I've noticed many threads on BF dealing with some permutation of the age-old question: Should I move to Portland, Oregon? Well, a friend (heretofore known as "Chuck") and I recently left the relative safety of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to take a 4-day trip to Portland (in fact, we're still here) to answer that question for ourselves, and the following is what I've come up with thus far. This is not meant to be an endorsement nor a condemnation of the city; it is simply one lifelong East Coaster's feelings on the city and the region at large. My feelings are gut reactions, based on little more than immediate impressions, and are likely as wrong as they are right. There have been many profiles of the city provided by Portlanders on BF...I thought it might be interesting to provide my take as an outsider. I understand that this is likely to elicit some passionate defenses from PDX natives, but please do not take my criticisms as attacks. Portland is a wonderful city, a community-based city-of-the-people, and a wildly successful model of urban development for the rest of us. Without further ado:
- This is clearly a city with a plan. Everything undertaken by government is done with the city/community/region's best interests in mind, from massive roadways and municipal parks to tiny little details (like the little track alongside city staircases so you can roll your bike upstairs). Back east, where the infrastructure is likely 250 years old, it's a little too late for a plan.
- Green/sustainable everything. Mixed-use buildings and shiny new high-rise condominiums are sprouting up like weeds all over town, and every one of them is LEED-certified, and advertised as such (on the East Coast, if a building is LEED-certified, no one gives a sh*t. In Portland, if it's not LEED, it's an outrage).
- Great food. GREAT food. So far, I haven't had a single bad meal in the city. And good god is it cheap. Special mention goes to Clyde Common at the Ace Hotel. Chuck and I ordered 4 drinks, 4 appetizers (including the beef tongue hash, the single best mouthful of food I had in PDX), 2 entrees, and a dessert for the grand total of $110, including a MASSIVE tip for our awesome imported-from-Queens waiter. It's stupid. It doesn't even make any sense.
- There are a ton of hip little neighborhoods with safe, sleepy, dead-quiet residential communities flanking the more interesting main drags. However, after a few of these neighborhoods, things tend to blend together a bit (see below in the CONS).
- Stumptown Coffee...say hello to the greatest latte you'll ever have in your entire life, and nothing else is even a close second. I had 3 of these, and from here on out, to get another cup of coffee somewhere else would feel like adultery. Speaking of great coffee, when you order an iced coffee at Grendel's (another local shop), they give it to you with coffee ice cubes so your drink doesn't get watered down. Brilliant.
- The bikes are everywhere. It's not as much of a lifestyle as it is on the East Coast (i.e. it's not as much of a fashion accessory), but it's much more part of the culture (i.e. everyone rides, and they don't care what they look like, who makes their frame, and they certainly don't spend much time personalizing the whole experience). There are bike lanes everywhere, and no honking or cars running you off the road even when you (the cyclist) are in the wrong. There are even symbols painted on the road at traffic lights, where if you roll your bike over the symbol, the light changes in your direction. Also, I rented a post-apocalyptic-looking City Bikes hybrid for 4 days, including a helmet and a lock...for $65.
- No sales tax. It's like being in Delaware, if you'd ever be able to make it in Delaware without taking a bath with your toaster.
- Nature. 1.5 hours to the coast, 1.5 hours to skiing (and f'real skiing, not the "Appalachian foothills" skiing that I'm used to), 45 minutes to the Columbia River Gorge, minutes from being in the middle of the woods.
- From the haughtiest restaurant to the grubbiest coffee shop, it's totally come-as-you-are. You could stroll into a white tablecloth joint wearing a toga, and no one would give you any looks. This attitude extends to hair color, tattoos, piercings, sexual preference, gender ambiguity, nudity, extra limbs, etc.
- Aside from some Asian influence and the ubiquitous West Coast Mexican worker class, there is zero ethnic presence, particularly European. From what I've seen, there's no Little Italy, there's no Jewish part of town, no Polish or Germans. There aren't even any black people (I've read that Portland's population is something like 6.5% African-American, making it the whitest major city in America). Everything is homogenously, dispassionately white. This also means the food suffers. For example, I betcha I could find a right-wing conservative faster than I could find a decent bagel in this city.
- The anarcho-vegan-smoker-unemployed-coffee-stoner-crunchy-hipster-slacker vibe that permeates everything. Behind the terrifying militant leftist facade is the glaring lack of any edge, sarcasm, urgency, or attitude. Everyone does everything in their own sweet time, and they get all sensitive if you sting them a little.
- The fixed gear culture isn't nearly as pervasive as it is back east. In Philadelphia, I'd say 1 out of every 7 bikes you see is FG/SS. Out here, it's maybe 1 out of every 30.
- It's totally on an island, from a geographical metaphor standpoint. Seattle is like 3 hours away...and that's about it. Even Sacramento is like a 9 hour drive, and who the hell wants to go there?
- Smoking and coffee. Smoking and coffee. Smoking and coffee. And drugs. Then more coffee.
- It's a totally down-and-out. There are no jobs, so unemployment and alcoholism are huge problems, and the homeless are everywhere, usually sleeping in the streets. After 8pm, the downtown side of the Burnside Bridge looks like a refugee camp.
- To the untrained eye, most neighborhoods look the same. All feature the following items: a straight, flat main street, many bars, many coffee shops, a vintage looking theater with a neon marquee, bohemian little independent shops, an ultra-contemporary mixed-used residential building, an organic grocery market, and a Jiffy Lube/Walgreens/insert-standalone-chain-business-here that signals the end of the quirky little neighborhood. Pick a community: Hawthorne, Belmont, Mississippi, Nob Hill, Alberta...they all follow this basic formula pretty closely.
- It's a haven for freaks and rejects. I'm definitely not weird enough to be here. Along with the guy-with-the-cat-on-his shoulder guy, the homeless-drunk-guy-getting-kicked-out-of-the-bar-complaining-that-he's-a-famous-movie-star guy, and the guy-with-one-big-dreadlock guy, we saw a "chick" hanging out at the GLBT radio station around the corner with a goatee that would put Chuck's to shame.
- I'm a huge sports fan, and aside from the Blazers (who just drafted Greg Oden, a plus), professional sports are of negligible importance. There's no baseball, no football, and no decent college teams (although the Ducks just put a hurtin' on Michigan).
- Despite the community spirit, strangers here are a little icy. You're much more likely on the East Coast to get a friendly wave/nod from someone you don't know.
- There are no chain stores, anywhere, unless you brave a trip to the suburbs. It's great to foster an independent spirit, but sometimes you need a motherf*ckin' GAP.
- 2 active volcanoes within a 70 mile-radius of downtown. Get up a few floors in any building and you can see both Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood. I mean, they're beautiful and all, but it still makes me nervous that some kind of Dante's Peak scenario could play out sometime in the near future.
- You can't get lunch anywhere. It's a huge breakfast town, then things kinda shut down until 5pm. If you're hungry around noon, good luck. Maybe you could drive out to the suburbs to find a Wendy's.
That's about it. I understand this thread is likely gonna take some heat, but I figured it was still useful. Fire away.