Mendoza, Argentina - March 22, 2008

Albert Kaufman

Hi folks. well, I´m going to try something I think is new for our blueoregon world, or perhaps not, sending greetings from many timezones away. it´s been an incredible day in this town, about 13 hours west by bus from Buenos Aires. I find myself here for a month (in Argentina) and thought I´d send some impressions and thinking back to you.

The place is about 900,000 people, and I guess about as big as Portland. tree lined streets (sycamores) in a high desert town. I´ve been thinking all day about what to write. OK, it´s probably going to be somewhat random, but here goes.

They have some very cool things here that Portland could do with. First, a 3 street long walking street filled with outdoor cafes. The cafes are full and it´s a great place to meander and watch people. There are also these very neat square shaped structures that have benches underneath and giant wysteria growing from 4 sides up and onto and creating a roof. I hope to capture the design and perhaps present this to VBC and maybe create one in portland, they are very neat. Also, the whole town has little canals which drain the rainwater but also irrigate the street trees. this seems to make things kind of dangerous for walking, but the trees look very haopy. There are 5 main plazas in the downtown area, each with a different feel and lots of fountains. each prettier and more bustling than the next.

what doesn´t work here, or looks like a catastrophe waiting to happen¿ Well, the traffic is intense. the driving is intense. people drive as if there are no rules. I always thought NYC and Rome were bad, this makes things look easy there in comparison. it´s dangerous to cross the street. even when you have the light.

another interesting societal thing that´s going on is that small money is in demand. it´s really hard to get change (ain´t that the truth..) - but really, people would rather have you pay less than something costs than give you back coin of the realm. not sure what´s up with that, but it´s often hard to ride a bus or buy something small because when you pull out a 10 or 20 peso note.. noone is able to change it... forget about paying with a hundred...

people seem really healthy here. and the food is terrific. so, I guess either they´re not all eating it, at least not as much as I am ;) or the heat of life and lots of movement and sports is keeping peopel slim. but there´s smoking everywhere. and it´s hard on the lungs. seems like a lot of people are walking around with a persistant cough. could also be the exhaust from the diesel around the city. oh, yesterday I took a taxi ride and the driver stopped and got the car filled with natural gas. that was a trip. we had to step out of the car.. in case it exploded?? not sure why. reminded me of the LNG issue...

i walked through a 420 hectare park today which borders the city. quite impressive, size-wise and perhaps someday will get more maintenance and improvements. things seem to have stopped developing here about 10-20 years ago. At the same time, I¨m in something I¨ve never seen before writing this. An internet building... about 100 stations, the ability to do all sorts of computer work - skype your friends, watch videos, there are cameras with each station and a phone. it´s 3 pesos for an hour and that´s expensive for Mendoza internet. 3 pesos to the US dollar, btw.

prices of things are less than in the US, and peoples´salaries are much lower as far as I can tell. btw, I¨m in wine country. so there´s great wine everywhere. also, the whole country is steak country. i just had an incredible steak dinner with salad and mineral water for about $11.

now some thoughts about Portland. I´ve been thinking it for a while as I watch the development of every vacant lot in the City - we need to stop paving and building everywhere. I´d really like to see the City have an effort to buy up empty lots and preserve them for possible future gardens and orchards. And how about let´s figure out how to create a large-scale park in Portland proper. The best I can come up with right now is the Colwood Golf Course. I know that that´s being Sold soon. City of Portland, let´s buy the whole thing and not turn it into more industrial space... how about instead a mixture of urban garden training, city orchard, some sports areas, some places for families to come and picnic together, lots of different uses. seeing this gigantic park today with the variety of uses just got me thinking that we should quit Bowling Alone, and figure out how to create some large scale park for everyones´use. I´ll probably flesh that out more, but just want to get it off my chest.

People here are wondering about Clinton and Obama and who will win. 5 time zones away and thousands of miles away in a remote town and people are asking me about the presidential election, that´s amazing me.

That should do it for now. I have lots more on my mind, but just thought I¨d send some random thoughts to my fellow blue oregonians about my trip south.

Hats off to everyone who´s running for office this time round - may you still get to sleep some!!! And thanks for your good work in advance.

Hasta Luego,

Alberto

what doesn´t work here, or looks like a catastrophe waiting to happen¿ Well, the traff is intense. the driving is intense. people drive as if there are no rules. I always thought NYC and Rome were bad, this makes things look easy there in comparison. it´s dangerous to cross the street. even when you have the light.

i walked through a 420 hectare park today which borders the city. quite impressive, size-wise and perhaps someday will get more maintenance and improvements. things seem to have stopped developing here about 10-20 years ago. At the same time, I¨m in something I¨ve never seen before writing this. An internet building... about 100 stations, the ability to do all sorts of computer work - skype your friends, watch videos, there are cameras with each station and a phone. it´s 3 pesos for an hour and that´s expensive for Mendoza internet. 3 pesos to the US dollar, btw.

prices of things are less than in the US, and peoples´salaries are much lower as far as I can tell. btw, I¨m in wine country. so there´s great wine everywhere. also, the whole country is steak country. i just had an incredible steak dinner with salad and mineral water for about $11.

now some thoughts about Portland. I´ve been thinking it for a while as I watch the development of every vacant lot in the City - we need to stop paving and building everywhere. I´d really like to see the City have an effort to buy up empty lots and preserve them for possible future gardens and orchards. And how about let´s figure out how to create a large-scale park in Portland proper. The best I can come up with right now is the Colwood Golf Course. I know that that´s being Sold soon. City of Portland, let´s buy the whole thing and not turn it into more industrial space... how about instead a mixture of urban garden training, city orchard, some sports areas, some places for families to come and picnic together, lots of different uses. seeing this gigantic park today with the variety of uses just got me thinking that we should quit Bowling Alone, and figure out how to create some large scale park for everyones´use. I´ll probably flesh that out more, but just want to get it off my chest.

People here are wondering about Clinton and Obama and who will win. 5 time zones away and thousands of miles away in a remote town and people are asking me about the presidential election, that´s amazing me.

That should do it for now. I have lots more on my mind, but just thought I¨d send some random thoughts to my fellow blue oregonians about my trip south.

Hats off to everyone who´s running for office this time round - may you still get to sleep some!!! And thanks for your good work in advance.

Hasta Luego,

Alberto

Comments

  • (Show?)

    Nice post, Albert. We have had folks blogging from Australia and the UK before. But never South America.

    And how about let´s figure out how to create a large-scale park in Portland proper.

    You mean, besides the 4317-acre park we already have in Portland? (That's 1747 hectares, or more than four times the size of the park you describe.)

  • Douglas K (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Delta Park? The Washington Park/Hoyt Arboretum/Pittock Acres park complex? Both are pretty large-scale.

    I've often thought that if the Portland International Raceway was ever abandoned as a raceway, it would be a great site for a large-scale botanical/display garden, as part of a larger Delta Park/Smith & Bybee Lakes greenspace: golf course, athletic complex, wildlife space, public gardens, Expo Center, and general activity area.

    And with relatively little work (mostly trail upgrades and some landscaping work) the Washington Park/Hoyt Arboretum area could become Portland's version of New York's Central Park. All the elements are there; it's just that the park doesn't tie together too well in terms of paved, accessible trails and bikeways.

    No need to acquire the park space for a gigantic park; just work with what's out there already.

    Now, neighborhood parks, on the other hand ... we definitely need more of those in certain parts of town, particularly the outer east side.

  • joeldanwalls (unverified)
    (Show?)

    The no-coins-available phenomenon reminds me of Italy 30 years ago. Shopkeepers were reduced to barter, essentially: giving people chewing gum or telephone tokens instead of coins. Or they would just give more of whatever it was that one asked for so as to not have to make change.

  • (Show?)

    The bit on vacant lots is interesting, because part of it is driven by Metro and Portland public policy favoring density.

    But only part of it. "The market," with its phenomenal increases in home prices in recent years, clearly also is driving it. A house on a street a couple of blocks from me had an extra lot behind it, facing the next street over that was a green open space with fruit trees, a place for the people who lived there to hang out but also a nice visual space for the next street over neighborhood & foot traffic. They sold it and a large new house went up.

    A former professor of mine from Reed died a couple of years ago. She had an older post-war single-floor modern architecture house in Eastmoreland, and a great deal of privacy created by a dense "hedge" of evergreen, holly and other trees. Nice woodsy spooky effect. After she passed away, the place was sold. All of the plants were uprooted, the lot nearly cleared, and another oversized two-story house went in with more conventional landscaping.

    The "snout houses" are not as common as they were a few years ago, but another lot up the street has a couple going in, and three or four went into a large lot (probaly lot and a half or two) which had an early 20th c. house on it set way back facing SE 39th -- the new snout houses fill the whole & face SE Bybee.

    And, of course, there is Reed's Fine College itself, which bought up the property and land of the former Eastmoreland Hospital when it was sold to solve the financial problems of a national company that had previously purchased it, then lost money elsewhere, which had nothing to do with the hospital itself; it was doing fine. The college in its wisdom closed the hospital and tore it down, seriously reducing medical resources in the area. They also booted out a community garden that it had hosted on some of its land for several decades. The college is building several new buildings, dormitories I believe -- partly because Reed's older pattern of students living in groups in houses fairly near campus is decreasingly possible due to sharply rising property values and rents.

    And so on ...

    The point I suppose is that what Albert is calling for has some relation to some of the arguments that some of the free marketeers over at Cascade Policy Institute make, and we should recognize that, but also that their bugaboos about regulation don't deal with what markets actually produce. It may be that there's a need for a more systematic housing zoning debate within the context of Metro policy, with consideration of creating much higher density zones in certain places to preserve the houses/lots with yards and the open spaces Albert writes about in others.

    (P.S. As an alumnus and former visiting faculty member at Reed, I bear the college no ill will, quite the contrary, as it was Reed that created my first route to Portland and also my initial route back here, gave me a haven from U.S. anti-intellectualism at a time when that mattered much to me, and introduced me thinking and learning skills as well as subtantive knowledge I value greatly. But the mantra of critical thinking I learned there needs to be iteratively applied to the college itself in a number of respects.)

  • mariano (unverified)
    (Show?)

    hello Alberto !,

    Just nice to see your post, Im a mendocino that lived in Portland, Or, ( beaverton), and Now Im back down here, stop by my place in the pedestrian street, and by the way, if someone wants to see a live cam I just set up there, take a sneak at Mendoza you can reach me at sarmiento 250, 6th floor, best for you Mariano.

  • Joanne Rigutto (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Albert, regarding your comments about gardens and orchards in Portland, I'd like to see more gardening in the city too. There are lots of different things that can be grown in the city that can not only provide food for people, and quite often food that you can't get at a store, but can can be used as quite attractive decorative plants as well.

    There was an organization in Portland called Growing Gardens that helped low income people plant gardens in order to help feed themselves. I just tried to go to their website, but wasn't able to access it. Perhaps they are doing maintenance or something. I hope they're still around. This is the website I found via Google - Growing Gardens

    My father has a double lot in SE Portland. One lot he lives on, the other he gardens. He produces plenty of fruit and vegitables for himself and his neighbors and the rest of our family to enjoy each year. He starts a lot of his own seed, cans, freezes, etc., and he saves seed from some things like beans, for replanting each year. He is on the same property he was born on and when he was a kid his mom had chickens and the family shared a cow with the neighbors which was grazed daily at what is now a park. That gives you an idea just how long that piece of property has been farmed. You couldn't get away with that type of livestock in that part of Portland now-a-days, but when I was a kid we did raise our own rabbits for meat. We used the manuer from the rabbits to help fertilize the garden and I grew up eating fresh vegitables and fruit from our own home every year. The excess, that wasn't given away, was frozen, dried or canned.

    I'd like to see a lot more people do things like this in the city. Not only would it be healthier - and tastier I might add, but it would foster a better sense of self suficiency. Something that is sorely lacking in many people everywhere in this day and age.

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