Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Replay: Picture-Perfect Portland?

[ For my American readers, this is Independence Day weekend. I hope you all have a great time. I’ll be back after the holiday – Aaron. ]

Portland is one of the most-praised cities in contemporary America. But is the hype real? To some extent, it actually understates the case.

Portland didn’t invent bicycles, density or light rail — but it understood the future implications of them for America’s smaller cities first, and put that knowledge to use before anyone else. The longest journey begins with a step, but you have to take it. Nobody else did. In an era where most American cities went one direction, Portland went another, either capturing or even creating the zeitgeist of a new age.

In the agro-industrial era, Chicago first understood the true significance of railroads, the skyscraper and even urban planning. It saw what others couldn’t — and acted on that understanding. That made Chicago the greatest city, indeed the orderer, of its age.

In the late 20th century and continuing to the present day, for cities below the first rank, Portland plays that role. Like Chicago, it is remaking much of America after its own fashion. Light rail, bike lanes, reclaimed waterfronts, urban condos and microbreweries are now nearly ubiquitous, if not deployed at scale, across the nation.

Has there ever been a case in American history of a city as relatively small as Portland having the same sort of pervasive impact on the policy and the built environment of America? It is truly remarkable, shocking even, and something I dare to suggest will likely never happen again.

Louisvillian JC Stites lived for a time in Portland and said of it, “Portland is real. It’s not about ad campaigns pushing false benefits, rather it’s about addressing very real issues regarding how cities grow and sustain themselves.” Partially inspired by Portland, Stites co-founded 8664, a grass-roots organization dedicated to tearing down the Interstate 64 riverfront freeway in Louisville that has excited a large part of that city. That’s the influence of Portland half a continent away.

For a moment in time it wasn’t New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco that captured the national imagination, but a small city on the West Coast far from the cultural and economic capitals of the nation. Portland in the 1990s was, in its own way, the equal of Chicago in the 1890s. The city punched far above its weight.

What’s more, Portland’s legacy is a largely positive one. While too many places transplanted Portland’s solutions into foreign and unsuitable soil, it’s undeniable that Portland played a major role in making the nation respect cities again, seeing their potential with fresh eyes.

Portland is, however, unique and impossible to replicate. As with Chicago, even had another city seen the future, it likely could not have acted on it in the same way. Portland is an outlier. It’s geographically at the edge, has a remarkable natural setting, is one of America’s least diverse cities, and has a very different development and social history than most U.S. cities. Like Chicago, Portland was the right city, in the right place, at the right time.

But though Portland can’t be copied, it can be an inspiration. Many of its ideas can and have been adopted elsewhere. Whether most cities succeed in reclaiming their urban cores is not yet known, but it’s a fight worth fighting. Without Portland, we might not be even trying.

A drawback: our economy

However, in one way Portland today is very unlike that younger Chicago: economically. As low-cost haven next to troubled California, with fantastic natural amenities and resources, a burgeoning talent pool, a small underclass, a comparative lack of the legacy problems of other cities and a high degree of civic consensus, Portland should be an economic juggernaut — but isn’t.

Portland’s GDP per capita ($47,811) is comparable to Indianapolis ($46,450) and Milwaukee ($45,591). It trails talent hubs like San Francisco ($60,873) and Boston ($57,916), and even Seattle ($55,982) and Minneapolis ($50,797). Seattle’s metro region is only 50 percent larger than Portland but has produced fabric-of-the-economy companies such as Boeing, Microsoft and Amazon. Portland has not. Nor has Portland established itself as a go-to location for a major sector the way Silicon Valley has for high tech or Miami for Latin American trade. A recent Metro Monitor report from the Brookings Institution placed Portland’s economy in the bottom quintile of performers.

Part of the challenge is effectively deploying its talent. Portland’s unemployment rate exceeds the national average. The problem of underemployment among the many high-talent people who moved to Portland for its amenities also has been extensively written about. This is notable given that Portland’s population growth rate, while healthy, is half that of talent hubs such as Austin, Texas, and Raleigh, N.C. But those cities added many more jobs than Portland. From the first quarter of 2001 to the first quarter of 2009, Austin created 79,000 jobs (11.8 percent growth) and Raleigh 55,000 (12.8 percent), while Portland created just 10,000 (1.1 percent).

Lack of dynamic conflict

Portland’s performance isn’t bad, but given all of its advantages and low degree of difficulty, it should be a lot better.

Why is this? Perhaps Portland is actually a bit too livable. As urban scholar Joel Kotkin put it, “Portland is to today’s generation what San Francisco was to mine: a hip, not too expensive place for young slackers to go.”

People move to New York City to test their mettle in America’s ultimate arena. They move to Silicon Valley to strike it rich in high tech. But they move to Portland for values and lifestyle; for personal more than professional reasons; to consume as much as to produce. People move to Portland to move to Portland.

Portland may also lack the diversity needed to be a truly dynamic city. It is one of America’s least racially diverse cities and lacks a single non-white city or county elected official. Portland may also have excessive civic consensus. People I interviewed who left Portland were uniform in their praise. They also noted with approval the lack of negativity about the city in contrast with other places they had lived, and the high degree of shared values among its residents.

But civic dynamism fundamentally derives from conflict and dissatisfaction. London architect Sam Jacob once said, “Cities are not about the perfect vision; they are not about a singular idea. They are about a collision of all kinds of incompatible demands.” Portland perhaps has too few conflicts of vision, with too few incompatible demands.

Why change?

For the future then, where does Portland want to go? Continue to innovate and remain the driver of what it means to be a successful small city in America? Maintain and enjoy the sustainable, high quality of life the region has built (for those fortunate enough to find a job there, at least)? Seek to become a center of greater commercial ambition?

To create a truly dynamic city and realize its potential as one of America’s top small city talent hubs, Portland needs to embrace a more aggressive mind-set toward job creation and look to attract a more diverse resident base.

One might ask: Because Portlanders are happy with their city, why change? There are values in life beyond commercial ones and the pursuit of growth. True, but that’s a choice with consequences. As the people who’ve had to leave Portland because they couldn’t find real employment there can attest, in order to take advantage of its justly famous high quality, sustainable lifestyle, you first need a job. It’s not livable if you can’t live there.

This column originally appeared in the Portland Oregonian on January 17, 2010.

Topics: Civic Branding, Demographic Analysis, Economic Development, Public Policy, Strategic Planning, Talent Attraction, Urban Culture
Cities: Portland

32 Responses to “Replay: Picture-Perfect Portland?”

  1. Benjammin says:

    Part of the reason that Portland isn’t an economic powerhouse is due to the people that move there — lots of folks who just want to screw around, not work much, dye their hair, get piercings/tattoos, do lots of ecstasy, and change their names from Fred to Froggy (witness all the 40+ year olds with pink hair who work at pizza joints or coffee shops).

    I’m all for self-expression, artistry, etc but Portland takes hipsterdom to the extreme. That, and the unending rain for 6-8 months of the year, is why I no longer live there.

  2. Eric M says:

    If you want to get to know the Portland ethos, just watch native Gus van Sant’s films. From Mala Noche to My Own Private Idaho to Drugstore Cowboy to his more recent Elephant and Paranoid Park, when I watch them, I see and feel Portland as it felt growing up and still feels when I return to visit.

    And Portland may not have created “fabric of the economy” companies like Boeing and Microsoft and Amazon, but it has given the world Nike, Columbia Sportswear, Jantzen, Norm Thompson, dozens of other influential athletic-wear companies, Tektronix and Freightliner, so it has some influence in a few industries. Not to mention that Portland has managed to keep its NBA team … :-)

  3. John Morris says:

    It’s interesting that it’s compared to San Francisco 1960- 1980, since we know the Bay area did become an economic powerhouse. Not saying this will happen again.

  4. Vin says:

    The comparison to San Francisco is interesting, but I gotta ask: was San Francisco really cheaper than other magnet cities (say, New York or LA) in the 60s and 70s? I’m not saying it wasn’t, I just don’t know, and the city’s geographic constraints don’t really augur cheapness.

  5. John Morris says:

    I think both NY and LA are just too big to make a comparison. Both had plenty of cheap areas back then.

    Certainly the rep, during the Grateful Dead era was that this was just a great place to hang out.

    Portland however never had the kind of proximity to top tier colleges the Bay area did so in many ways, Portland is more impressive.

  6. Wad says:

    As urban scholar Joel Kotkin put it, “Portland is to today’s generation what San Francisco was to mine: a hip, not too expensive place for young slackers to go.”

    And in about one generation, San Francisco turned from a slacker flophouse into a theme park of itself, with prices adjusting accordingly.

    True, if you’re thinking of San Francisco in the 1960s and 1970s, it was a rather inexpensive place. It, like other cities, had entered into a period of decline where people with means were decamping to the suburbs and economic activities began drying up. There was no dot-com industry, but there was a Silicon Valley that was in a maturing stage of government-military-education research.

    Somehow, the counterculture endured and toughed it out, despite the establishment trying to roust them out of the city. It was especially hell on the gay community.

    Eventually, San Francisco grew up and grew out of its image, one that happened to be in fashion just as a tidal wave of money came in to the region.

    For all we know, this could happen to Portland.

  7. John Morris says:

    I guess where I strongly disagree with the spin here, is that I do think there’s a huge, market for reasonably decent and resonably affordable urbanism that is not being met.

    I feel I have a little insight here, because Pittsburgh is starting to accumulate some of this crowd. For example, the Just Seeds printmaking collective formerly based in Portland is now here.

    The question is how long Portland can keep it’s edge as affordabilty goes since they are not a major job creator.

  8. poncho says:

    I think the lack of a major high profile research university in Portland is big. I dont know if a combined PSU-OHSU-UofO Portland would be enough. These universities have to have started out long ago with ivy covered buildings and have a long established reputation.

  9. Walbikus (walk-bike-bus) says:

    Do you believe this article is still accurate? Your blog from Feb 24, 2011 called “New Metro GDP Data Released” certainly indicates that Portland is at the top in GDP growth. This may indicate that the city is more economically resilient (sustainable, if you will) in tough times, or maybe from here on out. That it is now poised, due to good land-use and transportation planning policies, to leave other [standard sprawl-development] cities in the dust.

    In general, this kinda data puts Mr. Kopkin on his heels.

  10. Walbikus (walk-bike-bus) says:

    Mr. Kotkin. My apologies.

  11. Spencer says:

    I’ve lived in San Fran, I’ve lived in Seattle, and now I live in Portland. I MUCH prefer Portland. Even though I took a career hit to move here, I’ve decided – finally – that this is home. You’re right that this is a place people value for itself, and that in turn improves the place. With that in mind I have to disagree with the conclusion of the article. Yes the job situation sucks, but that means if you’re here you really want to be here. You’re not just here for a job, the way I was in Seattle. That’s fine with me.

    It’s the kind money-centric attitude expressed toward the end of this article that are causing some to start to question the very things this article says are Portland’s finer qualities: smart growth, sustainability, and alternative transportation. For instance there’s a lot of freeway expansion in the works here in Portland.

    Just when we’ve got a city the rest of the country looks to as an example of how to do it right, we’re gearing up to do it wrong.

    Portland’s fine, please don’t mess with it.

  12. NJD says:

    I live in Portland, and my family goes back several generations here to the 1890’s.

    Portland’s worst enemy is itself, or more specifically the enemy is its media success.

    Portland is trying to be sustainable, but true sustainability cannot happen when gobs of non-entrepreneurial people are flocking here (far faster than job growth).

    Portland is ‘set up’ for slow growth (a principle of sustainability in economist, land use and environmental views, but our region is expecting a 700,000 population increase by 2030 (our region is only over 2 million today, that’s an increase that no typical job growth can sustain). The Portland region does not specifically cater to large corporations as we have a history of boom/bust businesses and environmental devastation from those eras. No one here wants the reliance nor the economic turbulence (both good and bad) that large companies bring (when Seattle lost 30,000 jobs when Boeing jumped to Chicago comes to mind).

    The region is currently facing an urban versus rural divide politically, a divide that is symbolized by our current fight to stop a massive freeway widening (Columbia River Crossing) project for Washington State suburban commuters that the two State DOT’s and Governors want, but locally is severally criticized as wasteful, unsustainable and unnecessary. This is a far cry from the consensus on economic, environmental and land use planning in the 70’s when Republican leadership gave us the acclaimed Urban Growth Boundary, the first bottle bill, and riverfront freeway removal to be replaced by our now famous Waterfront Park (that’s right, Republican leadership).

    The main point of this article is about Portland being a city at the right time and place for its success, but then falters into the realm of economics which is the exact root problematic focus that Portlanders are trying to avoid. Be warned: it is very nice here, albeit cloudy for Southerners tastes, and cheap and healthy living is abound, but if you are not moving here to start up your own venture or are massively skilled in what-have-you be prepared to move back to where ever you came from with some new ‘wacky’ ideas that you may pick up on your stay here that just might influence whatever town you moved back to.

  13. ws says:

    What Portland lacks in economic vitality compared to other cities, it definitely picks up the slack in civic capital.

    There are volunteer opportunities galore and lots of non-profit organizations set up in Portland.

    In my opinion, this is what make Portland so different to other cities.

  14. John Morris says:

    I have a not so subtle feeling Pittsburgh is getting that Portland vibe-not that I know Portland. People choosing to stay, come based more on cost and lifestyle decisions. Strong DYI and non profit ethic growing.

    So far I’ve not met too many NY, transplants, but a good number of former Portanders and also people from places like Providence, which was once considered a somewhat livable choice for overeducated creatives.

  15. Marc Brenman says:

    Excellent article! Having lived in San Francisco in the early 70’s through late 80’s, and being familiar with Portland, I agree with the comparison. And with the comment that SF has become a theme park. Both places truck on their livability and desirability. SF wasn’t always so self-righteous and politically correct. Portland is that way now. Maybe it needed a longer period of being free-wheeling.

  16. Tom Dixon says:

    The underlying key factors in all things that make Portland a truly great city are the community values largely shared … and more importantly acted upon and lived out … by so many of its residents.

    These may occasionally lead to to excess and absurdities in ‘political correctness’ (a term of attack now that has been abused to the extent of dubiousness) .. and occasionally even ‘uneconomic’, non-‘cost/benefit’ based, civic decision making. (Let alone knee-jerk approvals of tax levies for schools & education that often treat symptoms not causes and seemingly reflect cave-ins to emotional ‘blackmail’ more than engagement in truly solid thinking and planning.)

    But that said, they also do – as another reader has accurately pointed out – lead to a willingness to not only decry the massive excesses and unchecked power and contempt of many giant corporations and ‘chains’ in this country, but individually and ultimately collectively act to challenge corporate power where it hurts most – at the daily consumer level, by e.g. knowingly and willingly supporting local businesses and local entrepreneurialism, instead.

    One outstanding manifestation of the potential new business models that can emerge from such basically common sensical and caring values can be found in the city’s McMenamins’ brewpubs … the chain that consistently doesn’t feel like a chain. The chain that preserves history and helps builds community through what are still commercial entertainment activities, but executed with panache, customer awareness, and fun filled and individualised (often Grateful Dead inspired) design flair.

    There is also the example of the ‘New Seasons’ supermarkets ‘chain’ – supporting an upfront and proudly pursued set of values related to such important issues as healthy eating and clean foods, support for local farmers, better working conditions for employees and overall sustainable practices.

    These admirable and successful guiding and sustaining values could simply be called ‘liberal’ or progressive – whether in praise from the ‘left’ or attack from the ‘right’.

    But the key difference in their stature and worth is that the underlying code of ethics or ‘morality’ they represent in Portland is NOT the totally self deceptive, destructive, and basically censorious and shallow ‘call for a return to higher moral values’ so often propagated by some of the other Americas. And I pointedly refer to those dominated by hypocritical fundamentalist christian Pastors, amoral Fox ‘News’ broadcasters, equally amoral Republican strategists & spinmasters, equally amoral and self serving Wall St lobbyists and finally (at the supposed ‘grass roots’ level) noisy, but seemingly very badly informed, Tea Partiers.

    Perhaps this also helps explain why Portland registers at the lower end of census data showing the extent of declared religious adherents. Although still a small percentage overall, it has the most people stating they have no religion amongst America’s cities, often something highly equated with high degrees of common sense and a capacity for critical thinking – if Australia and its peoples are any example.

    The appeal of Portland and its functioning as a vibrant, caring and highly livable city definitely flow from the authenticity and truth of the values its citizens collectively and ACTIVELY subscribe to.

    And this, above all, is probably Portland’s most significant contribution to some of the ‘Other Americas’, if the more serious decline of the United States itself (through corruption of power and wealth at the top) is to ever be checked and America itself restored to a more ‘livable’ status and reputation.

  17. Keith Morris says:

    Portland has not been as great of an inspiration as suggested. This is made clear by cities that claim the Portland brand, especially with cycling infrastructure, while offering something totally subpar. Take the bike lanes in Columbus for which the city hired a Portland consultant company to offer a watered-down version of what Portland has.

    I don’t like bike lanes, straight up. They serve to prioritize motorists by keeping bikes out of the “car” lanes and placing them into a more dangerous sliver of the road where they are less visible, where debris accumulates, and where they won’t calm traffic. But even then the ones that have been painted here are on roads where cars are whizzing by at 40-50MPH and on top of that they are *isolated*. Try taking the bike lane on W Broad or Morse Rd to Downtown and you’ll find yourself navigating a highway interchange (not the place for a timid, bike-lane riding cyclist) and an arterial road before you get there.

    And then look at what cities embraced streetcars? What cities went all out with traffic calming? I can tell you that in Ohio, the 3 Cs totally missed out on capitalizing off of Portland’s urbanism. Look at population gain in Portland and then Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati Instead of going above and beyond what Portland did in some cases (more traffic-calmed business districts, more shared bike/car lanes, more incentives for opening an urban business) Ohio’s biggest cities thought they could half-ass it and still reap the rewards that Portland did. Guess what? All of them saw huge population decline in neighborhoods in just about any direction away from downtown.

    Even Columbus, with the highest amount of urban population gain, only saw it in the same old places to the north of Downtown; the neglected neighborhoods on the west, south, east, and northeast sides saw staggering population losses. Those areas have dilapidated business districts which the city has not spent any money to improve and the still function as suburban expressway alternatives if you don’t feel like taking the highway for whatever reason: they’re wide streets that funnel high-speed traffic, not business districts. The city won’t even provide the pedestrian-friendly foundation needed for any sort of commercial revitalization to occur in the first place. The number of urban areas where there’s a decent number of households with disposable income is severely untapped: it’s as though the city is happy with letting rotting business districts drive away the taxes they get not to mention the economic activity that they forgo.

    Like others leaving Ohio’s cities I’ll be joining them to move to a city that actually *wants* to be a city. Meanwhile, urban boosters here can boast about the same things they had a decade ago and be perplexed about why more people are still leaving.

  18. Aaron M. Ren says:

    @Walbikus, the GDP data looks good for Portland, no doubt. I wrote this piece before I’d really analyzed that aspect. It looks like Portland is trying to grow a “vertical” economy like global cities where a small group does very well, but the wealth is concentrated and there isn’t significant job creation. We’ll see where the city ends up.

  19. MC says:

    Regarding constant comments on Portland’s need for greater economic vitality, I do have to say that one of the great things about Portland is that it remains one of the most affordable, middle-class cities amongst coastal cities that are livable. It should not be assumed that the goal of every city is to become the next New York, Vancouver or San Francisco where monied people and high-wage talent converge to price out the middle class. Portland’s relatively affordable housing, good schools, and overall livabilty should be lauded.

    Portland’s economy is in no way poor. There are solid industries in Portland, as well as a vibrant creativity that gets pushed out of some of the higher-priced cities. I’m sure Portland’s economy beats a dozen other similar-sized cities that are far less “livable.”

    Let the government do what it is supposed to do – take care of the PUBLIC infrastructure and social needs – and let the economy do what it will do.

    No one seems to write articles critiquing cities with poor livability for also having middle-of-the-road economies …

  20. MC says:

    And, I can say one can live a lot better on $47,811 of GDP in Portland than on $60,873 of GDP in San Francisco …

  21. Robz says:

    Portland should become a leader of innovative infill architecture and indie films.

  22. George Mattei says:

    I wonder if the lack of diversity leads to a more unified vision in a sense. I think in cities where you have a lot of diversity, you also have more conflict. That makes it harder to get things done. Plus, I think white flight is much less prevalent in cities like Portland. Investing in downtowns isn’t so bad when the folks there walk and talk like you do.

    I have often wondered if one of the major differences in approaches in Europe vs. U.S. cities isn’t due to the fears caused by diverse populations. European cities didn’t demo neighborhoods like we did, and you have to wonder if race didn’t play a big factor in that.

  23. Wad says:

    @George, conflict is inevitable even when there is cohesion among demographic groups. They manifest themselves when there isn’t a larger organizing force at work.

    Also, you would have to wonder if Portland’s “Portlandness” would have happened anyway even if there wasn’t a nondiverse political body.

    The San Francisco of the 1960s-1990s was a time of intense friction between the political establishment (business people and working class Chinese, black, Italian and Irish) and the counterculture and gays who would come to define the city later on. San Francisco was sharply divided. It though Haight-Ashbury was a civic abomination, and the city persecuted the hell out of gays.

    Now contrast this with Arizona in the last two years. Arizona witnessed a dramatic collapse of an economy built on what is known in stock-trading as a “momo (momentum) play”. Frustrated Arizonans organized around taking their anger out on Latinos. “Immigration” or “illegal immigration” is is just a semantic fig leaf.

    Arizona became a magnet for immigrants, legal and illegal, because jobs were plentiful when construction was nonstop, and because certain key sectors (like tourism) depend on a large surplus workforce who is hidden in plain sight. Also, the only way places like Phoenix and Tucson can justify themselves economically was by massive inward population transfers into areas that have barely any endogenous economic production. Snowbirds and disaffected Middle Americans are immigrants, too.

    Politics as a vessel of resentment turned out to backfire economically. Immigrants, especially illegals, left on their own as the jobs evaporated and largely made things like the infamous SB 1070 moot. SB 1070 itself spawned a boycott that had more bark than bite, but it did have a bite that was felt by the tourism sector and even revealed a fracture in the business and populist wings of the Republicans. And the economy is still a mess.

    Other places can grow (or decline) without any sort of political action. Most places in the Sunbelt just waited for populations to come to them. A place like Indianapolis grew just by staying quiet. It didn’t make any waves, and it didn’t set out to fulfill a vision.

  24. Alon Levy says:

    Portland may be trying to be an inegalitarian global city, but its metro area has one of the lowest inequality rates in the US.

  25. I can’t help but think that Portland’s struggling economy really calls into question Richard Florida’s theory of the creative class city. I read his book years ago, so admittedly it’s not fresh in my mind, but if I recall correctly his argument was that cities that focus on livability would be those to attract the creative class workforce, and consequently be the economic engines of 21st century America. While Portland’s reputation for livability and its creative class ethos has fulfilled the first part of that equation, it hasn’t done much in the way of invigorating our economy. In fact, it may even be hindering it (the overabundance of overeducated, underemployed, socially-minded citizens here creates a lot of competition for few jobs and depresses salaries). In fact, a recent report funded by the Oregon Business Council (among others) finds that compared to other ‘creative class’ cities, per capita income in Portland lags behind cities like Seattle, Denver, and Minneapolis, and that our cost of living is not low enough to offset our depressed wages (so it is actually cheaper to live in either of those three peer cities). This lack of purchasing power could ultimately diminish the very livability Portland prides itself on.

  26. Tom Dixon says:

    To Michelle Marx, the same observation had occurred to me after reading his book too. But as Spencer so succinctly observes – “Portland’s fine, please don’t mess with it.” Its status and being as it is, seems to already speak loudly for the city’s real virtues in relation to most resident’s opinions of the place. Also, as with a lot of circumstances and things in life, what does happen and what doesn’t also most likely involves ‘timing’ as a fundamental factor …

  27. Portland has much to recommend it; but it is paradoxically in a struggle to create an economic base, that keeps services that are capital-intensive (like mass transit)yet maintain a haven for non-profit, artistic, or otherwise edgy endeavors.

    People bailing out of California has helped Portland’s intellectual and human capital, but it is hard to deploy.

    Yet, couple low wages for low-end jobs, the effective income tax rate is sky-high for even low levels of income compared to most places. The Urban Growth Boundary makes low-income housing an issue. The property assessment system favors stasis, as AV values have distorted true market values, particularly in urban centers.

    In a more diverse nation, certainly the “whitening” of Portland has become a problem that no one talks about very much.

  28. Regarding Portland and “whitening”…. the city has always been a predominantly-white place, as Oregon’s history includes some rather nasty chapters of KKK domination of party politics.

    In recent years, the greater Portland metro area has seen a dramatic increase in its Latino population. Much of this growth is found in the suburbs (in particular, Beaverton and Hillsboro), but it has penetrated the city itself. Likewise, the area’s Asian population has grown quite a bit as well.

    Unfortunately, many lower-income African-Americans have, in recent years, been forced out of the inner city (particularly inner NE Portland) due to gentrification and rising rents; many formerly majority-black neighborhoods are turning into enclaves for the trendy set. To their credit, city leadership is aware of this problem and considers it an important concern.

    Housing remains reasonably cheap in Portland, especially post-crash. Decent suburban homes can be purchased in the neighborhood of $100/square foot (though many homes on the market are priced higher than that, often due to sellers trying to avoid short sale conditions or otherwise seeking to minimize losses), and there is plenty of vacant housing. Unless you’re someone who refuses to by a “used” home (or wants a half-acre lot), its unclear that the UGB is impacting your ability to find one–there are still plenty of half-built subdivisions in town, where work has stopped pending improvements in the market. It is questionable to suggest that a shortage of buildable acres is causing housing prices to be elevated.

    Oregon has a higher-than average income tax, but no sales tax. Whether or not the state overall imposes a higher tax burden on the lower income strata is hard to tell (many of whom will only pay state income tax on a fraction of their income). Oregon also has a relatively high minimum wage, and a better social safety net than many other places in the country.

  29. Tim says:

    Not to mention racism is still alive in Portland. It is something most in Portland avoid talking about. What few jobs are available usually go to people that look, think and are the same race as the people doing the hiring.

  30. Racism is alive and well everywhere. How does Portland compare with other parts of the country? I honestly have no idea… I’m Caucasian, so I’m not on the receiving end of it. I’ve heard plenty of anecdotal evidence from African-Americans who consider this the most racist city in the country, worse than places like Mississippi and South Carolina. I’ve heard plenty of other anecdotal evidence from African-Americans who love it here. But as they say, the plural of anecdote is not data….

  31. Stan says:

    Portland is a very provincial place in the best sense of the word. A place that knows it place in the world and is pretty satisfied(sometimes a little too self satisfied)where it fits. I think that’s created a mentality of trying to make what we have work. Part of it is geographic and historic, our nearest big city neighbors Seattle and SF are about 200 and 500 miles away. We’ve got mountain ranges to the east and west, and a major river to the North. Seattle/Tacoma has the better natural port, which when finally connected to the transcontinental railroad consigned Portland to being the Northwest’s second city, after a brief spell at top of the heap. The collapse of the timber economy in the early 80’s took Portland two decades to really recover from. Aside from the footware industry(Nike, Addidas US HQ, Keen, etc..) and tech, the Portland metro doesn’t have a lot of big industries. So when folks move to Portland it’s sure ain’t for the jobs. Willing to put down stakes based on lifesyle choices.

    The former black neighborhoods of N/NE Portland are a great example of changes in Portland in the last generation or so. Areas formerly redlined and formerly victims of misguided urban renewal schemes and then hollowed out by the 70/80’s Oregon economic collapse are discovered by a generation of newcomers to the area who value the Victorian/Bungalows houses and the great bones of the streetcar neighborhoods that earlier post WWII generation couldn’t wait to trade in for newer houses in Beaverton or Gresham. These newcomers are also willing to live in predominately black areas in an overwhelmingly white city(80%) city, in the process turning the former black majority/plurality areas majority white. The 2010 census is pretty remarkable for the Boise/Eliot and Vernon neighborhoods.

  32. scdurs says:

    You know what they say on Portlandia: “Portland is where young people go to retire.”

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

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Aaron M. Renn is an opinion-leading urban analyst, consultant, speaker, and writer on a mission to help America’s cities thrive and find sustainable success in the 21st century.

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