False Idols in the Curated City: 4 Rules for Talking About Gentrification in Portland

Some years ago, two dudes from Virginia came to visit Oregon. When they returned home, they gave such a glowing report about the region that many of the people they told decided to check out the area for themselves. One by one they began moving to the Willamette Valley, and they brought with them their own sensibilities about what the Pacific Northwest should look like. Although the change was gradual, within a few decades, the native inhabitants of this picturesque locale came to realise that the place they called home was not their home, anymore.

But anyways. Enough about Lewis & Clark.

The Original Hipsters. Ascots are so in, this year. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Original Hipsters. Ascots were really in, that year. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

I chose to start this article with that anecdote partially because I thought it was clever, and partially because I think it’s important to acknowledge that any conversation about gentrification in Portland must first concede that socioeconomic displacement is both an age-old problem and one that has affected other communities with far greater detriment than it has the City of Roses. (Also, Louisiana Purchase jokes aside, we must also admit that the United States’ treatment of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest was a great deal worse than simple gentrification.  And if you think that was only a nineteenth century problem, I want you to stop reading this article right now and  go look up Celilo Falls. Go ahead. I’ll wait.) I’m very cognizant of all these facts… but I’m from Portland, so write what you know, right?

Recently, Tyler Hurst wrote a somewhat hubristic op-ed for Willamette Week (“I’m Sorry You Hate My Apartment, I Think It’s Nice”) and voluntarily turned himself into a lightning rod for people’s opinions about gentrification and hipster entitlement (both real and perceived) in Portland. Which got me thinking about my own experiences in The Curated City.

Thirty odd years ago, at Providence Portland Hospital, I was born into that most august and respected of orders: The Portland Native. My mother is a California transplant (slow your roll, she’s been here longer than most of you have been alive); my step-father was lifelong Oregonian. I spent the first quarter-century of my life on the Eastside, before eventually migrating to Beaverton to be closer to work – and an apartment I could afford. I still consider myself to be a Portlander at heart; after all, I write this blog, and I make my way into the city to visit friends or go to shows more nights than not.

These days, Portland Natives are becoming a rare commodity indeed – at least within the city limits. When I go out, one of my friends likes to introduce me thusly: “You guys, you gotta meet Yume. He’s ACTUALLY FROM HERE.” (cue oohs and ahhs from whoever I’m being introduced to) While I enjoy being a novelty of sorts, my acceptance of the Native mantle belies my deep ambivalence about this city and what it’s becoming.

My own experience with gentrification isn’t entirely theoretical. My childhood neighborhood (Concordia) and its once-plentiful street parking began falling prey to the hand of redevelopment years ago. I’ve watched my beloved Eastside become progressively less and less recognizable and I’ve seen gridlock spread its tendrils over practically every stretch of asphalt in the city. When I hear about the latest Barpocalypse closures, to me it’s simply the newest entry in an endless saga rather than some new, shocking tragedy. And I feel something akin to despair when I drive past the Craftsman homes I loved so much and dreamed of owning as a youth and realise that I couldn’t even afford to rent one, now.

“Alright, now look into waaay off in the distance. On a good day, you can see affordable housing.”

More than that, though, I’ve watched with increasing frustration as housing prices throughout the Metro area skyrocket and Portland sacrifices more and more affordable parking while spending billions on what sometimes can seem like an increasingly self-serving transit system. (Oh, we’re spending $130 million on a mass transit bridge that’ll take you from one already-gentrified part of the city to another, rapidly-gentrifying area? Cool cool cool.)

Forget affording to live in Portland – Charlie Hales doesn’t seem to want my middle-class suburban ilk to come visit or spend money in his city, anymore. It’s good that we’re at least paying lip-service (though perhaps little else) to increasing the amount of low-income housing in the city, but there’s no spokesperson for the middle-class, here, and there’s nowhere for us to go, except another 10 more stops down the Blue Line. I understand the economics of urban growth and I’m not saying that it’s anyone’s fault that Portland is becoming a rich kid’s town. But it still stings. When I look at this city, I see not a land of opportunity, but rather a homeland I’ll never be able to afford to return to.

And yet… I freaking love this city, man. And I’ll freely admit that a lot of that has been the product gentrification. The preponderance of my friends these days are transplants, and they’re all pretty awesome individuals. (Presumably no one ever says to themselves, “Oh yeah, I hear Portland is full of assholes – let’s move there!”) I don’t feel like I have to lock my car doors when I drive down Killingsworth, anymore, and while time hasn’t been kind to many of the city’s beloved institutions as of late, we also tend to forget that Portland’s version of yuppie living used to be shopping at Fred Meyers and availing yourself of one of the many fine chain restaurants that dotted the landscape. I remember my parents saying stuff like, “Where do you want to go to dinner tonight? Izzy’s? Or should we be fancy and go to Sizzler?” Recently, I discovered that there’s still an Arctic Circle in Newport, and when I posted a photo of it on social media, my native-born friends lost their collective sh**. But as much as it was a nostalgic moment for all, I actually ate there and well… let’s just say that I don’t think All-Way and Little Big Burger have anything to worry about.

Pictured: Authentic Portland Dining, circa 1985

Pictured: Authentic Portland Dining, circa 1985

I get why people are upset about Portland’s changing demographics, but I also understand why transplants get tired of apologizing for why they, you know, exist.

So I’m conflicted. I get why people are upset about Portland’s changing demographics, but I also understand why transplants get tired of apologizing for why they, you know, exist. (As Kanye would say, “That’s a pretty bad way to start the conversation.”) And I don’t pretend to have all (or any) of the answers to the challenges that the Portland Metro area in the coming years. But I would like to propose a few basic ground rules for talking about Gentrification in Portland that might at least help facilitate the conversation and/or reduce the number of insufferable Op-Ed pieces from jerks like me that you have to read on the subject.

 1. Stop accepting things simply because they’re less crappy than where you came from.

There is, I think, a tendency among Portland’s non-native population to turn a blind eye to our problems because they’re objectively not as bad as where you may have lived before. Traffic is nothing compared to Los Angeles. Housing prices are nothing compared to San Francisco. Crime is nothing compared to Chicago. Racial tensions are nothing compared to Baltimore. These are valid statements, but they’re tracking the wrong metrics. The question isn’t whether or not Portland sucks as much as the cities you wanted to leave, it’s whether or not Portland is getting worse. If I come over to your house and pee on your living room rug, then explain to you that it’s not as bad as the last living room I peed in, that’s probably going to be small comfort to you. It tied the room together, you know? If we get too complacent about these things, it’s only a matter of time before Portland becomes unrecognizable from all the places you wanted to leave in the first place.

2. Stop pretending that things are “Authentically Portland.”
Stop pretending aesthetic authenticity is necessarily important.

Recently, Doug Fir Lounge ran an ad in Portland Monthly touting themselves as “Pure Portland.” Now, I love Doug Fir, but I did not particularly love that ad, because it’s not really true. Although DF’s log walls and Parks & Rec-esque backdrops have been around for a while now, it doesn’t look much like anything I remember from my childhood, nor do any of the “quintessentially Portland” spots that are on Portland Must Visit lists. Most of these places are an artist’s rendition of what people THINK Portland should look like (usually informed by their own New York / Los Angeles / Chicago sensibilities), and they’re about as authentic as grocery store Chinese food.

Contrary to popular belief, not everything in Portland was made with logs.

Contrary to popular belief, not everything in Portland was made with logs.

And that’s completely OK. A truly “authentic” Portland bar would probably have a name like “McFlintys” or “Ginny’s Too” and come decked out with laminate countertops, aging fluorescent lights, a robust selection of domestic taps, and as many video poker machines as you can physically fit into one building. You know what else is “authentically Portland”? Chain restaurants and a history of institutionalized racism that we don’t like to talk about. So maybe we can agree to stop referring to anything that’s full of unfinished wood and salvaged wrought-iron as “authentic” if we can agree that authenticity in its current aesthetic usage isn’t all that important.

3. Start being cognizant of what gentrification costs.

One of my friends recently purchased a “fixer” off of Northeast Alberta. He was raving about what a nice, hip neighborhood it was, but he blanched a little when I pointed out that the Alberta Arts district’s rapid growth had pushed out many lower-income families that had lived there just five or ten years earlier. Like many young towns, Portland has a short memory, and many people who are moving to up-and-coming neighborhoods don’t realise that the eminently walkable paradises they inhabit were once home to now-displaced low-income and/or African American households, many of whom had already been forcibly moved less than a half a century earlier by the Vanport Flood, the construction of Memorial Coliseum and Lloyd Center, and the building of Interstate 84.

The cost of living in Portland is a little like going to a funeral for a relative you never met: it’s not your fault and no one’s asking you to feel bad about it, but try to be sympathetic

So before you start dropping Marie Antoinette-esque bon mots like “Sorry (your home) isn’t worth talking and making videos about” (*cough* Tyler Hurst *cough*), remember that while years of regionally-adjusted salaries in other cities may make living in Portland seem pretty affordable, it’s small comfort for people whose rents have gone up in 100% in the past decade. The cost of living in Portland is a little like going to a funeral for a relative you never met: it’s not your fault and no one’s asking you to feel bad about it, but try to be sympathetic, at least.

4. Start figuring out what’s worth saving.

We can’t turn back the tide of gentrification in this city. Affordable housing and socioeconomic diversity are going extinct in this town as quickly as parking on the waterfront or businesses founded before the year 2000, and there’s very little that any of us can do about that. The levee has burst. (Although we probably have plenty of new tax levies to look forward to. HEYO.) What we can, do, though, is enter into a conversation about what makes Portland so uniquely “Portland” (more than just aesthetically) and about what’s worth preserving, here. We should be talking about what businesses are worth fighting to save and what shreds of Portland’s character we should tighten our grip on. Ask yourself: what are the things you want to carry to your post-Barpocalypse fallout shelter? If you’re a transplant to this town, ask yourself: what made you fall in love with this city in the first place? If you’re a native, ask yourself: what made you stay? Now ask yourself if those values are being eclipsed by Portland’s transition to a “big city.”

If you’re a transplant to this town, ask yourself: what made you fall in love with this city in the first place? If you’re a native, ask yourself: what made you stay?

I know what my own answer would be. For me, Portland’s sleek apartment buildings, glittering restaurants and meticulously-curated retail shops are all beautiful but ultimately false idols. The Portland I fell in love with was not an insular yupster enclave, but rather a vibrant, robust, slightly-rough-around-the-edges community full of the ideals of our frontier-town roots: innovation, rugged individualism and boundless optimism. Even more than its native citizenry, Portland’s truly non-renewable resource is its own sense of self. And I hope we can all agree that’s something worth holding onto.

UPDATE: For the follow-up to this article, check out the cover story we wrote for Portland Mercury.

67 thoughts on “False Idols in the Curated City: 4 Rules for Talking About Gentrification in Portland

  1. In the 60s there was a tongue in cheek group called the James G. Blaine society, named after the 1884 presidential candidate who never stepped foot in Oregon. Wikipedia article here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_G._Blaine_Society. I liked the sentiment then when Portland was really a small town trying to wear big city clothes. Now I understand the arguments but have enjoyed watching the growth. Pain and all.

  2. Dude, incredible. Yes.

    Regarding #2: I think a lot of people (including myself) muddle the aesthetic “truly Portland” signifiers with the intent behind them, even those who share the values you talk about in your last paragraph.

    Example: Doug Fir doesn’t look like Portland to me. The Watertrough Saloon, the B-Side, the Clinton Street Pub – those remind me of the Portland I loved so much it tore me away from North Carolina. I still make the same kinds of aesthetic judgments you mention, though.

    It’s not just because those places are shittier-looking (or in most cases, older) than Doug Fir; it’s because those places feel like social equalizers.

    Egalitarianism one of those values I wish we could not just preserve, but magnify. (Speaks to #3.)

  3. I’m a 6-year transplant and you speak my mind in saying, “I fell in love with was not an insular yupster enclave, but rather a vibrant, robust, slightly-rough-around-the-edges community full of the ideals of our frontier-town roots: innovation, rugged individualism and boundless optimism.”

    This was a city I wanted to be a part of. It was a place I wanted to share my talents with.

    I’ll still stay and god help you if you tell me you moved here because it was cheap. Portland is/was the richest place on Earth.

  4. Unfortunately—and I’m allowed, I think, to start off on an ironically pessimistic note (read: foreshadowing of forthcoming optimism), as a California transplant (at 2 years old) and someone who’s yet to have lived in Stump/Jump/HUMPtown for even three years (but I’ve got a good list of also liveds; ‘read on, Lizzy, read on!’)—the question should be more than what we* (*the [enterprising] middle class who can still or, even more provocatively and excitingly, can NEWly afford to live in the city–hi; we’re the ones driving the prices up and believe me most of us aren’t truly “rich” by most any standard, anywhere–I drive a 2010 Prius because that’s what I can afford and I did the math in 2013, when I bought it, to deduce that it was the optimal investment in personalized transportation given my anticipated means) want to preserve, it should be what are we okay with “preserving” (inevitably yupsterizing) AND what new cultures do we want to continue creating? I promised a good list, so here it is… 1982-1984: Nevada City, CA; 1985: Wonder, OR; 1985: Rogue River, OR; 1985-2000: unincorporated blue collar industrial “Green District”between Roseburg, OR and Winston, OR (RHS class of 2000 for any locals wondering if I went to the same high school as Troy Polamalu and more famously (in the future) Barra Brown (of Barra Brown Quintet and other some day iconic Portland jazz fusion bands)–Douglas High School–or the other, far larger high school in the “City”…I went big before going daily south to home); 2000-2003: Eugene, OR ( UO undergrad); 2003: middle-class version of the traditional “grand tour” of Europe for two months in the summer—financed by summer job savings, excess scholarship funds and Citi: 17 cities large and small, Eurorail pass, giant backpack and a functional understanding of American English plus some German (which was useless as most Germans could speak English better than I could…though Roseburg was and is still a lovely ‘place to raise your kids, [though], in fact it’s [provincial] as hell’); 2004: Kyoto, Japan (study abroad); 2005: Hong Kong SAR, China (UO-HKU grad exchange program); 2006-7: Eugene, OR (working for real on various projects aimed at increasing the urbanism of that amazingly suburban town); 2008-12: London, UK (I got a job there pre-recession and held on to it for dear life for five years—learning more about urbanism and how to “curate” it); 2013: Perth, Australia (my wife got a short term gig and I needed a break to recover from London?burnout mode, and why not really learn to surf in waters you can stay in for more than 15 mins without a wetsuit); 2013-now: Portland, OR, USA. What does this mean (if you actually suffered through the list)? It means that I feel as at home in Portland as anyone else: I’m an Oregon kid (I grew up here) who managed to get out and try some worldly clothes on (there are a surprising number of us, actually—rural Oregon is well represented internationally, in percapita terms… maybe Ken Kesey’s aura drifts through the hundred valleys of the Rogue, Coquille, Umpqua and southern Willamette watersheds like the interminable winter fog, inspiring an unusually critical foundation among seemingly humble roots) and then came back. I couldn’t come back to Roseburg or Eugene, though—they were and really are too small. Portland was the perfect hybrid of small, slowly decaying Oregon industrial town and large, quickly growing Pacific Northwest uber-literate little big [city]. It is the place that, although I never lived here until recently, I feel viscerally justified in expressing myself in–whether it be in an uber-self-conscious (but unusually useful and interesting) forum like this one, experimenting with new cultural forms and formats like uber-industrial-gritty-chic, punk-anti-punk, vintage-anti-vintage “creative office” space concepts in Central Eastside, writing lyrics from the gut for and with afore-mentioned future jazz legends on a bench in the North Park Blocks, maintaining multiple avatars online and sometime in person, of varying musical, astrological and sexual preferences and talking openly and honestly with immigrants who came from the other side of the world (and who typically are politely interested but viscerally could give a crap about this whole discussion so long as they and their children can make s decent living) in uber cabs proliferating in a central city neighborhood near you (or enjoying that NPR has become the default station for local Car2Go vehicles, though fellow holders of the black special edition card will remember when it was some pop station the music of which none of my avatars are even conscious of). So, yeah, for me it’s uber visceral–this is my city too and I’m going to make things here. I admire the past but I also look forward to the future. And the reality of modern physics tells us presently that nothing stays the same; it always changes and as soon as someone consciously apprehends that something “old” is dying and cries out for it to be “preserved”, it’s already dead. Your article is its obituary. Rather than reminiscing like “old” people no longer gainfully employed or employing, let’s build this city on a rock and roll of our own polyphonic, uber-literate, weird and anti-weird choosing and instead of cacophony, appreciate that reclaimed wood siding and up-cycled wrought iron is cool, if aesthetically trendy. It connects to two fundamental aspects of the economic history of this place; that’s why we architects who think of and write about shit like that love the stuff. It is Portland, then and now, only while before perhaps [we] were a little less literate or conscious or both, now we might be a little too. And I’m okay with that. I actually want to push it even farther, higher and faster. Believe me, the rest of the living, breathing, productive world (versus the nostalgic world) is doing the same and if we slow down, [we] risk falling behind in a way our grandchildren might regret more than paying for the social security I’m not planning to depend on. That’s why we’re submitting proposals for massive new affordable housing projects paired with early years learning institutions in the remaining underdeveloped plots in the Pearl at the same time we’re designing stuff that outdoes Skylab (if more overtly culturally and historically cognizant, IMHO) on NE Killingsworth and beyond. A better challenge than building more rental housing though, is helping displaced renting families find pathways to ownership. And we’re trying to do that too, although it does inevitably mean there will be losers as well as winners (unless Hales and Co add a zero to their present commitment, mirror the “2” about the x-axis and drop the tail). Other cities, that may actually be better in many respects than Portland—more history, more diversity, more parks and open space, more luminaries in the arts, more and better food, more cultures, etc—like London, for example, can show us a way. They do it all–super high end dormitories for bankers that may f*** us again soon cheek by jowl with affordable housing, transitional housing, “intermediate rent” and subsidized pathway to ownership housing. They even mix these all together in the same building! Imagine that, a Bangladeshi immigrant family with eight children living next to a junior associate banker at Barclays who has a new Ferrari parked in the automated stacker parking garage under the building. It’s real… in Hackney, Whitechapel and Shadwell. And it sounds very “Portland” to me. To sum up, that’s because to me, being “Portland” is just like being left coast “Oregon”. It’s London mixed with Breitenbush. In London, people are smart. They have to be to make it there. And at Breitenbush, everyone is welcome. And I t’s not just “tolerance”–which is a bullshit term that seems to insidiously condone subtle racism and bigotry, it’s interest. I think and I want Portland to be the place where everyone is interested in everyone else. I want to know what you bring to the table–good, bad and ugly. And then we’ll see how and where I can help you grow and adapt and prosper and you can do the same for me. And I’m ready to listen, as soon as I stop talking… so, please, continue [Portland], continue. Don’t lose your vital self-criticism, but neither lose your bold individualism and unabashed reinvestment of whatever “wealth” flows from it. Satirize the cheerleader while leading the cheer. Be the transgendered city of the future. From every new, good, durable thing, old, cheaper good things eventually come. Intel and even Nike may not last forever, but brick buildings in Belmont and Kenton and Hollywood and Nob Hill have lasted a while, and they’ll survive plenty of recessions and relative rent declines in the future. Let’s build more of that and continue to build ADUs and attic and basement apartments in between on the century old Craftsman landscape. That way more people can move in, and there will be more to be interested in.

    1. Holy smokes man. I can’t believe I actually read your comment in its entirety, but it was really fascinating. I particularly enjoyed this part, which resonated for sure:

      “So, yeah, for me it’s uber visceral–this is my city too and I’m going to make things here. I admire the past but I also look forward to the future. And the reality of modern physics tells us presently that nothing stays the same; it always changes and as soon as someone consciously apprehends that something “old” is dying and cries out for it to be “preserved”, it’s already dead. Your article is its obituary.”

    2. Parts of this were good, but hyper-verbal architects who are high on change and the work it can give them, are not necessarily the muses of a good city. At the intersection of old natives and new migrants is the idea of a “sense of place” and a real sense of place takes time and care and it is hurt by hyper-mobility and diversity for diversity’s sake. So, good things can come from people moving around and changing things, but good places are created when people stay and learn and appreciate that change is not just about building new stuff.

    3. (clapping) well said man! I’ve been reading alot of whining about change, while I have enjoyed watching Portland have vision, start enacting it, and find it has attracted growth and youth…. I’m proud of what Portland has done so far, and sure we have more to do, but I have alot of hope we will do it well. Its like you said, change is life.

  5. I grew up on 18th and Alberta during the 80’s. It is a lot more expensive now, but it is also a million times nicer than it was when I lived there. 122nd and Powell is now a lot like Alberta was during the 80’s. If you’re hankering for old time PDX. you can always move there. East Portland has the added benefit of also being quite affordable.

  6. I liked Doug Fir more when it was an abandoned Chinese restaurant and occasional underground rock club. Not to say that I haven’t been to plenty of rock shows at the Doug Fir. That whole area of Burnside was trashed back then. It’s much nicer now. I think ultimately people want Portland to stop in time at a place they liked it best, like 1999 or something. Anyway, well-written. I liked reading this. I was at Reel ‘M Inn a few weeks ago, and I think the bartender hinted that the lease will be up soon and good luck trying to hold on to that place. People will lose their shit when that happens. It’s not even an “if” anymore. I loved it here when it was a collection of small towns surrounding a CBD. Now it’s the same thing, but each little main street is becoming a small city instead of a small town. Still has the walkable/bikeable charm, just with a different veneer.

  7. Great piece. As a transplant from Seattle this is very relevant. Way too many commas up in here though.

  8. Portland has changed, but change is the law of life and those who look only to the past are certain to miss the future.

    My favorite Portland bar was started by a California transplant in an old auto repair shop that took advantage of me as a teenager. Portland is better for the change.
    My favorite Portland band was started by a Alaskan transplant.
    Portland is better for the change.
    My favorite restaurant was started by a California transplant.
    Portland is better for the change.
    My two best friends are transplants (California and Vermont)
    Portland is better for the change.

    The crappy Arctic Circle I went to as a kid is now a crappy Arby’s that I don’t go to as an adult.

    When most people talk about authentic Portland all they are talking about is the Portland of their youth. And while nostalgia can be fun it makes for bad city planing and public policy.


      1. Really more of a green person these days. I completely forgot the Old Gold was an auto repair shop.

    1. And so you don’t have a list of new things that have made “Portland is worse for the change?” or are bars, bands and restaurants your only measures of a city’s value?

      For example:
      We have to drive over 30 minutes before finding real farmland on the way to the coast. Portland is worse for the change.
      Pheasant (non-natives) used to fly over Hwy 217 in the afternoons; now they don’t. Portland is worse for the change.
      We are paying higher taxes for mass transport and DEQ stations than before just to keep up with the stress of more people traveling. Portland is worse for the change.

      You don’t have to be a cynical, provincial Oregonian to at least be aware that not everything gets better because you like Doug Fir burgers better than Arctic Circle burgers.

      1. Having to pay taxes for services is not unique to Portland, Nor is it a very original compliant.
        I can’t truly speak to portlands dwindling in flight pheasant population, but we do have more goats now.
        And I’m not even sure of what your complaint of the lack of farmland on the way to the beach has to do with Portland.

        Cities tend either grow or die. I for one am glad that Porrland is not Detroit.

  9. I grew up in the Cully neighborhood in the 60s. That makes me a 55-year-old PDX native. Heck, I was even born at the medical school where my dad was a student (he then got expelled but that’s a whole OTHER story…) Anyway, in spite of mass gentrification in inner north, northeast and southeast, some neighborhoods have slid far and Cully is one such neighborhood – as the displaced low-income folks are driven outward.

    Anyway, it was a daily ritual for my brother and I to walk to the neighborhood mom & pop for penny candy or dine at Circus Burger. Back then Portland was about local businesses like Pals Shanty, Yaws, Nicks Coney Island – places like that.

    These locally owned stalwarts are fast disappearing and that is what makes me the saddest. I couldn’t care less about the hipster scene.

    1. What are Old Salt Market, Pollo Norte, or Delphina’s Bakery if not locally owned business in the cully neighborhood?

      1. Of course they are… but the businesses I mentioned were around for decades and decades and were woven into the fabric of the city. That’s all I meant. That original city flavor is disappearing and a new one is emerging. I’m not trying to indicate that there still aren’t local businesses!

  10. God you’re a fucking sell out, disgusting, just leave now, I cannot even believe you have the audacity to call yourself a native, I literally threw up in my mouth when I read your RW drivel!

    What made Portland great wasn’t RW talking points about “rugged individualism” it was our provincialism, suspicion of outsiders and their motivations, an aversion to the cultural trends of materialism, and individualism that are the calling card of todays transplants. We kept the rich people out with our “anti business” policies, and we enjoyed a city where blue collar folks could enjoy a good quality of life.

    That’s whats really being lost, one of the last few places in the country where poor, working and middle class people could enjoy a good quality of life, and you’re welcoming our rich usurpers with open arms

    1. You’re forgetting about the Donation Land Claim Act of 1850. You’re as much a “native” to this land as I am, and I’m from Michigan. Stupid racist fuck.

      1. Right because you’re a “racist” if you don’t love whats happening to Portland today thanks to an influx of transplants…..you people have to go back to the 18th century to make excuses for ruining my home town, and I find that hilarious

    2. First of all, what do you mean by “you people”? Second, 1850 was in the 19th century, dipshit. Yes, racist. So-called “native Portlanders” are deeply ingrained with a prejudice, irrational xenophobia. What’s happening to your hometown? Translation: You want to keep Portland as white as possible.

  11. Yep. I fell for the same sorts of things in 2007 or so.

    And I’m sorry to say it, but our only prayer for keeping it that way is to build lots and lots of new, more densely constructed homes for rich people to move into, or else they’ll spend their money bidding me out of my apartment, and then I’ll spend my money bidding someone poorer out of theirs, and so on.

    Housing supply isn’t the only solution we need, but it’s the most important thing we’re failing to do fast enough.

    1. The pace of building is such that it’s really freaking people out these days. What they might not consider is this isn’t today’s building boom, it’s the building boom that covers today and the last seven or eight years of economic depression when the financing dried up for new buildings. So the demand was pent up for quite some time. Now that the growth is happening, people are shocked, and trying to put the brakes on at the design and permit processes. I wouldn’t way that we’re failing to do it fast enough, things are moving along just fine now. But it will take as many years as were lost in the downturn to get to the level Portland should be at now.

  12. These patterns are happening all over the US. Cities rise and fall and shift. They have for centuries. What is ‘new’ is an increased awareness of loss (subjective) which really began with the rise of interest in historic preservation (Penn Station), Civil Rights, and the financial downward slide of most Americans since the 1980s. Americans move constantly now – every five years on average – in search of money – and it changes demographics and identity. You find most major metropolitan areas are full of transplants. I also think the greatest culture shift has been the rise in the sense of entitlement – also beginning in the 1980s. The concept of gentrification is related to this in part. I left LA after 20 years feeling a sense of loss – only 20 years! Remember, ‘you can never go home.’ – Oh, and the traffic in Portland is worse than LA for sure.

  13. The reason I fell in love with Portland and chose to stay is because it is a place where people are not obsessed with money and/or power and/or consumerism. It was a place to escape the rat race that you see in just about every other part of the industrialized world. To me, THAT is what is worth keeping, but THAT is precisely what cannot survive in the nu-Portland, where the cost of living has outpaced local salaries. As a result, Portland will become increasingly defined by its population of ex-SFers and ex-NYCers who cannot go more than 2 minutes before inquiring as to what you do for a living and trying to peg you in the socio-economic pecking order they are accustomed to.

    In regards to the new apartment buildings, my biggest problem is the way they look. They aren’t outright terrible, but Portland deserved and could have done better. The new buildings look slightly cheap and same-y. Which is a shame, because any good Portlander should love the idea of environmentally-friendly LEED buildings, mixed-use zoning and street frontage that would make Jane Jacobs (RIP) swoon.

    Unrelated to my previous two paragraphs, everyone who has been here a while has at least one thing that is symbolic of everything that is wrong with the new Portland. The thing that makes me grit my teeth is seeing the ridiculous people in their ridiculous lines at Salt & Straw and Voodoo Donuts. When I think back to the way things were in the early 2000s when I moved here, that just seems so foreign to me.

    1. Um, we’re not obsessed with consumerism? Keep telling yourself that little lie. Because Last time I checked, the IKEA on 122nd is doing a booming business.

      1. Depends on what you consider “consumerism,” I guess, which is a very vague concept. My guess is he’s referring to the kind of consumerism where the price of your crap establishes your social value. IKEA doesn’t fit that mold in any way, shape or form. In fact, being caught shopping at IKEA would be social death. In some Portland circles, it is. Seventeen years ago, there weren’t all that many people rocking $200 selvedge bullshit and pretending that it’s all casual. And yet, that’s still a weak form of that sort of consumerism. Portland is a town of Subarus, not Benzes. Women don’t tend to get catty about $2000 purses around here. The socioeconomic pecking order remains along the lines of how LEED your house is or whether you have a master recycler in your friend circle.

  14. First, the fear of Californians. Then the fear of yuppies. Posers came in the 90s. And now it’s the hipsters and their lifestyle. What else to bitch about? Oh yeah, too much rain. Or not enough. Enjoy the ride Portlanders and lose the attitude.

    1. You lack perspective, Can Do. It is not bitching to tell the truth and complain about things that deserve complaint.

  15. The issue of gentrification/housing has come up in the last 4 major cities I’ve lived in: Milwaukee, San Diego, LA, and Portland. What people often fail to take into consideration is U.S. population increase. Since 1990 the population of the US has increased by over 70 million, and they expect it to go up another 80 million by 2040. That’s a ton of additional people who need a place to live, both since 1990 and looking forward in the next 25 years. On some level I feel like it’s a given that people are going to gravitate more to the cities that are the most attractive to live in. It’s not new, and not unique to Portland. It’s been happening all over since the country began. However at certain points, growing pains are worse than others, like when population exceeds what the existing infrastructure can handle (note traffic in Portland), and there are few places where infrastructure was designed to accommodate what the population of an area is now…or will be in 25 years. As long as population continues to increase, the most desirable cities are going to continue to change more and more rapidly, and max out the infrastructure, and we’ll continue to see more cities hit critical mass like New York, Los Angeles, and now San Francisco. Change is constant, whether we like it or not, and gentrification seems more like a surface issue, when compared to bigger picture issues like widening income gaps and lack of sustained maintenance/growth of infrastructure.

  16. | I pointed out that the Alberta Arts district’s rapid growth had pushed out many lower-income families that had lived there just five or ten years earlier.

    Can you explain exactly how a low income homeowner in Alberta was pushed out by rapid growth / gentrification?

    1. Low income renters have been pushed out. Low income homeowners are pretty thrilled with the neighborhoods transition.

      1. Not necessarily, not all of us home owners are money grubbing materialists, my home has increased in value some 25% since I purchased in 2011. But I didn’t buy the house to make money, I bought it because the neighborhood was populated with working class folks I respect and wish to live around, and had amenities which cater to my purchasing habits. Now we’re seeing working class bars torn down to make room for a New Seasons, and an influx of expensive boutiques and restaurants I’m not going to utilize. The traffic has almost doubled my commute time over the past 4 years, and I can see on the horizon a sea of overpriced condos populated by nasty yuppies. I guess its time to head East of 82nd if I want to remain in the Portland I like.

      2. 2011? Really 2011? If you bought a house in the Alberta arts district in 2011 you aren’t low income. And this whole post is about the change Portland has seen in the last 30 years, not the last 4. Portland is the same as it was 4 years ago.

    2. This has been going on for years. About fifteen years ago, probably even twenty, people started taking interest in the Alberta neighborhood (Alberta Arts? That’s funny, the “arts” would come a bit later.) The upsurge in interest and home sales and revitalization and home values pushed taxes up beyond affordability for a lot of people who were aging in place. A lot of families, already struggling financially, bought into the idea of selling their old homes, which they frankly were struggling to keep up, for cash at less than full value. All you had to do was see the signs on bus benches fifteen years ago and see the crazy flipping going. Values kept rising, taxes kept rising, homes needing maintenance found more city scrutiny. This led to a very rapid push out to the still-inexpensive areas east of I-205. Does that cover it for you, Trev?

      1. I moved to Alberta from California and bought a house that was being rented by people who happened to have been black, and old, but most importantly, should have had undergarments on. They pissed all over the house. If you have never seen/smelled the chemical change that happens to wood when it is repeatedly in contact with human urine, you would simply not believe it. A 1909 craftsman beauty was about to be destroyed and I swept in and saved it. I feel bad that they needed to find somewhere else to live. I was displaced by Silicon Valley people who probably feel far less compassion for me than I do for them. I feel bad for the people who had to live in fear of the spent and unspent rounds I dig out of my yard every summer. But I sure don’t feel guilty about doing everyone a favor by saving a beautiful house. I send my kids to the neighborhood school where all the kids are black. The kids like my kids but the parents sure don’t like me! All part of the healing process. It has its challenges but it makes m feel good inside that I’m doing so much to help Portland and the black community.

  17. Woodburn! The nearest Arctic Circle is in Woodburn! Once you leave Portlandia’s suburban hipsterdom outlet malls by the freeway and go towards Hispanic Business Dominated Downtown, or 99E, you will find a town that still has some of its soul left.

  18. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Fellow native NE Portlander here. You’ve managed to lay out many of the things I’ve been kicking around lately. Sometimes I wonder why I’m still here and then I remember that I love this city and preserving the pieces I love should be my focus.

  19. I left Portland 7 years ago.
    Right on time.

    The city I grew up in and helped to build is dead. Thanks for helping me out my finger on it finally.

    The last stand of the Blue Collar yuppie has been fought and the results are in. Guess who won.

    Goodbye stumptown. I’ll always miss what you could have been.

  20. I came to Portland as a child and have lived here for over forty years. I have had the opportunity to travel to other cities regularly in the last five years, and can tell you that the gentrification that came to Portland (and which is staying for good) is slowly coming to other cities — including Detroit, where young Portlanders are moving so they can start over at the ground floor and get in before gentrification makes it too expensive. It is happening, and will happen, all over the country, in every midsized city on its way to becoming big. Growth is growth. We do not make a real difference with our vote — this country has been bought and sold a thousand times by forces more powerful than you and me. The middle class is an historic blip on the socioeconomic timeline of history. Very likely before my life is over, we’ll see a return to a ruler-serf dichotomy of haves and have-nots, with only a very small merchant class in the middle balancing their asses precariously so as not to piss off their rulers. What’s happening in Portland is what will happen in many other cities sooner or later. And all the second-tier copies of Abercrombie clothing and chic eyeglasses will not help any of us avoid the awful future that awaits those of us without money or cunning (or both).

    People talk about “blue collar” life as though it’s something that might still be attainable. For the majority of us, it’s not. Stop kidding yourselves. And stop talking about things like “curation” and “aesthetic” as though they actually matter to society! The world cannot provide enough “design” jobs for everyone who graduated with a BFA. Sooner or later, you’ll all be scrubbing someone else’s toilet. Just hope it happens while you’re still young enough to stoop.

  21. Sometimes, when you’re getting a really great deal no something, it’s because someone else got ripped off. Not always, but sometimes. It might be illegal, but more likely it’s just shitty, and maybe you don’t want to be a part of it. Keeping this in mind is basic morals.

  22. This was excellent. As an American of African descent, I live in the inner SE part of town and love it – ALL HAIL NEW SEASONS!!! All I know is that I’ve been here for 4 years and the change is rapid and out of control. i.e. “people parking in front of our house i.e. Clinton area to walk two blocks to Pok Pok”… I don’t have a problem with whats going on per-se, but I’ve seen this in Vancouver BC and it’s not sustainable. I also work in higher education. When co-workers making good money have to begin looking at housing in Aloha, Happy Valley and the Couve, the tipping point of non-affordability is coming. There will be a critical mass and it won’t be pretty. To be honest it’s already here.

    1. Fortunately, the level of traffic and parking in front of your house near Pok Pok is pretty much at it’s peak, as in those places can’t get much more popular and there isn’t any more room to build more stuff. For perspective, I live between 34th and 35th, 3 blocks in. We get restaurant customers all the way down on our street. I get it. And I do miss the run-down nothing that was Division a mere three or four years back. The housing thing in Portland should, mathematically, ebb at some point. Until then I can only be relieved that we own our home, because renting would be impossible. So I hope the housing affordability/availability reaches a tipping point and at least levels off. Or sustains just long enough for us to get our kid through school and get the hell out.

  23. Oregon resident of 11 years, Portland resident of 2. At least I bought my condo in NW where all of the douchebags are expected to live, amiright?

    How do you know if you’re a real local? The person next to you hasn’t lived here as long as you have.

  24. Thanks for writing this. I’m an African-American woman who moved here in 2001. I was born and raised in NYC, and lived in the Bronx for 8 years in rent-stabilized apartment because it was affordable even though my commute into Manhattan was ridiculous. And then I finally left the hell-hole that is NYC. So you can imagine my delight upon moving to Portland where I could afford to live more or less where I wanted. (What! I can work downtown and afford to live WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE????) I truly miss that Portland and only imagine that young people moving here can afford it because they’re being heavily subsidized by parents…or have three roommates in a two bedroom…or both.

    Yes, I know, change is inevitable, and the change I’m seeing here makes me want to leave. But I’ve got good long time friends now and where could I go where this wouldn’t happen again? I went to Brooklyn recently and thought, “Oh my GOD, it’s Portland.” Which came first? You can’t tell.

    The thing that makes me saddest is that I felt like the racial dynamics were changing…white folks in (and from) Portland were getting used to, and more accepting of, the idea and reality of non-white folks in Portland. But in the last few years I’ve heard ridiculous stories from friends who have had encounters Portland’s newer residents that were much less than welcoming, especially in their old or current neighborhoods. (The most recent one: an African-American woman walked into an eyewear shop on Alberta. “We’re closed!” is yelled at her by the white female shop clerk, although it wasn’t closing time and the door was unlocked. She was then asked, suspiciously, “Do you live in this neighborhood?” Yes, she does, and has her whole life.) I can’t help but think it may be due to the influx of moneyed folks from other parts of the country who’ve come here attracted to the lack of diversity (i.e., black people) and relative affordability. (Oh, and Salt & Straw. Can’t forget about that.)

    Yes, it’s worth asking the question, what kind of Portland do we want? The thing that worries me is that the folks who really care enough to think about it won’t have much of a say since we won’t be living here any longer.

  25. I enjoyed your article, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m from the dry side of the state so only spend time in Portland to visit family or shopping, events, cultural experiences, etc. My wife is from LA so I’ve spent a fair amount of time there the last 5 years or so. I’m definitely saddened by the many cultural trends that I see in LA showing up in Portland. Surely this has been happening to some degree for decades but it’s the clean, trendy, frankly 80’s vibe of displays of wealth that I dislike the most. This is superficial, of course, but the lines are certainly getting blurred between LA and PDX in many other respects as well.

  26. You’ve made some GREAT points here, Yume, but Portland’s problem of a short memory is shared by the whole nation. AND that is what is killing all of us. Portland doesn’t learn from it’s mistakes (moving hundreds of African-Americans from North Portland) just as the US has forgotten about the Viet Nam War and how that terrible conflict escalated beyond our control.
    If we could ONLY remember our history and then try not to make those same mistakes again, we’d all be better off.

  27. Portland is being loved to death. I grew up in the East Bay (San Francisco) 40 years ago and watched successive gentrification waves obliterate familiar landmarks — hardware stores, the instrument store where I took lessons, etc. And friends now have moved off into former outlying areas like Piedmont or out of the East Bay entirely. Same thing, really, as friends have seen in NYC, Boston, and Chicago. We want urban living but without the density that cities used to have — cities have to get bigger or people will get squeezed out.

    But I’ve seen a common alternative in my time in the Rust Belt: a city collapsing as major industries leave, stores closing and often abandoned. Very affordable, of course, but you wouldn’t want to leave there and nearly everyone under 30 ends up leaving for brighter horizons.

    Portland has relatively intelligent land use planning, avoiding some of the cancerous sprawl that has plagued cities like Phoenix. In similar way, spirited public debate and regional planning will go a long way to alleviating the ills of gentrification — yes, I’m a pinko who believes that government can help — but you can’t keep the old Portland. It’s either move forward or fall back.

    And sorry; we’ve purchased a new construction house in SE, twenty or so minutes from downtown. Yes, we’re part of the problem but I hope we can help with the solutions as well.

  28. Oh, look. Lets all watch as the hipsters try to out-hipster one another with who is ‘more Portland.’ Every one of you losers can get fucking AIDS as far as I’m considered. You killed what the place once was and you now quarrel over who gets to arrange whatever crumbs that remain. Of all the places to ruin, why couldn’t you unoriginal-in-your-shared-obsession-with-being-shallowly-original turds have picked Cleveland or Omaha or some post industrial shithole where your presence would’ve been a net gainer? Why did you have to pick Portland… (and that is rhetorical, so you get ellipses.) For the record, you’re hated. Every last one of you. Your absurd facial hair, your fucking sweaters, your black framed glasses, your Subarus, your loser lifestyles. If I could flip a magical switch and Portland would return to its “Baseball-Rather-Than-Soccer” days but at a cost of every one of you transplant herd-follower cunts dying miserably in a fucking fire, I would flip that switch with glee and lay in for a supply of marshmallows. What shitbags you are. Its not ‘gentrification’ or ‘change’. Really, its that Portland now has its own gravity, a lollapalooza of losers who accomplish nothing but to beget more of their own kind. Eat shit and die, every last one of you. Go home. Let me know when I can return to mine, because you carbuncles ruined it.

    1. I moderate all the comments on this website just to keep the spam out (there’s a lot of it), but generally speaking, I approve all “real” comments, because censorship is tricky and not really my bag.

      That said, I almost didn’t approve this comment, because I think wishing cancer or AIDS on anyone is super fucked-up.

      As I said in my article, I get people’s frustrations, and by and large I share them, but I believe that civil discourse is the only way we can move forward. Besides, I don’t think that massive earthquake is going to distinguish between native and non-native.

  29. Something to add as a side note on why costs keep rising. For whatever reason most of the renters in this town continually vote for all of the property tax increases that are put on the ballots wether it be for “schools” police or whatever the thing that year is. What they all fail to acknowledge is that the fine print usually states that the funds actually go to the general fund and end up getting spent on other things. But hey they think they are doing a good thing and they don’t pay property taxes so what do they care. Well I know of 5 or 6 renters who are now in shock at the rent increases that have been inflicted upon them. Guess what those taxes are paid by you after all.
    In the end it’s not just about housing cost but also property taxes in the city that make it so expensive.

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