What is unique and special about Portland, OR?

Today is Tuesday, January 7, 2014.

I’ve been more or less on holiday through December and early January. Now I’m home, family and friends are gone, Christmas tree and holiday decorations are gone…now it’s back to my normal routine, if I have such.

I’ve been reading and listening to people on Facebook about the cities they like, live in, have lived in, and what they don’t like about places, etc. I thought I would write a little blog on what I like about Portland OR, where I currently live. I’ve lived in Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane, Olympia, Boston, Washington, DC, Atlanta, the San Francisco Area, Bismarck and Halliday, North Dakota, Riverton, Lander and Casper, Wyoming. I’ve spent time in most of the large American cities, although I’ve never been in Detroit, Tampa or Miami, Wichita KS, or Virginia Beach/Portsmouth/Newport News.  But otherwise, I’ve spent time in all of America’s major cities.

I moved to Portland OR twenty three years ago and it was a revelation. I had no idea about Portland at that time. I had spent nearly thirty years in the Seattle-Tacoma-Olympia area and consider that area my ‘hometown’, but Portland quickly grew on me, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else at this point.

So, what is it that enthralls me about Portland? First on my list is the fact that there is very little ‘corporate’ presence in the city limits. Most corporations pulled out into the suburbs or to another city completely. Germany’s Adidas and Freightliner still have a corporate presence, and there are corporate insurance companies downtown, but for the most part, Portland’s business community is focused on small, entrepreneurial storefronts that are located in the various ‘urban villages’ within the Portland Metro Area. The result is there are very few tall skyscrapers built to edify corporate egos. The skyline is is not as dramatic as most American cities its size. City blocks are also a lot smaller, with every twenty blocks equaling one mile. In Seattle, every fifteen blocks equals one mile, and in many American cities, every twelve blocks equals a mile. So, Portland is unique in this respect. This means that downtown streets are narrow, blocks are short, buildings can’t have the large ‘footprint’ they can have in most cities, so they can’t be that large, and bicycles and pedestrians have the right of way as a result–not automobiles. Approximately 75,000 commuters ride bikes every day in Portland. I like all of this about Portland.

I love the ‘urban village’ concept here, where each neighborhood within the city limits has its own business district. Some of my favorites are: Overlook/Killingsworth, Kenton, Alberta St., Mississippi Ave., Hollywood, Belmont, Hawthorne, Clinton St., St. John, NEPO 42nd Ave.,  Beaumont, Northwest, and Multnomah Village. Part of this urban planning includes the very first ‘Urban Growth Boundary’ in America in order to preserve the farmland and green spaces outside of the dense urban area, and increase densities within the city limits. In my opinion, it works like a charm in this city. Each neighborhood has its own character and unique shops, restaurants, cafes, boutiques, etc. Portland is not one of those cities where everything looks and feels the same with identical corporate restaurants and stores everywhere–Other than Starbucks and Subway, for some weird reason, They seem to be everywhere. But even though they seem to dominate the urban landscape, Portland has its own home-grown sandwich shops and coffee roasters that provide better quality products.

City transportation is also unique here. I really like the MAX light rail and the street car system. I can walk out of my house, walk 7 minutes to the light rail station, and in 10 minutes I am at the Rose Quarter, in 15 minutes I am downtown. The red line also goes to the airport, and it drops me off inside the Portland Int’l Airport for $2.50. The system has Red, Yellow, Blue and Green lines and a new Orange line will open soon out to the Southeast suburb of Milwaukie. I can take the MAX to Washington Park and the zoo, to LLoyd Center and Clackamas Towncenter malls, the Expo center, etc. The Blue line is almost 40 miles long from Hillsboro in the western suburbs to Gresham on the eastside. And if I want to go to the southern suburbs, like Wilsonville, I just transfer at Beaverton and take the commuter train.

PDX Airport is another reason I like this city. It’s the most amazing airport I have ever been in. It’s nicely designed, well-organized, easy to get through security, and it has the best bars, restaurants and shopping bar none. AND! the Port of Portland that runs the place has a rule that no vender can charge more inside the airport than they charge in the community at-large. Thus, a Laurewood micro-brew in Terminal A still only costs $4.50, and not $6-8, as most beers cost in most airports. The restaurants and wine bars, brew pubs and cafes, fast food and shopping, plus the Cascade Station shopping area near the long term parking, all contribute to a model airport that other cities should really try to emulate.

I also really like the culture in Portland. Theater, for example. There’s a lot of it. Here’s a partial list of the live theater companies in town:  Artist’s Repertory Theater, Portland Center Stage, Lakewood Theater Company, Broadway Rose, Northwest Children’s Theater, Oregon Children’s Theater, Miracle, Imago, Bag & Baggage, Third Rail, Profile, and Portland Playhouse. Then there’s the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which is world famous as an homage to the Bard. As a result, the theater community is actually quite large for a moderately sized city.

Music venues–Portland is wild for its Indie Music scene. I looked not long ago in the Willamette Week, and there were more than 200 music venues performing on any given night. Of course, the city has its Symphony, Ballet, and theater for traveling Broadway shows as well. There’s also the ‘Schnitz’, which is a performance venue downtown that hosts traveling lecturers, musical shows, etc. Portland is a very ‘crafty’ city as well, with quilters, canners, creative gardeners, bicycle builders, and artisans of all kinds who show their wares at the Saturday Market or the weekend Farmer’s Market at Portland State University.

The professional creative community is also quite large because of the advertising and marketing firms here–the largest is influential Wyden & Kennedy. Designers and graphic artists seem to flock here for work in advertising or for one of the many clothing firms like Adidas, Nike, Jantzen, Columbia Sportswear and Pendleton Woolens. Creative computer types who design games and websites, etc, also have opportunity here in the city and in the westside ‘silicon forest.’  These people add to the creative verve and overall culture and tone of the city.

Portland is also a college town. This is a list of four-year colleges and universities in the metro area:  Reed College, Lewis and Clark College, Linfield College, George Fox University, Pacific University, Warner Pacific College, Portland State University, University of Portland, Marylhurst University, Multnomah University, Oregon Health & Sciences University, University of Western States, Pacific Northwest College of Art, Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, and Washington State University-Vancouver.  There is also a branch campus for the University of Oregon in Old Town and for the Oregon Institute of Technology in Wilsonville. I also really like the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) and their science education program. These colleges and universities add a vibe and feeling to the city that is both intellectual and fun-loving. Without their presence in the city, you couldn’t have the largest independent bookstore in the English speaking world, Powell’s City of Books. If you’re ever in Portland, it is an absolute must.

Part of that ‘fun’ in that ‘fun-loving’ is the beer, wine and food culture, which is amazing in Portland. It is the largest producer and consumer of craft beers in the world, has an outstanding and growing distilling industry; there are over 200 wineries within a two hour drive from downtown. and according to TripAdvisor, there are 3,487 restaurants in the city. close to 500 bars and pubs, and well over 60 breweries in the city limits, more than any city in the world. Portland also has the most ‘food carts’ than any other city in the world. Being someone who loves food, beer and wine, I’m in heaven here.

Portland also has a number of amazing parks, including the largest and smallest urban park in the U.S. I particularly like Mt. Tabor and the Chinese Gardens. The Rose Test Gardens are exquisite in the summer as well.

Sports are important to some people–there’s no pro Baseball or Football teams here, but there are still the Portland Timbers (MLS), Portland Thorns (women’s soccer, current U.S. national champions) and the Portland Trailblazers (NBA), and the semi-pro ice hockey, Winterhawks.  Other than that you have small college sports of all kinds, although the Univ of Portland Pilots are Division I in basketball and soccer, both men’s and women’s. I like going to see the Timbers play as well as the Portland State University Viking’s football games.

In addition to these cultural facets of life in Portland. I happen to like the weather. It’s dry and warm from late spring through mid-Fall, then it’s cloudy and wet as we reach the rainy season of winter. But as the rest of the country right now is sitting in a deep freeze, today was 43 degrees F with a light drizzle. You can have your extremely hot summers and arctic cold winters in the Midwest and East. You can have your hot, humid summers and cool to warm humid winters in the South. I like the four seasons here in Portland, although winter usually doesn’t bring much snow, and if at all, then mostly a light dusting. Sometimes there’s a little frost on the windshield, but so far this winter, that’s only happened on one day at my house. Another reason, I like living in Portland–the weather is generally very moderate.

The geography is also pretty amazing in that you can drive an hour east to the Cascade Mountains and Mt. Hood for winter sports or an hour and a half west to the Pacific Ocean. Or you can drive into the Columbia Gorge to Hood River or The Dalles and explore the fruit orchards, wineries, breweries, windsurfing, white water rafting, hiking, hot springs and spas, and so much more.

So, what’s not to like about Portland? It’s a moderately large city with about 605,000 in the city limits, 2.3 million in the census-identified Metropolitan Statistical Area and 2.99 million in the Combined Statistical Area (all of the extended suburbs and exurbs and close commutable cities). The area ranks as the 19th largest urban area in the U.S. It’s one of America’s best cities. It’s liberal and open; there are a lot of LGBT people here, yet it’s only about 9% African-American. There is a much higher concentration of Asian and Hispanic people than African-Americans with a total minority population just over 25%, much lower than most major American cities. So, I wish there were a little more diversity in the city.

But in spite of my past, I am now an Oregonian and Portlander. I’ve given up on my Washington State and Seattle identities and really can’t imagine ever living up there again. This is home now for all of the above reasons–and I love it here! I don’t think it’s all that ‘weird’ like people try to make it out to be. I mean, it has its quirkiness and strange people, but I don’t think it’s too much–the television show ‘Portlandia’ notwithstanding! Now, that show is weird; I think much weirder than the city itself.  Does Portland seem weird and goofy compared to a mid-western or southern city? Probably, but that’s why I would never live in those parts of the country. Portland is home for me and my husband. As a married gay couple of nearly eighteen years, we are ‘normal’ here. We don’t have to immerse ourselves in the gay community and eschew the ‘straight’ world outside. It’s all the same here. We don’t have to go to a gay establishment to feel comfortable showing affection, to hold hands or even to kiss. Our circle of friends is both gay and straight and it’s wonderful. When we go out, no one looks weirdly at us or stares like they’ve never seen a gay couple before. We’re just part of the overall fabric of the city and its people. Portland is open, free, accepting, and liberal, and with all of it’s urban amenities and culture, it’s just the ideal city to call home.




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