January 22nd, 2014 By AARON MESH | News | Posted In: Transportation, Activism

TriMet Bridge-Naming Chairman: Kirk Reeves Lacks Historical and Regional Significance

"This has never been a popularity contest."

kirk reevesKirk Reeves performing outside Powell's in 2005. - IMAGE: Tom Oliver

TriMet is dealing with public outcry over the revelation that it bypassed the most popular name suggestion for its new transit bridge, longtime street musician "Working" Kirk Reeves.

WW first reported Friday that more than 840 people suggested Reeves' name for the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Bridge—far more than submitted the four names TriMet chose as finalists.

Today, the regional transit agency responded by deploying the chair of the naming committee to explain why Reeves wasn't a good pick.

Chet Orloff, the director emeritus of the Oregon Historical Society, writes that the selection "has never been a popularity contest."

"What will be Kirk’s historical and cultural significance to all of us in our region in 25, 50, 150 years?" Orloff writes. "Yes, he may have represented a certain type of individual—artist, independent soul, etc.—that we like to recognize.  But, so was the case with all the other individuals and couples the committee considered."

Reeves became the center of an online bridge-naming campaign because he played trumpet near the Hawthorne Bridge before he committed suicide in 2012. But Orloff argues that Reeves did not have the "historical and lasting significance" required for the bridge's name.

Here's Orloff's central case. He suggests Reeves would be better honored with a sculpture near the Hawthorne Bridge.

Several people advocated, for example, that the bridge be named after Kirk Reeves.  For those of us who were familiar with him, Kirk’s name is closely associated with the Hawthorne Bridge in Portland.  Do people living in Tualatin, Tigard, Hillsboro, Beaverton, Aloha, Gresham, Oregon City recognize the name now and what it means? What will be Kirk’s historical and cultural significance to all of us in our region in 25, 50, 150 years?  Yes, he may have represented a certain type of individual—artist, independent soul, etc.—that we like to recognize.  But, so was the case with all the other individuals and couples the committee considered.   I, for one (and writing as a former Regional Arts and Culture Council commissioner), would love to see Kirk’s memory celebrated with a piece of public art, perhaps a sculpture of him near where he used to play, with music emanating from it. That would manifest his memory and relate to the particular place within the city where he made his own impact.

But, when it comes to naming such an icon as a regional bridge, I believe we want a name that represents, in substantial and substantive ways, something to us all, historically, now, and in the future.

 
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