Portland’s Fareless Square   Leave a comment

I am *trying* to balance this blog by talking about Portland the city and other things (anything…) besides food once in a while. These photos I've actually been meaning to post for a while: I took them the week I was meeting F for lunch while I was waiting for UPS boxes to arrive and I had not started work yet.

Portland has taken an interesting strategy to decreasing the congestion in the downtown area of the city. For more than 30 years, they have let the people ride for free on the various public transportation options (bus, light rail, and streetcar), any time of day (not just certain hours). The area is designated "Fareless Square" and includes not only the downtown area proper where you find various corporate and government offices and hotels, but also the Amtrak and Greyhound stations, convention center, a large shopping mall, and a indoor sports/concert arena. No, the area is not really a square at all, but it has a nicer ring than "Fareless Area". Actually, I think the area looks a bit like a rabbit foot, including the chain.

There is an actual area that is a square that in my mind at least, I see as the middle of the city, even though actually it should be the street intersection of Burnside and the river that is the true center. But it's sort of inconvenient to have an intersection be the heart of a city, so instead it is an area called Pioneer Courthouse Square. It is a big public space that I often see people gather just to eat lunch, watch movies in the summer, or attend political demonstrations, or see the city christmas tree. I used to really dislike this area when I was a visitor because this is where you can most often see the bums of the city.

Unlike the homeless in Chicago who generally have psychological problems of some sort, the bums in Portland are lazy youth between high school and their 30s who don't work and instead sit around with cardboard signs asking for money. Sadly, they eek out an ok existance this way: Portland's people are very mother earth-loving, including wrapping their uneaten leftovers and placing them on top of garbage cans for others to enjoy. Recyclable materials, such as metal, aluminum, and glass can actually make people money as well at recycling centers, so on one hand, recycling programs are successful here, but on the other hand, meth heads steal pipes, air conditioners, and plaques off of buildings and graves.

More recently though since I have been able to pass through Pioneer Square a few times (ok, a few times I was also lost wandering around for landmarks without remembering what the address was), I have gained appreciation for a lot of the art displayed in and around the square too. One art work that I always mean to see in action but keep missing is the Weather Machine. As per Wikipedia's concise description of the Weather Machine: 

"Another public art installation, the Weather Machine, consists of a tall metal column topped with a large silver-colored orb. At noon each day, the following day's weather is announced with a fanfare of trumpets, flashing lights, and a spray of mist. The orb opens to reveal one of the following:

  • a golden sun, for a clear day;
  • a great blue heron, to forecast a rainy day;
  • an open-mouthed dragon, when storms are forecast.

Light bulbs on the side of the machine are reminiscent of a mercury thermometer and light up progressively as the temperature increases."

The other artwork/public works installation I really like are the fountains. There actually is a two hour walking tour of the various fountains you can take. On one hand, the fountains are pretty cool public works because they were built with the intent to encourage more water drinking and less drinking in saloons (you actually shouldn't drink the water in the decorative fountains now: they have real water fountains on the sidewalk for that). On the other hand, the variety of fountains built in Portland also bring some great art among all the buildings in Portland's City Center. I took some pictures of one of the twelve fountains: the "Animal In Pools" Fountain just one block from the Pioneer Courthouse. I've always liked these fountains eternally paddling ducks, upright otters that can't seem to
believe what they see when they look at you, mama bear
fishing for her two cubs with chubby butts, and earnest beavers.

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Despite that sorta complaint/rant from me about how the granola earthy aspect of Portland is abused by some, the fountains are a reminder of some of the artsy quirkness of Portland that give the city a whimsical personality.

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