Monday, February 19, 2024

Is this the 'Long Goodbye?'


Gone...soon to be forgotten?

Thousands of residents apparently responded when Portland officials asked late last year for responses to an internet survey  about whether to return historic statutes that had been illegally removed from city parks in 2020.

 Alas, now that the survey deadline has passed, the survey results evidently never will be disclosed.  Many people apparently objected to the bias they believed they saw and independent number-crunchers found that none of the answers met the standards of statistical significance.

 Thus the City Council is expected on Feb. 28 to wade into public review of a proposed two-page policy that clearly makes public impressions about diversity, inclusion and equity more important than someone’s historical significance.

 On the face of it, that means goodbye, Abe Lincoln; adios, Teddy Roosevelt; and farewell, George Washington.   You can review the proposed policy here:

 The policy tries to include some other options, like expanding the historical context for public figures who have come under attack for views that were not publicly prominent in their own eras.   There are people who think the issue of “presentism” of modern political correctness, so to speak, should not outweigh the historical significance of an important person.   The proposed policy includes a cumbersome review process for artworks that have been called into question by residents who feel offended by them, ultimately leading to a recommendation to the Portland City Council.

 But the overriding reason for disqualifying a work of public art is this: “The subject or impact of a piece of artwork is significantly at odds with (the) City’s values of antiracism and equity. 

 Compromises may be possible.  One idea being explored informally is the “president’s exception” that would allow the return of Lincoln and Roosevelt to their historic bases in the South Park Blocks, and moving George Washington to Washington Park.  (The Thomas Jefferson statue belongs to Portland Public Schools, so the school board would have jurisdiction.)

Experts who have studied the proposed city policy say it contradicts some other codified city planning regulations.  One requirement is that statues listed on the city’s own historic inventory would have to be reviewed by the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission.  The landmarks commission is scheduled to discuss this point at a meeting on Feb. 26.  Anyone interested in testifying at the Zoom meeting can sign up here:

 Just two days later, the City Council is scheduled to consider the proposed policy submitted by Commissioner Dan Ryan.  One can imagine that no speedy or lasting answer can be expected quickly.

 ----Fred Leeson

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