The annual report by the Portland Landmarks Commission to the City Council generally is dispiriting for preservation advocates. The reports are always well crafted, including ideas that would enhance the city’s physical environment and our understanding of its history.
The city commissioners always heartily thank the landmarks commission members for their work and their ideas and diligence.
And then: Nothing happens.
It felt like deja vue all over again on May 25, when the landmarks commission reported on its work in 2021 and their thoughts for improvements they would like the see made in 2022. Their suggestions included:
· -- -Restarting an inventory of Portland’s historic buildings that has not been updated since 1984, even despite a major expansion of Portland’s eastern boundary;
· ---Undertaking a cultural resources plan to find a preserve locations of cultural significance to Portland’s various minority communities, even if the buildings involved are not considered architecturally significant;
· --- Finding ways to help fund expensive seismic bracing for some 1,600 Portland buildings constructed of unreinforced masonry that are especially vulnerable to earthquake damage;
· --- Establishing a legacy business program that would assist historic businesses in facing a variety of economic challenges from issues including the pandemic and gentrification.
Alas, the report did not identify funding sources or amounts of money needed to carry out these suggestions, noble though they may be.
As all the compliments from city commissioners rolled in about the quality of the report, Commissioner JoAnn Hardesty -- who has sat through three previous landmark commission annual reviews -- sounded the voice of reality.
“I hate to be the wet blanket in the room,” she said. Given the city’s limited resources, she said, opportunities for funding are limited. “We will have to be creative and thoughtful.” Hardesty added, “We really need to have a plan if you want it to become reality. We don’t have that.”
Of course, it is the City Council that controls the municipal budget, not the landmarks commission. Even if the landmarks commission could suggest funding sources, some member of the council would have to propose council action.
What might be different this year is the stress on appreciating the history of Portland’s minority communities, and an understanding that those communities need to be able to take advantage of whatever incentives and benefits preservation programs can provide.
In a letter preceding the commission’s report, Landmarks Chair Kristin Minor wrote, “On the Landmarks Commission, we are aware that for many, historic preservation seems like a side topic; something that is an “extra”, not a need. Yet preservation directly strengthens community bonds and generational stability, which help people heal and rebound from stress.
“Historic preservation and adaptive reuse are far better for the planet than the typical redevelopment model, moving us from a “throw-away” society to one that repairs and adds to what we already have. Finally, if used intentionally to honor communities who have experienced loss, displacement, and erasure, historic preservation can begin to work towards justice.”
If you are interested, you can read the full report here: https://efiles.portlandoregon.gov/record/15076788
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