On February 1st, 2023 Willamette Week ran the story: “They Left: Portland Is Losing Some of Its Biggest Fans: Rising taxes and a falling quality of life have some Stumptown die-hards voting with their feet.” This was followed by a podcast version called: “People in Their 40s Are at the Tipping Point Between Loving and Leaving Portland: Regardless of how seriously I love Portland, I can’t deny that this has become an incredibly hard place to live.” If you live here you’re probably familiar with some of the content of these articles. I want to spend a little time providing some perspectives that seem left out of this current trend. Greg Brown wrote a song Boomtown, which is worth a listen on this topic 🙂
OK, first of all – the people who are talking and writing about this topic are likely in their 30s or 40s. When I think about Portland I tend to think – what’s it like to be a child here? What’s it like to be a senior here? We are a city of all ages and the perspectives and needs of all ages should be taken into account. This also guides my voting – I often mention this – how will this candidate’s work/position affect the lives of different-aged people? So, what is it like for a young person or elder living here? I don’t know exactly and aim to find out – I would encourage the WWeek to do the same and sample their articles with more input from those of different age groups. It may be that if the young and old were asked they might come up with the same responses, but I don’t think so.
Portland has managed to attract an interesting collection of people over the years. When I arrived in 2002 I noticed that there were a ton of DIY’ers – people who were good with machines and building things with their hands. It’s probably why there is such a strong Burning Man contingent here. I’ve heard that the 2nd largest population of Burners (people who attend Burning Man) come from Portland (after SF). Over the years the newcomers seem to have changed, but I’ve often heard from people new to town that they were attracted here for certain reasons. One is that the people here care about the place. I have never lived in a place where I felt this so strongly. Many people who live here actively work to tend to this town. You have seen it over the years through the massive volunteer effort to plant trees with Friends of Trees (sadly, this contract has been ended by the City of Portland). You can see it in our high voter turnout. In most places I’ve lived before (Seattle, NYC, Philadelphia, DC) there is not this sense of people caring for the place and being willing to do something about it. Also because we’re a town filled with people who are excited by urban planning, we’ve attracted people who participate in volunteer groups like Depave and The City Repair Project.
I still believe in Portland. My Dad used to hold a perspective that bothered me. I’d mention the world going to the dogs and he’d look around and mention that the mail is still being delivered. Or, he’s still able to get his bagel and cream cheese – ie, that things weren’t as bad as they seemed. I feel that on a daily basis here. Sure, things have changed and we do have real issues that are challenging, but if you walk or bike around this town it is still full of quirky. It still has a ton of whimsy. And it is still full of people who are working hard to repair what’s broken. There are groups all over town that paint over graffiti, for instance. We do need to keep thinking about how to keep making things better, but we’re starting ahead of the game. Given the fact that we’ve been through a worldwide pandemic that has shaken the world up, we’re still here and we will continue on.
Also, about Portland losing population for 3 straight years, I’m not sure that’s such a terrible thing. As Greg’s song says “It’ll boom, as long as the boom has room”. Perhaps continual growth is not such a great thing? I’ve been preaching for years that population growth is driving climate change. It also has an impact on pollution; traffic; species loss; lack of clean water; and the crush that is being felt everywhere as we increase by 80 million people each year. Reducing our population through out-migration may have some benefits we aren’t focused on. Apartment rents may reduce. Parking might become easier. Traffic may become a little less congested. After hearing the drumbeat of growth growth growth – perhaps we might see some benefits from shrink, shrink, shrink 🙂 I don’t like the reasons that people are leaving, but they do. Some come and can’t handle the rain. Others might be turned off by having a tent outside their house/apartment. But there are so many upsides to living in Portland that I feel pulled to stick with this place. Here are some of my favorite things about Portland – add yours or whatever you wish to say in the comments section below.
- The music/art/theater/dance scenes here are off the hook. You had me at Alberta Rose Theater.
- The transit system keeps improving
- I like the weather. There are so many different kinds of precipitation – I feel like there are new ones I experience every day
- You can now participate in government at all levels via Zoom. (that’s not just in Portland, but we’re on the forefront of this)
- Trees – I’ve been working to keep trees standing for years and the results are hopefully a movement of people who feel similarly. Hopefully, we’ll turn the tide in this area and see our canopy expand vs. contract in the near future.
These articles are a great insight into why some people are choosing to leave. I think after many years of influx of people it’s not a terrible thing to have some years of reduction in our numbers. And, I hope to continue to be part of the solutions to keep making Portland the greatest place to live in the United States.
Albert Kaufman, 2.6.23