Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Limbo Land along the Willamette

I got most of today’s 10,000 steps in walking along the Willamette Greenway Trail. I started at Willamette park headed north for the surreal South Waterfront cluster of high rises.

I had business to do at Umpqua Bank, which has a pleasant urban outpost tucked under the new, convex and angular skyscrapers.

More condos and apartments are on the way, although it was apparent most of the completed ones are vacant, as are the storefronts along the deserted sidewalks.

The whole place looks in limbo. It’s an un-happening scene that, remarkably, continues to expand in a rapidly contracting economy.

I asked the bank’s assistant manager how things were going. He seemed moderately up-beat until I asked him about whether there are plans for a grocery store. No, he said, not enough people live in the “neighborhood” to support one, at least not yet. Then again, he added, one of the problems with attracting new residents is that there’s no supermarket.

“Sounds like ‘a chicken and egg’ problem,” I observed.

“Exactly, ‘chicken and egg,’” he said as though he had used the phrase to describe the problem before.

To be exact, the place, which is boldly calling itself a "neighborhood," has a ‘supermarket and residents’ problem. Until it is solved and until the sinking economy resurfaces, the place will have the look of a 21st Century Stonehenge. "What did they do here?" future generations might ask? "Where did they buy food?"

Walking back under a towering crane that was heisting concrete up and then lowering it to yet another foundation, I had a strange sensation of doom. “Could this be the way it ends? Building luxury apartments for people who no longer can have the luxury of — luxury? Could this be the final urban tableau? The real estate flippers' inevitable, colossal flop? Is South Waterfront the place where the last light switch gets wired, the last Italian imported tile gets laid, the final oak door shuts — never to be opened again?”

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