Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Portland, failure, collaboration, openness

Too busy to blawg lately, working with Fredrik finishing up a presentation for the One project we're working on with Jesse and Priscilla.

Lots of other meetings/conversations squeezed in, all of them rich, none more than this morning's with Randy Gragg, a Portland writer who covers everything from art to architecture, city planning, design and culture. Currently Randy's the editor of Portland Spaces, a magazine/website/events entity.

I felt like a student again. Randy has some great stories and perspectives on what makes Portland tick. We talked about Portland's overwhelmingly high competence in all things, but how that ironically can make the culture averse to risk. Fear of failure.

Randy gave me an example of how that fear of failure can present itself. Portland is about to build its first new bridge across the Willamette in, what, eighty years? And it's going to be a car-free bridge - pedestrians, streetcar, lightrail and bike only. The only urban car-free bridge in the country. How cool is that?!

Back to the risk-averse thing. The designer, a rising star in bridge design, submitted two designs, which will be unveiled to the public this week.

One is a cable-stay design, a very of-the-moment bridge style - but as Randy said, a design that is in opposition to the landscape - controlled, vertical, nearly 200 feet tall.

The second design is something new, apparently there's been nothing like it. Randy called it the Wave Design - it has a much lower profile and its supporting structures undulate like a wave, integrating with the west hills that frame the city.

The wave bridge, right? Of course! Duh! But no, Randy says, he bets it will be too new, too much risk for Portland's taste. Interesting.

Then we talked about the rise of Tom McCall, a risk-taking Portland TV journalist who made a documentary about the pollution in the Willamette River in the early '60s, around the same time Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring. Shortly thereafter, McCall successfully ran for office, eventually becoming a visionary Governor of Oregon. He is famous for saying, on CBS national news, "Come visit [...] But for heaven's sake, don't move here."

Randy talked about geographic determinism, how the location of the west hills ensured the vibrancy of Portland's downtown, because the wealthy live in the desirable west hills, instead of migrating further and further away from the city, as happens in most American cities. Downtown is their front porch, so they invest in it.

Just a very interesting conversation, and it led me later in the day to walk over to Powell's to pick up three books about Portland's history, including Randy's pick for book that most captures Portland's complex character, Greater Portland, by Carl Abbott.

Then an interesting conversation with Catherine McIntyre-Velky, an old friend who I worked with at Wieden in the early nineties. She is currently working with Dion Hughes, who I mentioned in a blawg a while ago, and Mark Johnson, and together they are investigating the proliferation of collaborating that is happening in advertising and the creative industries. She's been talking with the guys from Anomaly, the Barbarian Group, and other small groups of talent, multi-disciplined, open creative people, who seem to be creating and inventing the new model of what creative companies look like.

Told Catherine that I believe collaboration is less of a behavior to be cultivated than a natural outcome of being open, which comes from the belief that everybody knows something that you don't.

It's a good time for collaboration and an even better time for openness. Not an awesome time for people who stand in its way.


Anonymous said...

..i think i can, i think i can, i think i can...

JONNY said...

So cool.

Anonymous said...

I’d like to think that collaboration happens just because one is open to it but it usually happens because the outcome is rich enough to be shared.