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Another Portland Blog

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


A fitter, happier, more productive Fun Center

A Portland Tribune cover story on Friday focused on 18 - 34 year olds and their complete lack of interest in the Rose Festival. An excerpt:

A good deal of their focus, he said, is on the amusement center at Gov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park now known as Pepsi Waterfront Village because of its status as an accessible, centerpiece event that runs the duration of the festival.

Maybe a design and engineering competition, sponsored by the Rose Festival Association, to design floats, rides and other features. Maybe changing the tone of that central feature — Waterfront Village and its Fun Center — to still appeal to children but offer a wink of irony and a flavor of hip kitsch to that different class of young people. Maybe highlighting more of the reasons people of all ages move to Portland without ever having been here before.

"I'm sorry, but they have the same rides as at the South Dakota State Fair," said Brian Libby, 34, of Southeast Portland.

A freelance writer and amateur photographer and filmmaker, Libby said he walks through Waterfront Village once every year during times it’s free. He doesn’t spend a dime while he’s there.

"I have nothing against going on The Scrambler and having a corn dog," he said. "But it's not uniquely Portland. There isn't much about it that tells me where I am at the time."

The story quotes organizers and their desire to add "vibrancy," "localness" and "relevance" to the Fun Center in order to boost revenue and draw in artsy-farsy types (or, as the buzz phrase around Portland puts it, "young creatives"). The obvious choice would be to add a music stage with an emphasis on up-and-coming local and indie bands but that's been attempted in the past and has drawn "the wrong element" to the Waterfront. Sheesh, how would a few thousands hipsters attending a Decembrists show be any worse than the crowds and that turn out in droves every year?

Aside from music out of the mainstream, what else do 18 - 34 year old Portlanders enjoy? I myself fall somewhere into the middle of the bracket. I visited the Fun Center again this year but I'm the sort of person that enjoys kitschy carnival rides, skee ball, elephant ears and misguided corporate parade floats (the floats were parked outside over the weekend. If only you could have seen the Qwest one dedicated to the "music and people of New Orleans" with nary a reference to Hurricane Katrina).

Supposedly, young creatives enjoy kitsch and the Fun Center has that covered. During my trip down there it was all over the place. Check out the mural on the side of the "Spaceship 3000":

Murals lifted from old Ralph Bakshi movies count as "kitsch," right? There was also a stage set up where actors in pirate costumes were firing a cannon repeatedly for no apparent reason. Who doesn't enjoy explosions? There was also an Animal Planet walkthrough kiosk filled with...

...animatronic animals and...

...this robotic fellow and his simian pal. The kiosk also had an interactive gorilla robot but I neglected to get a photo. Long story short, I felt like I got my money's worth. For $20 I ate junk food, spun around on two carnie rides, witnessed a series of loud explosions, won a stuffed dog and played with a robot monkey. Still, somehow I get the feeling that I'm not the best representative for my demographic. So in an effort to help out the organizers of future Fun Centers, I have a list of more cliched suggestions that might help pull in the "young creatives":

  • Give the music another chance on the grassy knoll south of the Hawthorne Bridge (where the Blues Fest usually sets up). This would be out of the way and keep those in the park strictly for the bands away from the carnival rides. Every ticket would come with a free pass to the Fun Center, so those willing to opt out of the opening acts could drop cash on a spin on the Ferris wheel.

  • Add an area for local independent businesses. Restaurants go nuts over the annual "Bite" festival so a similar area for "uniquely Portland" vintage clothing shops and record stores might pull in crowds.

  • Toss out half of the burger stands and replace them with stands selling Stumptown Coffee and vegan-friendly items like tofu corndogs and organic popcorn. Free-range burgers couldn't hurt for the meat eaters.

  • Keep the classic rock and heavy metal on the puke rides but gear the soundtracks on the weirder ones towards area hipsters and emo kids. A track from Spirtualized's Ladies and Gentlemen We're Floating in Space is more appropriate for something like the "Spaceship 3000" than Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" anyway. Gogol Bordello, Air, Death Cab for Cutie or any given band on the Garden State soundtrack would go well with a trip on the Ferris wheel.

  • The kids still can't get enough of body modification. Five ride tickets buys an eyebrow ring, seven for a tattoo.

  • For urban activists, there could be a "ride" where for five tickets they could dress up as a suit and play City Council. Those skillful enough to come up with a certain amount of ridiculous civic improvements in ten minutes could win a talking Sam Adams doll. The coveted top prize? A trip to Coffee People with Erik Sten. For that one, players would have to blow $150K in publicly-funded Monopoly money on their political campaigns. The super-secret, ultimate top prize? If a player can manage to waste a few million on purchasing a local utility, they automatically get Sten's seat on the council.

    For the more "take it to the streets" types interested in vicarious retribution, there could be a bounce house filled with balloons shaped like riot cops. Or, even better, a Whack-a-Cop stand with miniature protest signs instead of mallets. The top prize in a player bops enough plastic PPD officers on the head? A "Is it 2008?" bumpersticker, a barrel full of Ben and Jerry's and an immediate end to the war in Iraq.

    For young millionaires already living in the Pearl District and young Republicans, organizers could throw in a Dick Cheney shooting gallery (*groan*) or some sort of Ron Saxton-themed ring toss. There might also be a way to work Karen Minnis theme into the goldfish game but I'm out of ideas. Top prize for all these? No state taxes for a year, a measure 43 claim and dibs on an acre in the Siskiyou National Forest. If they throw enough money around they might also land a free casino in the Columbia Gorge.

  • The addition of an area for local job recruiters not associated with Starbucks, the military, retail or the customer service industry would attract local 20-somethings in droves. Even better if they're willing to hire those with bachelor's degrees in Graphic Design or English Lit.

  • Free Pabst and Voodoo Doughnuts with every paid admission.

  • One last one: make the Fun Center bike friendly, run everything on biofuel and make pants optional. After all there's nothing in "no shirts, no shoes, no service" that says anything about pants.

  • If the mood strikes, feel free to offer up your own suggestions in the feedback area below. What would you like to see down there next year?

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