The Portland Art Museum's desire to close off a public walkway, by enclosing it, is a serious issue. In early April, the community was informed that a hearing before the City Council was to take place April 20, giving us only two weeks to organize as a community to deliver points of view that the Portland Art Museum had not wanted to hear.
When I arrived at City Hall, the museum people were welcomed by the City Council as representing a major institution in our city, to which we all agree. The museum did an informative presentation of their current programs, their diversity and outreach. Striking pictures of the model of the proposed "Rothko enclosure" were shown.
However, the museum can continue its impressive programs, build a beautiful connection between its buildings and maintain the open, free access to the walkway that citizens enjoy today.
I truly believe the commissioners didn't think anyone would oppose the museum's plan. There were 25 speakers testifying against the closure. Speakers included architects, disabled, the elderly, cyclist and pedestrian organizations, neighbors, urban planners, a civil rights attorney and members of the Commission on Disabilities.
A foot-traffic study of the walkway between the museum buildings proved how popular the walkway is; the study discovered hundreds of people routinely use it during hours the museum's proposed enclosure would close it to the public.
I appreciate, support and have been a longtime member of the museum, and I understand the museum's wishes to expand. However, they have refused community input in a most elitist manner, putting out the signal that the Rothko Enclosure will be built without the community, letting all of us know that it is done deal. In this age of autocratic leadership, it is poor PR to be this arbitrary, but the museum board doesn't seem to understand this. I hope the City Council does.
In testimony, speakers reminded the council that Portland has a master plan for the city, the draft of which the council has approved. Many of us attended meetings for several years to give input to the CC2035 Plan.
This plan emphasizes livability, pedestrian-friendly walking paths and bike-friendly pathways. When the plan was referred to during testimony, the council members appeared not to give it much weight. Yet after allocating city money to produce this draft plan, many planning staffers, community leaders and citizens spent hours producing it.
The City Council will have to explain to Portlanders in years to come why they would allow one organization to invalidate a legal agreement it made with the city in 1968 and allow it to "take" what otherwise would be public lands.
This agreement and its 1984 amendment required open, free public walking access between the buildings on this vacated street during the hours of 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.
If the council allows this ordinance to be overridden and encloses Madison Plaza, resulting in a superblock that makes downtown less walkable, this precedent-setting decision would resonate throughout the city.
The creation of big superblocks throughout downtown, closing off city streets and walkways, will dramatically change the character of Portland. It will be less desirable as a place to live.
The Portland Art Museum did not want to hear the voice of the community, but is my hope the City Council will, and assure us that this issue is not a done deal.
Shirley Rackner lives in downtown Portland.