Keep Portland … Weird?

Photo caption: The Willamette River and downtown Portland at night. Portland, a beloved city, is facing a homelessness crisis among other problems. Photo by Kiran Weasel

“Keep Portland Weird” is a slogan that all Portlanders have laughed at, pasted on the back of their Subaru, or rolled their eyes at as they stroll down third street on the phone with their relative who just saw the newest Portlandia episode and is telling them to ‘put a bird on it.’ Put a bird on what? Anything, everything, and most of all, your coffee cup. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone who lives in Portland is a bearded hipster budtender (the bartender of a medical or recreational marijuana dispensary) who spends their Saturdays in Forest Park with their dog Scorpio. We also have funky grandmothers who make jewelry and drink herbal tea. 

Michelle Crockett, a California native who moved to Portland fifteen years ago, was aware of the stereotypes before she came to Oregon to raise her children. She says that the most prominent of those stereotypes were, “that Portlanders hate Californians and they never use umbrellas.”

Many Portlanders embrace the stereotypes about the City of Roses, and find a sense of pride in living in a town that’s known for its quirkiness and accepting community. Others, however, often natives, find the assumptions irritating, as they fell in love with a Portland whose city lines didn’t include Hawthorne or Division, in which no one honked their horn, and where living prices were reasonable. Natives also find the recent influx of people moving to Portland (most from California) infuriating as highways and boulevards become increasingly crowded. “I found that most of the people who complained about Californians moving here were from California,” laughs Crockett. On top of that, rent prices have skyrocketed to accommodate the urbanization. For example, in popular neighborhoods, residents are paying up to 1,000 dollars for a 400 square foot studio apartment. Many historical buildings and classic landmarks are torn down monthly such as the Portland Gas and Coke Co. building. The destruction is to make room for a massive apartment building that only a small group of residents can afford. 

In a Culture Trip Article titled “15 Stereotypes All Portland Natives Hate,” Anna Kramer touches on easily the most known fact about Portland: it is always raining. That is not entirely true, even though the most expensive piece of gear most residents own is their raincoat (maybe a close second to their road bike). It’s often just overcast. Portland’s rainy season lasts from October through May, and locals simply get used to it. Umbrellas are seldom used, and sometimes, you just get wet. The rain is a comforting thing to most natives, like the snow is to a Coloradan.

Most stereotypes are made to poke fun at the large hipster population, but internet trolls and writers rarely comment on the massive homeless population, or Portland’s racist past. A census completed in 2018 estimated that Portland is home to 14,000 homeless people. There are many outlets for the homeless such as the Blanchet House and Transition Projects, but large-scale changes on a government level will be necessary to relieve such a large population. 

Red lining is a practice of sectioning off neighborhoods with perceived high financial risk. African American residents were often turned away from neighborhoods due to their race because neighbors were scared that it would bring property values down. As time went on, gentrification (the process of renovating neighborhoods to fit the middle class standard) took over, and many people of color were forced to move to the outskirts of Portland. 

Portland puts up an accepting front; black lives matter signs line lawns and pride flags fill windows. However, the past is overflowing with white supremacy and segregation. Portland also happens to be one of the whitest cities in the United States. According to the World Population Review, 77 percent of Portlanders are white, 7.8 percent Asian, and 5.7 percent black or African American. Not to mention that the rest of Oregon has never shared Portland’s liberal views. 

Portland is growing rapidly and it is hard to keep up. It’s a booming tourist attraction in the public view but also a proud home to many communities, like an exclusive club everyone wants to be a part of. Stereotypes are constantly changing but none offend Portlanders, who know who they are and let the worries just wash away in the rain. 

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