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Opinion: The wall around our City Hall is a symbol of weak leadership

Posted by on June 10th, 2020 at 11:19 am

Not accessible — and a big middle-finger to all Portlanders.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

What is wrong with Portland’s current leaders?

Yesterday someone at the City of Portland decided to erect a massive plywood wall around City Hall. According to KATU it was installed to prevent people from spray painting the cherished limestone walls and, “to help preserve city resources, as a team has had to clean the buildings each day.”

With our city in mass upheaval over the killing of George Floyd and many other Black people at the hands of a racist and rotten policing system, graffiti has become rampant all over downtown. It will come off someday, but only when people feel like their voices matter.

Walling off our City Hall like it’s some type of fortress or castle? That’s absurd, deeply troubling, and a great way to guarantee more graffiti.

Democracy requires that the power structure (literally and figuratively) is always open and accessible. When I came to Portland in 2004 and started to get involved with politics and activism, I vividly remember my first visits to City Hall. I recall being pleasantly surprised at how open the building was and how easily I could get into a meeting room or an office of my elected leaders. It was inspiring. I felt connected to the system. I felt like my voice mattered. I felt like I could effect real change.

Then came those annoying metal detectors. Then came the security guards who search our bags every visit. And now this damn wall.

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Seriously?

And what was really shocking is that the wall completely blocks the sidewalk in front of the building. There’s a complete lack of accessibility and a blatant violation of ADA standards. If you want to walk into City Hall you have to climb over a large concrete barrier and/or walk in the street. That is inexcusable.

Fortunately the city seems to have come to their senses and the wall will be removed. According to KATU, “In a statement, the city said that while the wall was intended to protect the building and minimize expenses, the city needed to ‘hear our community’s demands for racial justice, even when those demands take the form of spray paint.'”

But the damage has been done. The symbolism of walling-off our City Hall is worse than the closure itself. Much of the anger in our streets today is because people feel like their voices don’t matter. Hiding from this dissent makes it stronger and makes our leaders look weak.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Patrick H CroasdaileAlexander MarineskoqqqBillItgoesbothways Recent comment authors
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Ted Timmons
Guest

I have a records request in for the cost of it. Who knows if or when I’ll get it.

JeffP
Guest
JeffP

Compared to the cost of the damage to buildings and the clean-up of the graffiti on those same building hopefully.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Lucky Portland. My community of Greensboro NC now looks like the early 80s with everything boarded up downtown and graffiti everywhere, though some of it is rather nice. The hot new urban trend – boarding up nice buildings.

Momo
Guest
Momo

Most protestors I follow on social media are celebrating this decision because it provides a blank canvas for street art. And the city explicitly said that’s part of the idea. So I can’t say I agree with this take.

Champs
Guest
Champs

Wheeler ran as the adult in the room who could get things done. If he can’t deliver so much as that, I don’t see how there’s any hope of cashing checks on the virtue signaling of his opponent. This will not be a good election.

We need a new City Hall with district representation, professional bureau managers with authority, and more accountability than the whims of one corner office downtown.

Bikeninja
Guest
Bikeninja

An open city hall where the citizens of the city can come and go as they please is the sign of a working democracy. A city hall that is blockaded behind walls ( or a moat) is symbolic of feudalism, where the lords of the land rule through the threat of violence. When this happens it is a sign that the current government in power has lost, or is losing, the consent of the people. This can be resolved by a peaceful change to a government that does represent the will of the people, or new ad-hoc leaders will spring up to give people the change that they want. This is happening in an unusual ( and not necessarily sustainable way) in Seattle as groups have taken over a portion of the capital hill neighborhood and declared it an autonomous zone with its own new ad-hoc leadership. When Rome fell the barbarians did not have to storm the gates and break in, the citizens opened the gates and welcomed them in because the existing government and elite had become so corrupt, and ineffectual that any change was welcome.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

It’s ironic those folks in Seattle established borders and walls.

Toby
Guest
Toby

“Build bridges, not walls.”

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

CRC 2.0?

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Additionally, it is very telling as to what the City leadership/ operations values most and what is first to go: looking at the first photo the City could have placed the jersey barriers / blocks in the parking lane and still “protected” public property while keeping federally (& state) required ADA access open.

But this shows that parking – even when not in high demand – is protected at all costs.

Alan 1.0
Subscriber

I had the same thought about the jersey barriers and utility blocks. Coincidentally, Google street views of City Hall shows construction fencing in place along that side without block either the street or the sidewalk. https://goo.gl/maps/8M2BCj15tYehwWsGA

Bike Guy
Guest
Bike Guy

Hmm, it would be great if the plywood were offered as a canvass. People could write messages showing their frustration without damaging the building itself. The limestone was just laboriously refinished with a jackhammer last summer. I’m sure it wasn’t fun to be working inside the building when they did that.

Bill
Guest
Bill

I agree. Aside from the ADA accessibility issue, it would have been better if the city had reached out to the local artists and created a participatory mural honoring George Floyd and supportive of social change first before erecting the wall. I understand the why, but in these sensitive times it is important what message is sent.

mran1984
Guest

Looting and vandalism are such great examples of leadership. Yep, just threw up.

qqq
Guest
qqq

I’d guess the fence’s erection violated several regulations–building code, ADA, PBOT/Title 17 regulations for sidewalk blocking…

When ICE erected a fence around its building on Macadam in 2018, BDS cited it for violations (ultimately deciding not to pursue action against ICE, but not because the violations weren’t true). I didn’t see any permits on portlandmaps for the City Hall fence.

I guess it’s not a bad thing to keep in mind for anyone ever getting cited for building something without permits–“I was just following the City’s own example of figuring permits and rules don’t matter if they’re an inconvenience”.

https://www.opb.org/news/article/portland-ice-building-immigration-protests-city-permits/

Steve Scarich
Guest
Steve Scarich

If you listen to most of the interviews of BLM protestors, they focus on how they ‘feel’. I ‘feel’ threatened by racism. I ‘feel’ threatened by cops. and that is why they are protesting. But, when other institutions, or contrary minds, express their ‘fear’ of protestors, they are suddenly repressive and a threat to our democracy? You can’t have it both ways, Mr. Maus and others.

jd
Guest
jd

Give me a break. Protesters don’t just “feel” threatened by racism, nor do they merely “feel” threatened by cops. Black people people are disproportionally being mistreated and killed by police and white supremisists regularly. Have you not heard? Are you getting all of your news from Trump tweets? “Contrary minds” like yours are only fearful of losing the power they hold over the people being oppressed and are the real threat to democracy. The wall built to protect the precious limestone is proof of that.

Check yourself, or you’ll find that you are going to be on the wrong side of history.

qqq
Guest
qqq

I guess by the same token, many people who have shot and killed innocent black men and boys (claiming “stand your ground” laws or whatever) would claim, “I “felt” threatened”. Many Americans “felt” threatened by Japanese American citizens who were sent to detention camps. Many Germans “felt” threatened by Jews in 1939. You certainly CAN “have it both ways”, and need to.

PS
Guest
PS

If democracy requires that the power structure be open and available at all times, then we should all be able to agree that an absolute of democracy is respecting the foundation of representative leadership. Regardless of how vocal, or a group’s perception of its scale, you don’t get to act with impunity. Ignoring that there may be a larger group of constituents of this city that believe keeping a public asset from being defaced is pretty bad, but then suggesting that the desire to do so is keeping a group from having a voice is outlandish. Nobody is listening to that voice more intently than now, so worrying about the message an OSB wall sends in lieu of worrying about how to gain more moderate support, is showing the conversation may be short lived.

Itgoesbothways
Guest
Itgoesbothways

You have made money off the appropriation of civil rights. You have been called a racist and your response was “I don’t see color”. You allowed comments on this site where white guys saying they know what it’s like to be black because they choose to ride a bike (look up the comments on Williams). You allowed a straight white man (who got ran out of this city because of sexual assault allegations) to post TWO articles where he complained about being oppressed by cars and post a drawing of someone on a bike pointing a gun at a person driving a car. You posted a story about people going on “Freedom Rides”, and it was just a bunch of white people who wanted to go mountain biking. You posted a picture of a turned over car and asked your readers to make a funny comment.

Riding a bike is a choice, being black isn’t.

There needs to be more road improvements for people who CHOOSE and have the luxury to ride bikes.

You mean well, but just stop with the civil rights appropriation.

Alexander Marinesko
Guest

With all the plywood downtown, leads to believe ted has stock in the timber industry

Patrick H Croasdaile
Guest
Patrick H Croasdaile

Is it completely out of the question to suggest that in addition to different leadership we need a drastically different city government? Possibly one where unqualified people cannot become “mini-mayors” at the whims of a disorganized army of flaky, armchair expert voters? Maybe we could add district-driven representation and a city manager to the wishlist as well?