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Hipsters move to Portland for a reason

Sustainability, community and night life make the Rose City great for young people and families alik

Associate Managing Editor

Published: Thursday, December 5, 2013

Updated: Thursday, December 5, 2013 00:12


JAMES ONOFRIO/The Daily Campus

Columbia Ecovillage, one of six co-housing ecovillages in Portland.


JAMES ONOFRIO/The Daily Campus

Alberta Street has changed in recent years as ethnic restaurants and bars have replaced commercial activities

“Keep Portland Weird” read the bumper stickers and billboards around Oregon’s largest city, a slogan borrowed from Austin, Texas but arguably more true here. Portland has become famous in recent years as a magnet for hipsters, but the culture that attracted them has also produced a great nightlife and food scene.

A combination of eccentricity, environmentalism and inclusiveness make Portland a special place. Portlanders take a lot of pride in their community. Their involvement in the city decision-making process coupled with an entrepreneurial spirit has produced a unique and inviting city. “I feel lucky to have grown up somewhere I’m proud of and enjoy living in as a young adult,” said Angela Carkner, 23, a lifelong Portland resident and graduate of the University of Oregon’s planning, public policy and management program.

Like many places in the West, sustainability is an important part of Portland’s identity. Citywide initiatives like composting programs and a ban on Styrofoam take-out containers are a testament to this, but residents also make sustainability a part of their lifestyles. It is common to see small gardens in homes’ front and back yards and some of them even have chicken coops to produce their own supply of eggs. Community gardens have gained popularity as well.

The city has worked hard to build a good biking infrastructure, with designated bike corridors leading out of downtown that are heavily used at rush hour. Public transit such as the surface-rail MAX lines is also popular, if not easily accessible by all residents. Portland’s plan for growth is to concentrate density along these lines so that more people can get around without relying on gas-powered cars and buses.

Standing atop one of the city’s vistas such as Rocky Butte, the dense tree canopy will stand out to a visitor from the east coast. For a city of over a half million people, Portland is low-density and still has a lot of green space, even if most of it is in people’s private yards. Feeling close to nature is another important part of life in the West and Portland mixes it well with the cultural capital of an urban center.

Almost all cities have a central plan for growth that is used to guide development of business and residential areas, traffic systems, parks and community facilities. In the field of city planning, Portland is hailed as a model for “smart growth,” where the planning agency is very active in promoting sustainable development around the city.

One area where Portland excels is community participation. Reed Wagner, Executive Director of the Multnomah County Drainage District and a former policy coordinator for the Metro Regional Government, said, “People here are serious about community involvement. If you have meetings and ask people what they want out of their community in five or 10 years, they have a lot to say.”

Citizen involvement creates an organic and democratic feeling, where residents feel like their suggestions are taken seriously. It also seemed like residents cared a lot about their neighborhoods, keeping up appearances in residential areas and not littering in parks and around commercial areas.

Portland has also looked towards European cities as well as other American cities to guide its development, Wagner said. A well-defined growth boundary around the city keeps it from sprawling too far. Concentrating development along “transit corridors” like bus routes and rail lines has been used successfully in cities like Copenhagen. Programs like composting and bans on certain hard-to-recycle materials are also more common in Europe today than in the U.S.

Bars and restaurants
New places to go out are constantly popping up around Portland, both in newly-gentrified areas like Alberta Street and the Pearl District north of downtown and more established areas like Hawthorne Boulevard running east of downtown. Portland has the feel of a place where eccentricity is accepted and encouraged and there are a lot of unique restaurants, cafes and bars that contribute to a lively out life.

I visited a small coffee shop called the Rimsky-Korsakoffee House in southeast Portland, which has been run in the same house for at least a couple decades and is only open from 7 p.m. to midnight. Named after Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov, the interior is themed with pictures and sheet music from a variety of famous composers. I won’t give anything away in case any traveling readers happen to visit in the future, but some of the tables play tricks on you as you eat.

Another Portland-area institution is McMenamins, which started as a brewery but has since made a business of buying historic properties and remodeling them. The company bought John Kennedy Elementary School in 1997 after it had been closed some 20 years, and the building now contains two bars, a patio restaurant, a theater and overnight rooms.


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