Grand Jury (Day 16) – Public Space

Public space is different than private space. When you decorate your bathroom or kitchen, you know you’ll be in the space every day, so making it modern and trendy is worthwhile. And when it no longer is, you repaint. But public space is paid for by thousands of people who DON’T inhabit the space every day. They may come inside once a year. So how long until it’s time to redecorate? Since it’s the public’s money, it takes a long time. A very long time.

Our county court house is long in the tooth, but you wouldn’t notice it unless you were there every day for a month. Anybody can take old-fashioned for a day. It’s a living museum. But after a week or two, you start to notice the patterns. The elevators are aqua. Remember, that used to be a color? The bathrooms on the 4th floor? Also aqua. Aqua was big that year, you can tell. Is early 60’s about right? Once the color choice made it through all the proper bureaucratic channels, maybe it was mid- to late-60’s. The wheels of justice turn slowly in Lane County, especially when it comes time to pick the dominant colors.

Of course I haven’t been in the staff lounge where I’m sure they have a fridge and maybe a stove, but something tells me they are avocado and burnt umber. In the basement the bathrooms are brighter to compensate for the lack of daylight. If you guessed lime green, you’re right on, daddy-o!

The shame of it all is that we want our citizens to be inspired to become better citizens when they meet the government in the government’s house. A bit of grandeur would benefit everyone. Instead, we get low ceilings, hallways, dated colors, and a space far more utilitarian than most people have in their homes nowadays. It confirms the belief that government is (and should be!) the poor family down the block, trying to make ends meet, eating creamed corn every night with half a can of tuna for the protein.

The feds are building a new courthouse down the street and it promises to be quite grand. But you have to do something pretty remarkable to get called into the federal courthouse, so most of us will continue to see the insides of a too-humble county courthouse that seems less courtly anymore than most of our houses.