New Portland

A majestic view of downtown Portland with Mt. Hood in the background.

It used to be a fun little surprise to see Portland mentioned on some list or brought up candidly on a show, like seeing yourself on the jumbotron at a sports game among thousands, but now it’s getting a bit tiresome. Though it might feel good to have a scapegoat for the backed up traffic and raised rent, it’s getting harder to blame on the Californians. Portland’s population is now made up of fewer than half homegrown Oregonians. While it seems everyone is all doom and gloom, calling Portland the next San Francisco, many haven’t gone deeper and examined the forces shaping our city.

Let’s take a slice out of  Portland. Strolling through Southeast, one gets a nice cross-section of the Portland of old as well as its vision for the future. There’s the kind of residential area that comes to mind of idyllic Portland— eclectic middle-class looking houses, bike lanes with chickens-on-the-loose. It has a bit of the old: subaru-driving, KBOO listening middle-aged parents. And a bit of the new, the scooter-driving, beanie-wearing young urban professionals we’ve all come to know and love. Below is the once industrial district, refurbished warehouses now home to such amenities as a luxury bowling alley and a chic ramen joint. The new and utopic-looking Tilikum pedestrian bridge connects it to the Westside and OHSU, Portland’s third largest employer.

This is the portrait of Portland that’s drawing in the masses. Not in frame are the underserved neighborhoods and the overwhelming amount of homeless people. Since 2015, housing prices have soared exponentially, hiking up rents city-wide. While this is definitely a contributing factor to the homeless crisis, it’s not the determinate cause. Largely, it’s because the city has offered better resources than any around. It’s a polarizing issue, addressed by Mayor Ted Wheeler. “We can address safety and livability issues head-on without criminalizing homelessness. After all, people living on our streets are themselves vulnerable to crime and other hazards,” he said in an opinion article for the Oregonian. About one third of people residing in shelters reported their last permanent address outside the state. Multnomah County was recently forced to end a no-turn-away policy for homeless families, because resources had been exhausted. Luckily, lawmakers stepped in and allocated another five million dollars to aid the service.

One city policy with foresight is the urban growth boundary. To prevent the urban sprawl of places such as LA and Chicago, Portland has a line drawn around its outskirts where it has to stop developing so as not to bleed into farmland and forest. So, with the explosive population growth, (about 100 people a day) we’re looking at high density. The sentiment behind the Urban Growth Boundary is represented in a 1973 address to the Oregon legislature, “The interests of Oregon for today and in the future must be protected from the grasping wastrels of the land. We must respect another truism: that unlimited and unregulated growth, leads inexorably to a lowered quality of life.”

While Portland faces looming changes, the city’s values are intact. The same trend of urbanization is happening all over the U.S. Data shows that millennials can’t afford houses and are instead looking for compact housing in an urban setting. Apartments and tiny homes are the new norm. Portland is known for its environmental conscience. The city has pledged to be off fossil-fuels completely by 2050, a goal matched by several cities nationwide. What sets this population surge apart from historic city swells, is that people move here because they share common values. With an involved, caring citizenry, the city will continue to grow in a positive, sustainable way.

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