Feb 15, 2008


In early August I went to the Tri-Met Transit Mall located along Fifth and Sixth Avenues with a tape recorder and sign reading “Portland Surrealist Group Interviews.” Most people chose to pass by or face the street, awaiting buses in silence. About a fourth of them looked at the sign or made eye contact. At four in the afternoon the streets were busy but not full. Only the curious were asked the proposed question. Below is a summary of the results:

—Can’t think of anything. (3)
—Jobs and shelter for the homeless. (2)
—Free parking and more free transportation. (2)
—More trees. We’ve lost fifty percent of them since 1975. I ate off fruit trees as a child.
—Tear up the streets and plant grass and flowers.
—Expand Waterfront Park from the Fremont Bridge to the Stadium Freeway Bridge, and make the Portland Streetcar pass through it.
Get rid of Front Avenue altogether.
—Clean the Willamette River so people can swim in it.
—Move the Portlandia statue on the Portland Building to Waterfront Park so it can welcome incoming ships.
—Make it legal to skateboard.
—Move the Police Station to the middle of the ocean.
—Get rid of Niketown.
—Too many buses.

A following trip to the South Park Blocks induced these comments on the statue of Teddy Roosevelt:
—Paint it patriotic colors.
—Move it to where it’s more visible.
—Shit on the horse’s head. Piss on that guy.

Later at the Multnomah County Library a discussion ensued with two people involving electric buses, the use of recycled and natural building materials, building with character and permanence, and more room for bicycles. Also discussed was the controlled feeling of Pioneer Courthouse Square (where Portland’s entrepreneur-funded Clean and Safe Services and the Portland Police Bureau keep people from any excess of passion), the difficulty of putting up murals compared with the ease of putting up billboard advertisements, and the building facades, which conceal a structure’s true function and makes it easier to sell. The importance of building on existing structures rather than making “ugly” new gentrified buildings was also emphasized during comments on numerous construction sites seen recently. One participant liked the idea of leaving parking garages standing to be used as a scaffolding/mesh structure.

No doubt some of the proposals would improve the quality of life and should be implemented for their practical benefit. A few display humor and imagination with regard to being able to “do anything” to the city-space. Other answers are generally contained or constrained. Everyone was made aware of the uncensored aspect of this game survey, meant to illuminate desire, and activate tension between desire and experience, subject to chance variations.

MK Shibek December 2002 (Originally printed in Flying Stone #1 and also at http://pdxsurr.blogspot.com)

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