I was reading an article on one of my favorite places in town, Beam & Anchor, when I came across a term that I hadn’t heard used before, which described an idea, or theme, that has been presenting itself in my work and architectural interests with increasing frequency. That term, “community capitalism” seems to be at the heart of Portland, and I think the article sums it up quite nicely as a concept:
“Part of that easy going blend of high and low is also evident in the artisan/entrepreneurial attitudes espoused (and lived out) by so many Portlanders. Business doesn’t have to be a strictly bottom line venture (Bain Capital we are not); here, the bottom line is triple. Call it community capitalism. In a city that attracts people for its quality of life, art and business blend in a practical, cooperative, supportive sort of way.”
There has been a subtle, but very discernible shift in the direction of my work as I near completion of my degree in architecture, and it is born from this idea of blending art and business – I myself being an example of a business educated person forging a new direction in the creative profession.
Last year, I completed a studio project that explored a concept of a live-work community on an infill site in NE Portland where the making of goods became an element to be showcased rather than relegated to backroom facilities – where the shopping experience was a community one, and where the idea of “making a living” became a lifestyle. Now, in my final studio before my thesis project, I have created an “Urban Ag Center” – a place in the culture-starved outskirts of SW Portland where patrons can re-connect with timeless crafts ranging from coop-building to beer-making, in a community resource center that provides access to the most important resource of all that we as Americans seem to be in short supply of in the midst of economic chaos and eroding values – empowerment.
I’ve often thought about why all this resurgence of “heritage”, from the farm to table movement to alternative commuting, to chicken raising, canning & pickling, weaving, furniture making, you name it, has become so “trendy”. I think the answer is that when people find themselves in a situation that we are all in currently – one where jobs are hard to come by, and people feel less in charge of their own destiny than ever before, we are all looking for some sense of empowerment: “yes I can make my own beer”. “Yes I can raise my own chickens in the city.” “Yes I can make a living making something.” It may sound trite, but I think that quest for empowerment and control is at the root of this rising “community capitalism”.
My thesis project this year will be a “Maker’s Market” for the city of Hood River. A public place and a “living room for the city” at its core, the project seeks to unify the town by celebrating the entrepreneurship, craft, and diversity of its rich history in a marketplace and production facility that showcases the making and exchange of goods on a very real and approachable level. Much the way the town was built on the backs of hardworking loggers, fishermen and farmers, the project seeks to cast a spotlight on the modern entrepreneurs and “community capitalists” who are at the heart of the town today.
My work at SUM design studio +architecture has been in keeping with my interests. Having the ability to work on distressed buildings in the SE industrial area, and to re-vision them as vibrant community activators has been the ultimate homage to my interests in fostering community capitalism. Creating spaces that incubate small business, reinforcing a diverse system of transportation, and creating rich pedestrian spaces – all of these goals, and more, are at the heart of the work at SUM.
I am excited that I am able to work with visionary developers and architects in an environment that has reinforced my underlying interests and shed light on the challenges and rewards of their practical application. This idea of “community capitalism” is not simply a passing trend, at least not for me, and I expect it to exert itself on my work and interests for some time to come.