Portland – Whitest City in America!

Over at the Washington Post, writer Blaine Harden writes a great article about genetrification and the whiteness of Portland and Seattle. According to this article, both Portland and Seattle are losing their traditional black neighborhoods to gentrification. The article is very well rounded and having read it twice, I can’t get a specific angle from the author, so I say well done. A couple of items I’ll throw out for discussion:

Census figures suggest that blacks in Seattle and Portland have not been displaced into homelessness or that they are economically worse off in the suburbs than they were downtown. In many cases, housing in the suburbs is newer, schools are better and crime is lower.

“Many of the white liberals who condemned white flight are just as angry at the white folks who are moving back into the cities,” Dan Savage, editor of the Stranger, an alternative weekly in Seattle.

“Finally, the African American community is able to make the same choice about where it’s going to live as the white community,” [former Seattle mayor] Rice said. “They are choosing to move. Is that bad or not? Stay tuned.”

and finally, from Portland activist Charles Ford:

Ford began ruminating about the price — and the profit — he might be able to get for his house, which he has owned since 1968 and which sits on a fine corner lot near a fixed-up city park. “I have said I would never sell,” Ford said. “But who can resist these prices?”

I wonder what kinds of comments I’ll get from this post…… Dicussion open.
Thanks Mercury blogtown for the heads up.

23 Comments so far

  1. Jim Bob (unregistered) on June 20th, 2006 @ 10:25 am

    So, are you celebrating this fact, or bemoaning it?

  2. Betsy (unregistered) on June 20th, 2006 @ 10:50 am

    I don’t think he’s taking a position, other than to say that it’s a) an interesting discussion, and b) that he’s curious to know how others reacted to the article.

  3. jonashpdx (unregistered) on June 20th, 2006 @ 10:50 am

    man, it seems to be a vicious cycle– and i say this as a whitey who moved into a mostly african-american neighborhood (i guess, though the majority of my neighbors are white too). i didn’t move there to kick anyone out or to change the demographic makeup of my neighborhood, i moved there because it was one of the few areas that i could actually afford, and it seems to me that class needs to be examined in reference to this dilemma (if it is a dilemma) as well as race, though because of this country’s history, the two often go hand in hand. i too am shocked at the skyrocketing housing prices in my area even since i’ve moved here, and wouldn’t be able to live where i do if i hadn’t moved when i did. but there’s no stopping change, i guess. i think i had more points to make, but this whole thing gets me so flustered that they go tumbling out of my head, so i’ll stop rambling now…

  4. Jim Bob (unregistered) on June 20th, 2006 @ 11:25 am

    Right, Betsy, I know he didn’t take a position in his post, I’m asking him to elaborate and actually take a position.

    Jonashpdx seems to have enough “white guilt” but I don’t see him offering to move out and subsidize housing costs for minorities. He resorts instead to being “frustrated” and blames the whole phenomenon on the country’s history and a re-examination of class. Jonashpdx, there’s a much simpler solution – move out and let a minority family live in your house at reduced market rate rent. Otherwise, you’re part of the problem.

  5. jonashpdx (unregistered) on June 20th, 2006 @ 11:45 am

    how am i part of the problem if where i live is all i can afford in a city in which i want to live? i’m not putting blame anywhere, i was basically saying that i don’t think that i’m educated enough on the issue to examine it more deeply. but i’m damn sure that I’m not going to move out of my home. sure, i’ve got some white guilt, but i didn’t move where i did as an investment– i live where i do because i’m interested in the neighborhood and the community and want to be able to live in a city and it was all i could afford, what’s wrong with that, isn’t that what everyone wants? if the market dictates the rents/housing prices, etc, why should i personally have to subsidize someone else’s life in that regard?

  6. DIVEBARWIFE (unregistered) on June 20th, 2006 @ 11:56 am

    I find it interesting that Ford – the black activist – apparently doesn’t think black people can afford to live in a nice neighborhood.
    “When I see prices like that, I wonder who . . . of my race can continue to live here,” he said.

    I too am a white person living in a neighborhood that began mostly white, became mostly black – and is now pretty well mixed. It’s purely economic – that was where we could afford to buy a home and we liked the location – I’m sure the same choice made by most of our neighbors – black, white, hispanic, russian, etc.

    It has nothing to do with race, nor should it.

  7. dieselboi (unregistered) on June 20th, 2006 @ 12:14 pm

    i’ll take a stand – i think gentrification, the word, not the act – has negative and racist conotations in puddletown. i bet it has to do with our past, but what city in America doesn’t have a “past.”

    I’ve lived in North (Humbolt and now Overlook’s eastern edge) for 10 years now. so, are you saying that because I bought my house from a relative (white) and they bought it 55 years ago from a white family and that family had lived there since the 1890’s that I as a white person should give in to “white guilt” and give my house up to a black family under the guise of resolving the larger issue?

    also, my question to you is – why does all the houseing for minorities need to be “subsidized” or “low income?” isn’t that just another form of racism and classism?

    just some more points to ponder.

  8. Jim Bob (unregistered) on June 20th, 2006 @ 12:47 pm

    Dieselboi, I appreciate your response.

    On the subsidization issue, I’m not the originator of that concept. The article clearly states that blacks feel they cannot afford to remain in the neighborhood – either because of higher rents or property taxes. So, the implication is that, to remain, some sort of subsidization needs to happen, either through lowered prices or lowered rents. Someone needs to subsidize – either the city or the property owners.

    That is, someone needs to subsidize if they treasure “diversity” as much as they say they do. I’m not saying anyone here, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard Portlanders wring their hands and say “if only we had more diversity” and then take economic actions that drive out diversity by outbidding those without the ability to pay going market rates.

    There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but it’s always funny to see how far Portlanders will go to preserve “diversity.” Clearly, not very.

    So, Portland is just going to keep getting whiter and more expensive. If that’s what you want, fine. But know what you did to make it happen. And know what you DIDN’T do to prevent it from happening.

  9. Banana Lee Fishbones (unregistered) on June 20th, 2006 @ 3:21 pm

    Interesting discussion, but I gotta ask JimBob:

    You said : I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard Portlanders wring their hands and say “if only we had more diversity” and then take economic actions that drive out diversity by outbidding those without the ability to pay going market rates.

    Well right now, this white girl (and her white husband) can’t pay ‘going market rates’. I don’t feel I can stay in my neighborhood, so who is going to subsidize me? I moved there for a bunch of different reasons, but I’d be lying if I said price wasn’t one of them. I do not live in a “hot” ‘hood. It is DEFINITELY not cool, either. But I need to flee for Gresham/Beaverton/Tigard/etc because “oh, we aren’t diverse, oh there’s no minorities?” What am I supposed to do to prevent it, Jim Bob? I don’t think I’m the only white girl wondering if I can afford to sell my house since I probably can’t afford to buy another. I’m not in a hiring position, so I can’t give a job to a minority, I don’t own apartments so I can’t set up special rates for minorities either. I’m really trying to understand what I’m supposed to do besides sell my house to black family so they can stay in Portland.

    Do you think housing is the only thing to consider? What about the recent report about police pulling black people over X percent more often? Or maybe there’s still a lot of discrimination. Or maybe people are conveniently overlooking that the “bad” ‘hoods have scummy white people too, and when they get forced out it doesn’t get noticed. Isn’t it possible there’s more to it than subsidizing some housing?

  10. ExtraMSG (unregistered) on June 20th, 2006 @ 3:31 pm

    “Census figures suggest that blacks in Seattle and Portland have not been displaced into homelessness or that they are economically worse off in the suburbs than they were downtown. In many cases, housing in the suburbs is newer, schools are better and crime is lower.”

    This is a very important point. In my Vancouver neighborhood, which was built in 2000, I live between an Indian family and a black family, and across the street from a Latino family and an older black woman. It’s a very mixed neighborhood, despite still be a majority white. Isn’t this exactly what the civil rights movement was about? Oh, and the guy on the other side of the older black woman from the Latino family, who my wife and I have jokingly nicknamed the “white trash family” because the mulletted guy is always washing his ’70s Vette in his wifebeaters while listening to AC/DC and the like, every weekend mows the lawn of the older black woman.

  11. ExtraMSG (unregistered) on June 20th, 2006 @ 3:35 pm

    One question: what’s the point in talking about Portland proper as a separate community from Portland metro? I live relatively far from downtown in east Vancouver, almost Camas, and it still only takes me 20-25 minutes to get there. Isn’t it kind of ludicrous, really, to talk about Portland getting whiter by making such a strong distinction between Portland and its metro area?

  12. Jim Bob (unregistered) on June 20th, 2006 @ 3:42 pm

    Banana – I appreciate your response.

    Alls I’m saying is – if you give a hoot at all about “diversity” within the city limits of Portland, then yes, sell your home to a minority family so that diversity can be preserved.

    If you don’t care, then sell to the highest bidder. But then I don’t want to catch you down the road complaining that there’s not enough diversity in Portland proper. Or catch your friends doing it either. Because in the one chance you had to do something tangible about it, you walked.

    Maybe you guys have never heard the comment “we need more diversity in Portland” from your friends. But I’ve heard it untold times from people I know – as though diversity were some magic salve to heal all the world’s racial tension. It ain’t (which is really my point). But you wouldn’t know that from the hand wringing that occurs sometimes about the “gentrification” of Portland.

    Extramsg – your hood sounds cool! Shame it has to happen in the suburbs as opposed to the central city, though…

    In my mind, this conversation doesn’t happen often enough in Portland. People throw around words like “diversity” and “gentrification” without taking the time to see what that really means in terms of cold hard economics and demographics. Good for Dieselboi for raising it.

  13. Listening and Learning (unregistered) on June 20th, 2006 @ 4:06 pm

    Great discussion!!

  14. ExtraMSG (unregistered) on June 20th, 2006 @ 10:45 pm

    “your hood sounds cool! Shame it has to happen in the suburbs as opposed to the central city, though…”

    I don’t know why. It wasn’t long ago, and it really still may be the case, that the suburbs were the American Dream. May not truly be my dream or your dream (I wish I had the money to have one of the downtown condos where I could walk everywhere, be close to the top restaurants, etc, but then I don’t have any kids), but it’s an easy life in the suburbs. I have a health clinic, 24 Hour Fitness, and Kohl’s (with a Best Buy, World Market, and Bed, Bath, & Beyond being built) within a 1/4 mile of my house. About a 1/2 mile is a multi-plex, Borders, Wild Oats, banks, Target, etc, etc. I have two Super Wal-Marts and two Fred Meyer’s, a Home Depot, a Winco, a Trader Joe’s, and a gazillion other places within a mile of my house, including half a dozen sushi places, Thai places, and more. I have a garage, a yard, a plum tree, a little garden with tomatoes and such. I’ve never worried about leaving my car unlocked. Kids play in my street.

    Diversity in the city has rarely been a sign of a good neighborhood. It’s usually the result of a slummy area that poor immigrants and African-Americans can afford, often because it’s become run-down and people who could move out, get a new house with an easier life, did so. The problem isn’t gentrification, the problem is the diversity of wealth.

  15. Curious (unregistered) on June 21st, 2006 @ 1:32 am

    Hmmm – “diversity” sure means something different to me than it appears to mean to others – I thought “diversity” meant a melting pot – intermixing races and classes. Now it looks like what it really means is making sure that minorities stay in their “traditional black neighborhoods”. It would seem to me that one of the things that have held minorities (of all sorts – Italians, Irish, etc. over the years – remember, 150 years ago, it wasn’t unusual to see help wanted ads that stated “Irish need not apply”) back was their concentration in a single area creating ethnic enclaves. It was only when they started moving out of those enclaves and mixing with the majority that they started to become assimilated and accepted – their values and behavior started to merge what was accepted by the majority community and the majority would become more comfortable with them. Consequently, isn’t the dispersion of black families into the community actually a good thing?

    Of course, I guess there always will be a certin group of guilt-ridden liberals who insist on their city having a minority zoo that they can boast about visiting for pasta/ham hocks/falafal/tacos/etc. when their friends from the east coast come out. But I guess I’m just unfashionable.

  16. Jim Bob (unregistered) on June 21st, 2006 @ 10:29 am

    “Consequently, isn’t the dispersion of black families into the community actually a good thing?”

    Gee, one would think, but that Washington Post article sure didn’t make it sound like some black community members felt it was. Ask the longtime residents near N. Mississippi (who seem a bit cheesed off that white hipsters are moving in and jacking up the rent) if they’re happy about their “dispersion.” Make sure to use that exact word. Watch their faces light up.

    “Diversity in the city has rarely been a sign of a good neighborhood.”

    I beg to differ. Are you then saying Portland would be a better place if it were 100% white? When I visit friends in California, their neighborhoods are tons more diverse than anywhere in Portland. And it is honestly nice to see. Makes you feel like everyone is participating in society, rather than a chosen few.

    “The problem isn’t gentrification, the problem is the diversity of wealth.”

    And the solution to this is? In other words, you’re saying its not my fault I added economic pressure by making a purchase in a historically minority part of town, I don’t have to feel guilty, the whole system is messed up, and I am powerless to change it even one little bit. Sounds like you’re washing your hands of the problem to me…as Portland becomes ever whiter and whiter…

  17. Jim Bob (unregistered) on June 21st, 2006 @ 10:30 am

    Curious –

    Your use of the words “minority zoo” are a pretty poor choice…keep in mind, it’s black community members quoted in the article who seem concerned. Be sure to use the word “zoo” when referring to their neighborhood. See how that goes over…

  18. Banana Lee Fishbones (unregistered) on June 21st, 2006 @ 10:44 am

    So you’re telling me I do in fact need to not sell my house to anyone but a minority? Ok. So the struggling white couple who want to buy my house are somehow less deserving than the struggling black couple? Why? And does that work for everything? Should there be a push for local business to pay minorities 10% or 20% more so they can afford to stay? Should there be a moratorium on pulling over minority drivers who speed so they don’t have to pay the ticket? Should minority students have their grades padded so their parents don’t move to get them in a better school? I’m looking for a word here….oh yes. Ludicrous.

    Doing something for (or against) someone strictly based on their race is racism no matter how you slice it. And I’m not going to feel bad for black/latino/italian/asian/polkadot people who move away to get a nicer house for their dollar, or a better school. Are you going to lecture the minorities leaving that they are racially obligated to stay in city limits the way you’re telling me I have to sell to a minority? “Don’t you go to Gresham, you buy that house in Felony Flats! You stay here and be diverse!” As my dad would say, that dog won’t hunt.

    Maybe non-white and white alike are moving to the burbs for the same reasons, and even in the same sorts of numbers (affordability, for one). Until you can prove to me a significant number of minority house offers being rejected in favor of white ones, I’m still calling BS on it.

  19. Jim Bob (unregistered) on June 21st, 2006 @ 12:12 pm

    Banana Lee –

    I appreciate your response.

    I don’t have data to prove or disprove the pattern. All I know is, this article appeared in the Washington Post. It called us the whitest city in America. They seemed to have data and anecdotes to back that up. N. Portland used to have a lot more minorities. That is changing. Talk to the folks on N. Mississippi or just look around. It’s happening. The data will out.

    I’m not trying to lecture anyone. But I am saying – your economic decisions, and the economic decisions of others, are having the net effect of making Portland whiter, more boutique and more expensive. If you’re happy with that result, that’s fine with me. But we all have to live with the consequences.

    If you’ve never heard of a program to bring minorities more in line with the rest of the country, there’s a little program called “Affirmative Action” you may have heard about. Depending on who you ask, it worked well or it was a horrible failure. Also, white folks usually don’t see racism when asked in polls, while minorities perceive it much more acutely. Ask around if you don’t believe me! Quickly, before all the minorities leave Portland!

  20. DIVEBARWIFE (unregistered) on June 21st, 2006 @ 1:59 pm

    Jim Bob –
    No one disputes that Portland is getting whiter. I just think some of us wonder why we should be faulted for it…or have to say ‘no – we’re happy withthe results of becoming whiter – we don’t value diversity.’

    You stated:
    “But I am saying – your economic decisions, and the economic decisions of others, are having the net effect of making Portland whiter, more boutique and more expensive. If you’re happy with that result, that’s fine with me. But we all have to live with the consequences.”

    Why is it neccessarily OUR (the white people’s) decisions that are making Portland whiter? Could you not toss it back and say that it’s THEIR (the non-whites) decisions that are doing this?

    We didn’t drive into the NE, find a home we liked and that was owned by a black person and think “gee – maybe we can get them to sell” and then go knock on the door and say “we would like to buy your house – would you please move to the suburbs – you can get more for your money there you know.”

    She decided to move. She decided – for whatever reason – that she didn’t want to live there anymore. We just bought a house that was for sale – sans any sort of bidding war where we usurped a minority couple with our wads of cash.

    So really, wasn’t it HER decision, that is “making Portland whiter, more boutique and more expensive?”
    Or should she have refused to sell to us because we are white?

  21. Jim Bob (unregistered) on June 21st, 2006 @ 2:30 pm

    Divebarwife –

    I appreciate your response.

    Someone is only at fault if someone perceives a slight has been committed. If you don’t perceive any slight, then in your eyes, no fault has been committed. But others might disagree…

    I’m just trying to point out that people say one thing and often do another. Yes, whites often say they “value diversity” while taking economic actions (through strict zoning, NIBMYism and bidding up houses in “hot” urban neighborhoods) that have the net effect, intended or not, of reducing diversity. Similarly, non-whites often say they want to preserve “historic non-white neighborhoods,” yet sell to the highest (often white) bidder.

    So both sides are at “fault” if you will – again, if you perceive a “fault” being committed. I’m not sure I do. I’m just trying to speak to the article which clearly quoted SOME community members, both white and non-white, expressing frustration, bafflement and confusion at the changing face of neighborhoods whilst throwing around the word “gentrification.”

    There are certainly SOME in Portland – no doubt even in the Mayor’s office and in City Government – who say they value “diversity.” Yet, if you press them on what specific policies they would advocate to ensure that diversity is preserved within Portland’s city limits, I doubt they’d have much of an answer. “Low income housing” is thrown around a lot, but clearly it’s a drop of water against a growing (white) desert.

    Again, if you’re happy in an all-white Portland, so be it. It’s just going to be hard to convince any outside observer that you do indeed “value diversity” when all the people in your neighborhood look pretty much the same as you. Fair or unfair, but that’s the way it will look to some. But I bet a lot of you who look down on your Red State brethren (you know who you are) don’t take the time to realize they live in neighborhoods and cities that are a lot more diverse than lily-white Portland.

  22. outsider (unregistered) on June 21st, 2006 @ 4:51 pm

    Jim Bob, while your point is somewhat valid in highlighting the conflict between stated values and personal behavior, the implication you make is that people who don’t “put their money where their mouth is” are hypocritical or self-unaware, whether you mean to make it or not (I don’t think you do).

    I too value diversity, but how to promote diversity in your personal choices?

    I value diversity, but will I give diversity a higher value than schools, location to work and recreation, neigbhorhood aesthetics, etc.. when I choose to move?


    WIll I purposely avoid buying a house from a “diverse” owner in order not to decrease diversity in a neighborhood if that house happens to be the best for my family?


    When choosing friends will I rank the color of a person’s skin greater than that person’s personality or interests or sense of humor?


    As another white person planning to move to Portland and bringing my family to make it even more white, I give diversity a very low value in and of itself relative to the recreational, entertainment, educational, financial, and urban planning aspects of a place.

    I currently live in Atlanta, which is very diverse if you take the city as a whole ( 55-60% African American within the city), but the interesting thing is that the middle and upper class African Americans have chosen to live in African American suburban communities complete with their own golf courses, country clubs, gyms, Whole Food stores etc…

    Personal choice trumps diversity every time, and it should, and every home sale contributing to gentrification is simply two people choosing where and where not to live. To freight it with much more meaning than that just results in the kind of liberal hand wringing the article highlights.

  23. Steve (unregistered) on June 26th, 2006 @ 7:00 pm

    This is a bit of a tangant…How would a less diverse city that was nearly all white have a negative effect on that community/town/city?

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