plain old park benches, which are rapidly becoming about as common as pay phones. The big asterisk here is that these are not recent photos, and for all I know the city could have built a piranha-filled moat around the benches by now. Your mileage may vary widely, in other words.

Oddly enough, one of the other recipients of the aforementioned "Heroic Salmon" tag (and subject of a 2012 post here) is a fountain inside a parking garage at the Lloyd Center mall. And in a weird coincidence, the entire mall is being repossessed as of this week, and the would-be repossessor says they plan to demolish the mall and put in offices and housing instead, and the Lloyd District will eventually look just like every other gentrified part of town, with identical buildings sporting the same hip local chain stores and restaurants. I mean, I realize the shopping mall era is over, and this particular mall's been declining for years now, and a vast shopping mall just across the river from downtown was always a an awkward fit, and an open-air mall was never a good idea in this climate. And even after its 1990s revival slash heyday it was never actually 'cool', because it was still a shopping mall. And a mall with awful timing, too; in the 90s renovation the owners managed to rip out or conceal all of the mall's original Midcentury character, just before that look became cool again, and now the mall's goofy 1990 postmodern stuff is about to meet the same fate, probably just before that look becomes cool again. All of that said, I do have fond memories about the place during that particular time period, though, I will actually be sad to see it go. It's hard to explain.

The park here is actually the result of another demolish-replace-and-gentrify effort, this one from a late 90s/early 2000s effort to replace the city's most notorious public housing project with a twee suburb. But we'll get into that when I finish the post about the park itself. Which might happen this month? Or if not this month, soon at least. Ideally.

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