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From the editor: Digging out

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Articles - February 2014
Tuesday, January 21, 2014


A number of years ago, The Oregonian published a captivating photo of a group of businessmen eating lunch while peering, mesmerized, into the massive crater that was the beginnings of the Park Avenue West Tower downtown. It was an image straight out of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, the classic children’s story about a man and the steam shovel — Mary Anne — he refused to abandon, even though competition from gas and diesel shovels was ruining him. 

Determined to show off Mary Anne’s prowess, Mike digs the foundation for the town hall of Popperville while its residents gather en masse around the deepening hole to cheer him on.

The design and building of a city is one of humankind’s greatest achievements. When building stalls, the whole city suffers — from job losses and sluggish economic growth, along with lack of dynamism and morale.

Five years after the crash knocked most residential and commercial projects off their foundations, building is back. That building is the theme of our February real estate issue: the Portland neighborhoods that are being transformed by the apartment boom; the reset of the Park Avenue West Tower, located around the corner from the Oregon Business office; and myriad projects in Bend and Ashland. 

So much building is taking place, and so fast, that many Oregonians are already sounding a cautionary note about another housing bubble, along with social and traffic impacts of too much growth. 

Not to belabor the comparison — I’m not a firm believer in the All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten school of business — but those concerns are also resonant of Mike Mulligan, a story about the old being replaced by the new and the nostalgia we often feel for old ways of doing things. 

Hint: Mike deals with the problem by converting Mary Anne into a furnace, something like our current practice of using waste heat to power buildings.

When times are bad, people worry about not enough growth; when times are good, we worry about the adverse effects of growth. Such is the fickle nature of, well, human nature — and the business cycles that swing from one end of the spectrum to the other. 

Today the real estate cycle is on the move. For those who want cheap entertainment, there is no shortage of holes in the ground (with modern-day steam shovels) to peer into. So bring your lunch and watch the city grow.

— Linda Baker 


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