Friday, December 01, 2006

Portland--Not Elderly or Handicap Friendly

Steve Duin's column yesterday ended with an interesting observation.

Schumacher is loath to admit the protesters wore him down and are driving him out of town. I don't think it's a victory worth savoring, but I know it's not a major defeat for the downtown's retail reputation. The aging generation that draped itself in fox and mink may be souring on the city center, but their sons and daughters are finding plenty of other downtown diversions.
[emphasis mine]

I speak from personal experience of parents who are elderly and a brother with multiple handicaps. Portland is not a friendly city to people who have physical weaknesses--irrespective of whether they buy spendy garments, jewelry, cars or the like. And my family doesn't.

My parents will not go downtown. Duin makes fun of Gregg Schumacher's observation that Portland is not safe for people to shop in because of "musicians on the street".

The musicians on the street?

You mean, when the Santa Claus at Southwest 10th Avenue and Morrison Street pointed a trumpet at me, the damn thing was loaded? With something more than a melody as crisp as the November morning?

You mean something other than the cold explained the blood on the callused fingertips of Jesse Brandon, the 24-year-old whalin' on his Kona guitar beneath the eaves of the downtown Nordstrom store?

Duin looks fairly robust in his photo. I'm assuming he doesn't have trouble walking, or even running. Which is probably why he doesn't think about the people who do have trouble with mobility around obstacles. Impediments on the sidewalk are a real danger to some elderly and handicapped people--even if the impediment plays a musical instrument.

I've always enjoyed street musicians. I can walk around them rapidly and easily. Steve Duin apparently can too. But if Portland is a city only the vigorous and strong feel comfortable in, it's not much of a city. The real test of a city is how it treats its weakest members.

Portland is real friendly to the quick and the strong. You gotta have good reflexes to even drive downtown--with bicyclists and pedestrians ignoring traffic laws. I don't mind. I've lived in and driven in a major world city where Formula 1 drivers have honed their skills as young drivers. But, people with regular driving skills have to be on super-alert in downtown Portland.

It's even worse for pedestrians. Not only impediments on the sidewalks, like street musicians, but aggressive panhandlers and not-so peaceful demonstrators are tolerated without a second thought. The old adage "Your free speech ends where my nose begins" doesn't apply to the aged or handicapped in Portland.

Portland has had poor marks on this for a number of years. The Schumacher incident just underlines the point. And my parents have gotten the point. They avoid downtown Portland like the plague. It is a real, physical danger to them. And apparently the Mayor, City Councilmen and Steve Duin aren't that concerned. They don't have much trouble in downtown Portland, so why worry about those who do? After all,

Nor were there any complaints from Wendy Fouts and Betsy Jones at Binyon's Eye World, just to the west of Schumacher's. The two women love working downtown and the more cosmopolitan customers who shop there, none of whom, they said, has ever complained about the anti-fur demonstrations or safety concerns.

Are they on their guard while waiting for the bus at night? Of course they are. That's life in the big city.
[emphasis mine]

If that's the kind of big city you allow, that's the kind of big city you will have. New York decided it wanted to reverse that trend (obviously a worse situation there, but a much bigger city too).

When will Portland's leaders decide they want to reverse the trend here so that the elderly and handicapped will once again feel welcomed in downtown Portland?

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