urban growth is messy

front-row seat: Jefferson West demolition, September 7, 2014

The other day, I returned to my previous residence for the first time in over a year to pick up a package a friend had accidentally mailed to my old address. In our digital negotiations, my former roommate hadn't mentioned what was happening next door. The charming bungalow the former neighbors had sold off to escape the gray rain by moving to perpetually sunny, snowy Bend, home of larger, cheaper housing in the Central Oregon high-desert, is now hoisted up into the air, the brick-red-painted siding that so nicely contrasted on the color wheel with the surrounding verdure peeled off and the painstakingly landscaped, hand- and drip-watered flower and vegetable gardens all ripped up. I remembered hearing the new buyer would be earthquake retrofitting. (So this is what a neighborhood retrofit looks like.) That means if I'd stayed at the gray house in Brooklyn instead of moving downtown last summer, I would still be living next door to a hot mess.

(Is the universe trying to tell me something? Is this some sign I'm not reading correctly? Maybe "the big one" really is coming and all who don't retrofit their old pre-code buildings will soon be lying broken and bloody in a pile of bricks and lath like those poor baby pigeons. In other words, if living in this apartment, or anything like it, when the overdue massive earthquake hits the strangely quiet Cascadia Subduction Zone, I'll most likely end up dead.)

Brooklyn reconstruction, September 10th, 2014 (iPhone photo)

When I snapped a phone shot to share this construction irony with a friend, the head contractor hustled over and asked if I had any problem with what they were doing. I laughed and explained I used to live next door and now happened to be living aside a major demolition-construction site downtown. Defensively proactive, he said something about "social media these days" and that since Portland is "the third most moved-to city in the country" (according to whom?), there's going to be "a lot of construction." Kudos to a better economy, I suppose. But I just read an Oregonian article this week saying Portland has finally dropped in the rankings of most popular cities to move to, with more people moving out than in over the summer moving season, the article's commenters mostly saying, "Well, yeah—because there are no jobs."

desiccated pigeon nestling on tottering roof, September 12th, 2014

wall removal, Jefferson West, September 12th, 2014

Some of my ancestors moved to the Oregon Territory in the mid-1800's, including one of the first hops growers in the Willamette Valley. Others moseyed West over the years from the East Coast where one pigtailed dude in stockings, according to family lore (because Mormons like genealogy), once owned the land the White House now stands on. These progenitors lived in Ohio, Indiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Montana, California, and Oregon, moving around a lot, back and forth in their wooden wagons, from territory to state to state, presumably discontented. (See where I get it from?) There were even quite a few divorces in the family tree, women with a gaggle of children, pre-birth control, cutting off ne'er-do-well husbands (I'm picturing dead tree limbs), back when divorce was rare and shocking and women had few ways to earn money—basically farming, teaching, shop owning, or prostitution. A couple of these progenitors married into the family were even reputed natives who had arrived tens of thousands of years before. That all means I have a right, as much as any mostly-white person can say she has a right to the New World, to live on the West Coast.

machine biting a wall, Jefferson West, September 12th, 2014

falling wall, Jefferson West, September 12th, 2014

Absher construction worker operating a CAT 336E, Jefferson West, September 12th, 2014

I already got booted by cost-of-living out of California, my birthplace, where I'd otherwise still be, while my hometown in the Southern Oregon high desert has basically become an overpriced retirement community with its economy propped up by service-industry and health care jobs, its farmers fighting for water rights against environmentalists who stand on behalf of sucker fish and salmon and the larger ecosystem, and its drought-ridden forests surrounding the Klamath Basin burning up like so many giant campfires. (And sorry, but the environmentalists need to win because nobody should be farming industrial quantities of potatoes and alfalfa in a cold desert, even if their forebears had been doing so for a century, as subsidized by the Feds. Folks, if the Bureau of Reclamation wants to "reclaim" land, that means it was never meant for such a purpose, and troubles lie ahead. Go read Cadillac Desert.)

tearing down an alley wall, Jefferson West, September 12th, 2014

concrete chunk in machine maw, Jefferson West, September 12th, 2014

tearing out the veins, Jefferson West, September 12th, 2014

But rents keep rising on the desirable West Coast, reflected by all the new high-density condo and apartment complexes sprouting up across the urban landscape like glass weeds. Though I've been keeping all but the bathroom window closed during the day (in summer, yeah—thanks, Absher!), the deconstruction dust has been piling up on all the sills and even in the clawfoot tub. Plus, I've been awakened before 7:30 AM the last couple Saturdays (which means they're behind schedule since they're only "occasionally" supposed to be working on the weekend) by the grinding, crashing, whining, back-up-beeping sounds of the earth movers next door as they sort building debris into piles, stacking concrete chunks next to fractured old-growth timbers beside long bent fingers of rebar and hunks of miscellaneous metal, their tracks crushing the broken lath underneath into tinder, their hydraulic maws opening and dropping the sorted mess into truck beds that haul it off once the chain-link gates have been opened. This hundred-year-old building I'm in shudders at times in sympathy, enough that my hanging fruit basket sways in the kitchen without a breeze. This is progress? Where to next, Canada?


  1. Holy moly. Nice photos. Yipes.

  2. Thanks, Carol. They've been pulling down the back (alley-side) exterior brick walls this week. Half of Jefferson West is down now. Soon they'll be working across from my front window. No sign of that promised screen yet. It all feels strange, a kind of limbo.


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