Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Rockwood Sunrise

Next up, here's a slideshow of Rockwood Sunrise, the large sorta-triumphal arch structure at the Rockwood MAX station. This was created by Seattle artist Dan Corson, who also did Mercurial Sky (the lightshow for the Director Park canopy, downtown Portland), and Nepenthes, the series of giant illuminated pitcher plants along SW Davis in Old Town. I liked both of those, and I think I like this too. Not quite enough to make any further pilgrimages out to Rockwood just to see it again, but hey.

TriMet's Blue Line art guide describes it:

  • Tall, brightly painted steel rays constitute a highly visible landmark for the station and a beacon of civic pride for the community
  • Imagery was inspired by the ferris wheel — once an annual feature in Rockwood, the bold colors of the Hispanic culture, and the universal symbolism of the sunrise
  • Translucent tips of the rays illuminate as the trains arrive and depart the station
  • Sunrise image also appears in the shelter glass pattern designed by Corson

This was added back in 2011, along with Civic Drive Iris further east, after the City of Gresham and TriMet scored some much-needed urban renewal money and (as usual) had to spend some of it on Art somewhere. And it just so happened that the eastside MAX Blue Line -- the original 1980s MAX line -- had somehow been built without Whimsical Public Art at each station, and this obviously needed to be remedied somehow someday. So retrofitting existing MAX stations with new art became a thing, killing two birds with one stainless steel whatzit.

The urban renewal effort was precipitated by the 2003 closure of the old Rockwood Fred Meyer store[1]. The store sat empty for a number of years after the closure and it quickly became clear the store had been a regional retail tentpole for the surrounding area. Other businesses closed. Crime was up, pedestrian traffic was way down. Gresham is close enough to Portland that planners still aspire to be good urbanists, and they've probably seen all the literature about declining inner-ring suburbs and wanted to ward off that outcome. The key thing to know is that closed/abandoned big box stores are really hard to reuse[2]. The buildings are just too big for most retailers to make use of, and difficult to subdivide, and luring a replacement big box retailer is harder than you might think because many of them really want to use standard floorplans, with standard store fixtures & displays that look exactly the same in every store. Then you can just order a thousand of those and use them worldwide, and not have to customize things based on what your store was before it was yours. And long story short, Gresham concluded that reusing an old Fred Meyer building was a nonstarter, and it was a great chance to build something denser and more urban, seeing as it's right next to a MAX station.

Gresham's Redevelopment Commission called the project "Rockwood Rising" for a while, but "Downtown Rockwood".

A 2009 blog post from the Wilkes East Neigborhood Association (blog last updated in 2013) was disappointed at lack of progress redeveloping the site, and yeah, the area hasn't completely filled in with new construction, and there's no way to know what the area would be like if there was still just a vacant Fred Meyer there, now abandoned for over two decades. But it's hard to imagine the area would be better off that way.


1. Fred Meyer stores don't close very often in the Portland area. There was an original and very small store downtown that closed sometime in the 70s or 80s, after decades where every Fred Meyer ad ended with someone muttering "Not Available at 6th and Alder" as quickly as possible. Then out on the urban periphery they closed a few stores in less-affluent areas.

The Walnut Park store that closed in 1989, store eventually became home to Portland Police North Precinct. Boys & Girls Club just south of there, and Transition Projects just across MLK.

82nd & Foster closed in 2017 and quickly transformed into the Emmert International Marketplace mall, anchored by a large Shun Fat grocery store.

2. References on the vacant big-box problem below. The most egregious example of this I've seen was in the Deep South in the late 90s, around when Wal-Mart was transitioning chain-wide to newer and much larger Super Wal-Mart stores. Land was cheap and there were usually no pesky land use or zoning laws to worry about, so the cheapest possible approach was usually to build fresh on ex-farmland really far from town, and just walk away from the old stores that were being replaced. And when every business and every developer does this in a headlong rush, you get a sort of creosote bush development pattern, where the "good part of town" is an ever-expanding ring (for small values of "ever") rushing outward as fast as it can, abandoning previous generations of perfectly good infrastructure after a few short years of being the hot new area. Eventually Georgia realized it couldn't afford to build the distant Outer Perimeter freeway that developers fantasized about, which would have enabled a vast sprawl zone larger than several of the smaller European countries. But the newcomers are still coming and have to go somewhere; I'm just not sure how they're making it work if they aren't building more freeways now. Anyway: