Portland: How do I love thee? Let me count the ways!

I’m a big fan of Portland. Some readers (ahem) may mistake my frequent critiques of public policy in Portland as hatred. But if I didn’t love my city, I wouldn’t give a damn about bad policy, or devote all the countless hours I do to civic involvement.

Of course, there are two sides to every story, but today I’m giving you the rosier side (pun intended). This is adapted from a post I started last spring, when I was seriously considering leaving Portland because of the shameful inequity in our public schools. The original title was “Ugly Beauty.” I never published it, and today I give you the “Beauty” side of things, with all the ugliness stripped out.

Portland is set in a picturesque river valley, where the Willamette River flows into the Columbia, just west of the spectacular Columbia River Gorge. Downtown Portland lies between the Tualatin Mountains (a branch of the Oregon Coast Range, also known as the west hills) and the Willamette River. It is a thriving business district that has defied the national trend of death by suburbs.

Our year-round growing season means year-round greenery. My garden never stops producing.

There are ten bridges, some of them quite old and mechanically interesting, and at least one of them quite lovely, spanning the Willamette within Portland’s city limits.

On clear days, the glaciated peak of Mt. Hood looms over southeast Portland, and the often ash plume-belching Mt. St. Helens shines to the north. In a drive of a couple hours, you can find yourself at the rugged Oregon coast, hiking in the ancient forest, soaking in a natural hot spring, or scaling the heights of (or skiing down) one of several volcanoes.

In many ways, Portland really is “The City That Works”. We have a growing light rail transit system, and a commuter rail project in the works. The bus system is efficient; its fleet modern. The Multnomah County Library system is phenomenal. I mean fantastic! We have great parks and green spaces. For a city of this size, Portland is remarkably bike and pedestrian friendly. Our urban growth boundary keeps the metro area compact and commute times reasonable.

There is a large and vocal progressive and radical community in Portland. George H.W. Bush referred to Portland as “Little Beirut” because of the massive and rowdy protests that erupted when he visited in the ’90s. I was proud to be part of those crowds.

There is great espresso, micro-brewed beer and hydroponic marijuana in great abundance. The combination movie theater/brew pub was invented here. We have our own wine country just down the road, producing some of the world’s finest Pinot Noir.

We have a professional symphony, ballet and opera, and many professional theatre companies. We have many first-rate performance halls, from opera- and symphony-sized on down to tiny studio spaces. There is a great international film festival every year, and a thriving independent film community.

We have an NBA team, a WHL (Canadian Major Junior) hockey team, a AAA baseball team, and a pro soccer team. The international airport is conveniently located, and accessible by light rail. The summers are perfect, with warm-to-hot days and cool, breezy nights.

Outside of the very central core, Portland is a bucolic expanse of neighborhoods, dotted with a variety of vibrant business districts. There is a remarkable assortment of 100-year-old housing stock, much of it well preserved or rehabilitated, and very little urban decay. You can eat to your heart’s content from the local taqueria to the latest haute cuisine darling of the New York Times.

In short, Portland offers many of the benefits of a much larger city, with much of the charm and livability of a small town.

So when you hear me criticizing public policy in Portland, keep in mind that it comes from a place of love.

13 Comments so far

  1. McAngryPants (unregistered) on January 24th, 2008 @ 4:27 pm

    P.S., Gresham sucks

  2. Steve (unregistered) on January 24th, 2008 @ 4:36 pm

    Come on, McAngry! This post is all love and light! (I was going to end the post with “Hug it out, bitch,” but I was afraid 1) people wouldn’t get the reference and 2) people would find it out of character for me to use a pop culture reference.)

  3. Nolando (unregistered) on January 24th, 2008 @ 5:00 pm

    Gosh, thanks for starting by telling us all how mistaken we are about you then proceed to spell out every item we’ve all mistaken. Now we have a road map, or a legend – thanks!

  4. dieselboi (unregistered) on January 24th, 2008 @ 5:03 pm

    I actually think the “Hug it out, Bitch” would have worked. Awhile back, we got a reference in WWeek of “Blog it out, Bitch.”

  5. sabernar (unregistered) on January 24th, 2008 @ 5:09 pm

    Ah, all the reasons why I’m moving to Portland in 2 months.

  6. Wacky Mommy (unregistered) on January 24th, 2008 @ 6:10 pm

    “Blog it out, Bitch!” heh that’s funny. I (heart) Portland, too. It’s been a 43-year love affair so far.

  7. CPMCD2000 (unregistered) on January 24th, 2008 @ 6:50 pm

    Awww… what a wonderful post!

    Portland is really that good… but its the people who bust their ass to keep it that way.

    Keep it up guys. Make it better yet!

    Rock on…

  8. Brandon (unregistered) on January 25th, 2008 @ 10:53 am

    Steve, this town could use more critics. We’re overstocked on “yes men”-types devoted to speaking its praises. Not having enough people around to question authority has led to, well, the current situation up on Pill Hill, for example. Hooray for tough love!

  9. Devlyn (unregistered) on January 25th, 2008 @ 11:53 am

    I am always up for hearing criticisms of PDX, especially because of the feeling of circle-jerking in most PDX blogs, etc. I do love it here, and it’s the best city I’ve been in, but like every other city (and every person), she could use a little work. ^_^

  10. Steve (unregistered) on January 25th, 2008 @ 1:06 pm

    The Portland blogosphere is full of people who are passionately credulous about everything that goes on here. I have no idea what they think they’ll gain by kissing ass like that.

    Most of the criticism you hear about public policy comes from libertarians and right-wingers who are basically irrelevant in the actual policy discussions (that’s not a slam, just an observation about the reality of the situation).

    So when someone criticizes, say, a “transportation” project like the tram or streetcar that doesn’t solve any identifiable transportation problem, all the libertarians jump up and down and scream about the evils of funding any kind of mass transit.

    Just look at Jack Bog’s blog. A casual reader would be forgiven for assuming, based on the preponderance of commenters, that he’s a libertarian. (I’m pretty sure he’s a centrist Democrat.)

  11. sabernar (unregistered) on January 25th, 2008 @ 2:24 pm

    Every city has it’s bad points, but Portland really seems to have more good points and fewer bad points than most cities. I agree that people shouldn’t just gloss over or ignore a city’s shortcomings, but I also don’t think that a city’s shortcomings should be overblown.

  12. Jack Bog (unregistered) on January 25th, 2008 @ 6:41 pm

    Steve, great post. Don’t forget our local producers of distilled spirits, great wineries a short drive away, excellent farmer’s markets, love of literature, brilliant musicians, a passionate blogosphere…

  13. Steve (unregistered) on January 25th, 2008 @ 8:16 pm

    I did mention wine and music, but neglected the great local organic produce and lit scene. And see my comment above for my take on the blogosphere, specifically re. the kind of comments that your critique of public policy brings.

    I haven’t actually tried any of the local spirits (HRD not withstanding). I guess I’m pretty happy with Grey Goose.

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