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The Works: Future of WAMO
posted by Tim DuRoche
Planner Ethan Seltzer offers some thoughts on possibilities for Washington High post-TBA: 09
At the opening night of the Works (née Washington High School) last week, I happened to see City Councilman Nick Fish talking with Ethan Seltzer, professor in the School of Urban Studies and Planning at PSU. In addition to his day-gig, Seltzer’s got a fantastic track record as a neighborhood activist, exuberant supporter of culture and the arts (including being a former PICA board member) and cut his teeth in the Portland public arena working for Arts Champ/City Commissioner Mike Lindberg, once upon a time.
I asked Ethan [as well as Nick. . . ahem!] if he might allow me to publicly pick his brain on his experience of Washington HS as a temporary adaptive reuse. With his richly diverse background, it occured to me that he might have some interesting perspective or good questions regarding its future as public space and its possibilities for community cultural develoment.
TdR: Ethan, as someone who’s a planner (and thinks a lot about public 
space/public good/social capital) with both a background in neighborhood activism and a history of involvement with the arts, I’m curious about  what you think the best vision for  WHS is, in terms of  public space needs and neighborhood cultural vitality?
Ethan: Great questions and very timely, especially given the work of the WAMO  task force.  What is the “best” vision?  Tough to say.  What we saw on Thursday night is what we ought to see regularly: a public building,  inside and out of the weather, where the work of artists can be seen,  made, and commented on.  Clearly PICA has the skill and talent to turn WHS into that kind of place… they’ve just proven it!  If Pioneer  Square is the City’s living room, WHS should be its basement workshop… a place for ideas to flow, take root, and get tossed around, if not out.  First Thursday and its siblings are fine for what they are, but they stop way short of “making”… Portland needs a place where art gets made and I think WHS could be it.  However, as  much as I see the promise in a place with a desparately needed mid-size theater, rehearsal space, studio space, etc, I also think that  the long-standing needs of the neighborhood for a community center and pool need to be envisioned as part of this. 
That is, it’s not enough  for the arts community to cherry pick the building…there has to be a broader vision and commitment or else we’ll see the arts community pitted against the neighborhood, and that is entirely unnecessary. Also, note that the neighborhood is making parking a nonnegotiable item.  I suspect that after TBA, their concerns here will only be stronger.  This is a key issue that must be dealt with up front.  I’m not saying that we ought to buy into a WalMart kind of parking ratio,  but we, all of us, need to be concerned about how cars intersect the community, and how we can minimize their presence and impact in that location.  So I say, lets line up the barcoloungers down around the 
ping pong table and have at it!
How about you, Nick? Your city portfolio includes parks & rec and housing (and requires a fragile balancing act to meet the needs of each)–what kind of future development would you like to see on the site? While close-in affordable housing is certainly a priority, doesn’t inner SE deserve a facility like Dishman, SW Community Center or Mt. Scott that serves a wide-range of needs and adds neighborhood value? What does a win-win for the building and the community look like?