Saturday, November 28, 2009

The New Journalism: Wall-to-wall opinion?

The Housing Authority of Portland’s campaign to spend $40.5 million to raze and rebuild Hillsdale Terrace in a dank, nearby gully is troubling enough.

Even more troubling is how the story was covered in The Oregonian. Or I should say, how it wasn’t covered.

Instead the story “broke” in an Oregonian Op-Ed opinion piece opposing the project. The “Guest Column” was written by former HAP Commissioner Ray Hallberg. His strong opposition to the project was the opening volley in a ping-pong match of biased rebuttals and letters to the editor.

The Oregonian was satisfied to let advocates and critics thrash away at the issue from their opposing and biased perspectives.

On the paper’s web, OregonLive, the back and forth continued, but without the writers’ own conflicts of interest ever being revealed.

The Oregonian offered nary a story about Hillsdale Terrace. Zilch. No neutral voices, no experts and no Hillsdale Terrace residents were heard from. In essence the issue was treated like some kind of bloggers’ dust-up or TV chat show shouting match.

If the Hillsdale Terrace boondoggle (my bias) is worthy of so much space on the Op-Ed page, doesn't it deserve some real reporting and a story?

Is this kind of “coverage” we can expect from the journalism of the future?

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Vancouver, B.C. housing approach worth trying

A story in today's New York Times about a Vancouver development shows how mixed public/private housing project might work here in Southwest Portland.

The described project is particularly relevant to our southwest Portland neighborhood of Hillsdale. We have been debating whether the Housing Authority of Portland should proceed with its plans to raze a public housing project, Hillsdale Terrace, and replace it with one twice as large on the same site.

Unfortunately, the site is in a dank, isolated gully. The plans will ensure that the new project will remain "out of sight, out of mind" just as the old one has been for the past 35 years. The project's architects use words like "demanding" and "challenging" to describe it. It is also expensive to develop, driving costs up to between $200,000 and $335,000 per unit depending on how you do the numbers.

The site also has severe access problems that planners and architects have so far not addressed. Also, building on the old site requires the disruptive and expensive relocation of residents during reconstruction.

As chance would have it, just a couple of miles away on the banks of the Willamette River is an opportunity that looks a great deal like the Vancouver project. Near to downtown Portland, high-rise apartment buildings in the new South Waterfront development stand partially filled.

The obvious question is this: Why can't the Housing Authority simply spend the $40.5 million it plans to spend on 120 Hillsdale Terrace units to purchase units in existing, largely vacant South Waterfront buildings?

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