Bridge to the
Twentieth Century: Megaproject Technocracy and the Columbia River
The Media: How is Science/CRC Represented to the Body Politic?
To understand any political controversy it is important to understand
what information about the conflict is processed and presented to the
electorate, and through which forms. Therefore, I find it necessary to
discuss the role that media, both monolithic traditional institutions
and smaller scale, internet-based opinion pieces, have played in
presenting a particular vision of the project. As posited by
urban theorists Logan and Molotch (1987), local newspapers have an
inherent interest in the economic growth of the region; their own
success as a business depends upon an economically healthy region. This
assertion that media organizations are inherently interested in a
particular future for the population they serve suggests that their
reporting, editorials, and coverage might skew towards promoting
particular paradigms of economic growth.
Given the previously discussed
naturalized discourse that interstate projects are inherently positive
contributors towards a localized economy, The Oregonian has remained a
staunch advocate for the entire reconstruction of the crossing. The Oregonian’s advocacy for a large
bridge also supports the provision of proper mass transit and bicycling
facilities, but the paper has been largely uncritical about the process
through which the plan was conceived because of its inherent interest
in seeing the swift implementation as necessary for the economic health
of the region.
Smaller scale media by both progressive alt-weekly sources and
individuals producing their own content have significantly contributed
to the contours of the debate as well. Reporters at alt-weeklies such
as The Portland Mercury and Willamette Week and popular internet news
sites such as bikeportland.org have given significant coverage towards
protests, activists and others who have spoke out against the current
plans, generally offering a more nuanced, critical stance towards the
The internet has also provided community activists with an
incredible platform to circumvent the traditional media gatekeepers;
websites such as smarterbridge.org and
thirdbridgenow.com created by community activists have begun to
specifically rally around alternative projects that could be
empirically studied and compared to the current list of alternatives.
The usage of these spaces to promote alternative solutions to the
congestion along the corridor and to minimize the negative impact of
the CRC as proposed represents a potentially profound change in the
spaces of engagement. Remarkable examples include activist Nick Faldo’s
excellent technical compilation of CRC Alternatives...
...stopthecrc.org’s overview of the lack of local authority of the
activist Dan Kaufman’s humorous “Have we got a bridge to sell you!”
After the release of the DEIS, Amy Ruiz of The Portland Mercury wrote
in 2008 one of the first critical editorials in widely-circulated
media, critiquing the project as it stood:
“The problem is, no one has bothered to study what happens if we do the
things that deter people from crossing the bridge in the first place.
Ideas that would give commuters an alternative, but don't make driving
an easier choice. In other words, could we reduce traffic by 20 percent
today by building light rail to Vancouver, and tolling the bridge now,
without spending billions of dollars on a new, bigger bridge? Instead
of giving Vancouver drivers a continued excuse to drive their
single-occupancy vehicle into Oregon every day, why not give them
reasons to leave the car at home? But that option's not on the table.
What the hell are we thinking?”
One transportation planner noted it was remarkable that, given the vast
disparity between the $100 million megaphone used by the state and the
meager funds of coordinated activists, that any dissent at all against
the project has been mobilized and is slowly starting to gain
legitimacy (Robert Campbell, PDXplore). Yet despite these well-polished
efforts that poke holes in the methodology of planning for this
project, only the ultimate outcome of the CRC will determine exactly
how effective this online-mobilization has been at shifting the course
of the debate.
include this discussion about the role of the media because it remains
the most important link between the politicians and technocratic
planners currently making the decisions about this project and the
citizens who they claim to serve. The role of investigative journalism
is all the more important when one considers the considerable megaphone
that ODOT and bridge advocates carry; not only do transportation
engineers carry the hegemonic discourse that "more highways are better"
and the claim of technocratic expertise in knowing how to plan for
future growth, but the significant financial help from the state
government to advertise and effectively mute debate about the project
make these counter-arguement media forms all the more important toward
creating a space for habermasian discourse.
"The problem is, no one has bothered to study what happens if we do the
things that deter people from crossing the bridge in the first place."
Last updated: 3rd May 2010
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