From the Blog

Portland: A Newcomer’s 6 Month Review

As of July 21, I have lived in Portland, Oregon for 6 months. It was me and Portland’s six month anniversary. To celebrate, I had a bowl of sugary cereal for dinner and, because I had milk left over, I had cookies for dessert. I’m Livin’ La Vida Nine Year Old up here.

I had been chafing in Los Angeles for nearly the 6 years I lived there. I never really fit in. I’d been thinking for a while about starting a crack habit moving somewhere else. While I was quite fatigued with southern California, I still liked the novelty of palm trees and deserts and sunshine. Before Portland, I was also considering moving to Santa Fe. They sell a lot of art in Santa Fe. I’d love to build an adobe house and live in the desert. Plus, I really love bolo ties.

As I was contemplating my next move, I was thinking about Portland, but I had my doubts about moving to the Pacific Northwest. It didn’t make a lot of sense, even to me, but I was a little apprehensive that Oregon would remind me too much of New England, where I grew up. There is nothing wrong with New England at all, but I’ve already been there. It’s pretty and quaint and I miss it, but I’m not ready to go back to Massachusetts.

Some of the terrain in Oregon is similar to New England, in all the good ways. The rolling hills, the green trees and the small towns. With the additional awesomeness of big, fat volcanoes that could explode. And not far away is the high desert, in case I want some big sky and wide open space.

What I’ve noticed here is that the Portland and Oregon don’t seem “used up.” Back east there’s a crush of history and things forgotten. Lots of things feel “old.” This can be charming in the case of historical buildings and colonial town centers. There’s lots of heritage and pride in New England. But there can be a feeling of decay and stodginess. It sometimes feels used up, and decay is sometimes overlooked. In a lot of cases back east, you make due with How It Is, because that’s How It’s Always Been.

Portland seems to be having its day in the sun right now. We have cool bands! We have great public transportation! We love cyclists! And books! And coffee! And beer! And Portland is ground zero for Green Consciousness! It’s teh fricken greenest city ever! I think this is great. It’s such a relief to dispense with exhausting arguments about whether or not global warming is actually “occurring.” I can only slap my head so many times before my skull dislocates from my neck.

However, I’m a little concerned that this current wave of environmental consciousness is being treated as a novelty. And novelties, by definition, aren’t meant to last. “Green” is a bandwagon that sells, and everyone is buying. It doesn’t seen to matter if it’s authentic or not. But there’s energy here. Everyone seems on board.

There’s a ton of construction downtown and in the Pearl District and I can’t help but eye it all with a bit of suspicion. The economy has turned down. And while Portland hasn’t been hit as hard as other areas, real estate and related business is hurting. I wonder if all the new condos are going to sell in a soft market. And since all the construction is happening at such a rapid pace all at once, will the whole Pearl District look like 1970 yearbook photo in 15 years?

Other neighborhoods are brightening up also. It’s been noted that formerly skanky areas are getting more gentrified, and poverty is being pushed further and further out of the city. So the newest, hippest neighborhoods seem to change on a weekly basis. And unsightly poverty is moving further away. It’s win-win!

There are hipsters here, but the hip scene in Portland is a wholesome, welcome relief from Los Angeles. Most everyone is friendly. Most everyone is progressive, educated and liberal. Lefty wackos! The drivers are angels. Seriously. People are polite here on the road. You don’t feel like you are entering a war zone on the freeway like you do in southern California. I even got rid of the revolver I kept in my glove compartment!

The feeling I get being here is that things are getting DONE. There seems to be less bureaucratic haggling and red tape when it comes to urban planning and projects. There aren’t too many wagging fingers and voices of opposition. So the city sometimes leans towards the, um, unconventional. And while I’m sure it’s far from perfect, and it probably makes conservatives froth at the mouth, Portland seems to be an example of what a city becomes when goddamned liberals get their way.

Not far from where I work, there is a grassy median between streetcar tracks and a busy road. It’s under a bridge and adjacent to a utility area for the public works department. It’s a piece of barren grass that no one cares about. You’d whiz by and never notice it. Except in the springtime, this forgotten patch of roadside land was unexpectedly covered with thousands of wildflowers. It was stunning.

It was not necessary to spray the side of the road with wildflowers. It cost money. It was a line item on a budget somewhere. Someone requested it. Someone approved it. It’s not necessary. But it’s thoughtful detail. It serves no other purpose but to make the place nicer. It’s one example of why I like Portland.

Comments

  1. One year in… I appreciate many of the same sentiments you have after moving from Las Vegas (Southern California’s less pleasant kid sister). Although I disagree with your assessment that things are getting DONE. I think people here spend too much time and effort trying to include everyone on the conversation of what to DO, and then when it’s time to actually decide what gets DONE, they throw too much on the table to make everyone happy… which just ticks everyone off.

    I think the thing that I like the most about Portland is that there is so much to do here. It seems like every weekend, there is some sort of festival or special event to go to, or at worst, a farmers market to enjoy. And “out of town” isn’t that far, and when you do go out of town, you pass through farms and scattered industrial parks, not miles of cloned suburbia.

  2. Portland likes you too!

  3. You’re awesome

  4. Meredith says

    I miss a more virginal city, LA is so used up and the people it attracts just adds to the deafening silliness. I enjoyed Seattle being like New England, so much green, refreshing.

  5. Welcome to town! I’m pleased by your assessment of development in Portland. I too am worried at the potential for an aging yearbook photo. The pearl is simply a Califacsimile and not indicative of the rest of Portland. I say toss the pearl and savor the oyster.

    Let us not forget that the uniqueness that is Portland is fragile… the very things that attract us to this city are those that get squeezed the tightest when gentrification occurs. It’s happened in San Francisco and it can happen here.

  6. Confused. You had dozens of friends down here in Los Angeles who embraced you with open arms. When did you not fit in?

  7. Hi Nick, I’m with you on the sensitive “committee” approach to development decisions and how it can delay projects. But I think of LA, where the “Subway to the Sea” has been delayed for 20 years for (various reasons.) And if the bickering stops and they actually move forward, construction won’t begin until 2010 and wouldn’t be finished for a decade! Crazy! Portland seems to move at rocket speed by comparison.

    And I won’t even mention the dens of chaos that you’ll find in many east coast cities. Where they are dealing more with decaying 100 year old infrastructure as well as renewal and development projects. I don’t know how anything gets done in New York.

    We are fleet like furry bunnies up here! Or deer, or something.

    Oh, Robbb, I miss those friends very much. But I was never really a Hollywood Girl. Like my hottie sister.

  8. You didn’t need to be. There’s more to Los Angeles than Hollywood.

    Few people ever seem to realize that.

  9. I’ve got three years in as of July 5. Two of those years have been spent attempting to get a seniors housing project built in NoPo. So I’ve got another view of the bureaucratic haggling and red tape (as in holy hannah, there’s a metric buttload of it).

  10. My parents were from New England and moved out here after WWII…to Washington State, where my brothers and I were all born. I’ve lived in – and loved – Portland since 1979, over half my life now. I am SO THANKFUL my parents were ‘pioneers’ and moved out here!!! I’ve visited New England a couple of times and I wouldn’t trade what we have out here for what they have back there for anything. BTW, my dad was born in Worcester.

  11. I am really enjoying reading this blog.

    I am feeling kind of like, “You don’t know what you had until its gone.” Well, it’s not gone. I am.

    You are all newbies to Oregon. I was born there. I lived there until four and half years ago when I moved to England. I now live in a wonderful place, Boston, Lincolnshire. The history here is more than amazing. Boston’s church is 700 years old. This is where the Pilgrims lived before they sailed to Holland. A former vicar of the church immigrated to Massachusetts and is credited with naming Boston, Mass. I enjoy all of it.

    But…..I am homesick. Yes I am. I would move back to Portland in a minute right this moment.

    If you think it takes a long time and a lot of complications to get things moving over there, you should see it here.

  12. I believe that the wildflowers that you’ll see in those random fields are not due to city programs, but rather average citizens who take the time to sprinkle seeds as they pass by. I do personally know a few people who keep a little metal shaker (full of wildflower seeds) in their backpacks as they bike around the city.

    Yeah, it’s a little odd, but it’s a good kind of oddness, me thinks. I think that’s my favorite part of Portland: the oddness has beautiful consequences.

  13. “Other neighborhoods are brightening up also. It’s been noted that formerly skanky areas are getting more gentrified, and poverty is being pushed further and further out of the city. So the newest, hippest neighborhoods seem to change on a weekly basis. And unsightly poverty is moving further away. It’s win-win!”

    Heather,

    I encourage you to spend some time with the “unsightly” people before you declare pushing them out of the Portland a “win-win!”. I have feeling they might have a different take on it.

    And what did you mean by “win-win” anyway? Please explain.

    Thanks.

    Eric

  14. Oh my…Eric, if you can’t hear the dripping sarcasm, I’m afraid no explanation will work.

    Besides, no one likes poor people.

  15. Ok then, how do you deal with the “grey”. Maybe I should ask you this next March, when you havent seen the sun in three months. We’ve been here 3 years, and love it…but OMG the grey!

  16. The more I travel about the world, the more I realize how special a place this is. Keep up the good writing, and welcome to this crazy part of the world we call Portland.

  17. “Oh my…Eric, if you can’t hear the dripping sarcasm, I’m afraid no explanation will work.”

    I resemble that remark. Sometimes.

    As a 40-is-the-new-20 native Oregonian and Portlander for years I used to buy into the “Keep Portland Weird” thing. That is, until I first spotted a “Keep Seattle Weird” sticker on a Hummer in a Ballard Starbucks parking lot a few years ago.

    Keep Portland Portland.

    RCTID!

  18. You’re alright, Eric.

    :-)

  19. Portland is easily one of the best cities in the country if you are politically liberal and/or enjoy the outdoors!

    I have traveled a bit and haven’t been to anywhere like it (although I haven’t been to Austin yet). Everything you want in a big city without a lot of the down side. Public transportation, culture, restaurants, music, beer, bike friendly, skiing, hiking, ocean nearby.

    The major downfall – like the rest of the Pacific Northwest – is that the winters are gray and rainy for long stretches of time. You can go a long time without seeing the sun and this can be depressing. summers are fantastic though.

    After 10 years in Portland I am calling it quits but I have loved this town.

  20. Thank you, Heather for sharing this! Four months ago I returned to the States after living abroad for a few years and moved to LA to be with my best friend at a time when she needed me. You can’t beat the weather here in LA, but I constantly feel like an outsider. I live in Hollywood, but barely watch any movies and know almost no celebrities. I prefer books but few people want to talk about books, unless it has been made into a terrible movie. And when I disclose that I’m not in the industry, I often hit a freeze point in the conversation.

    I have always loved Portland, and just got a great job offer to move there, yet I am hesitating because it’s 85F and sunny outside my window as I type this. Reading your article reminds me that weather is not everything and, I musn’t forget the bicycles and beer! Even on a rainy day, there will still be bicycles and beer!

    I think I will take the job. Thanks for your encouragement :)

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