I’ve lived in Portland, Oregon for 6 months and 6 days, so I figured it’s time to kick back and reflect a bit, think about what I’ve seen and done, what I’ve learned, and what I love and don’t love about my new city. Often, the first question old friends ask about our move here is “What do you love about Portland?”, and the first question new friends ask is “Why did you choose Portland?”. The answer to both questions is the same: Portland chose us.
From our first visit to this very day, Portland has felt like home. It drew us in, unexpectedly and irrevocably. Quite simply, it fits. And after living here for six months, I’m beginning to understand why:
- Acceptance: Portland (indeed, all of Oregon) is known for its friendly people. But it goes beyond just being friendly. My experience here is that I am accepted for who I am – no matter where I came from, how I sound, what I do, or how I look. I have had no need to prove myself or to “fit in”. I am me and that is okay, no matter what the situation. No judgement. But it’s not just about me. I watch elderly people using walkers, young professionals, Goth teens, people experiencing homelessness, retired folks, tourists and moms with babies all share space on the bus or train, trade stories, give up their seats, help open the door, offer directions, and thank the driver when they de-board. The homeless are (generally) allowed to camp on city streets, even though there are laws against it. (More on this topic in a future post) Young street peddlers hawking art, stones and trinkets, playing guitars and smiling with their dogs curled up beside them on blankets, line the sidewalks of Hawthorne Blvd. and passersby smile, converse, buy stuff and wish them well. Bicyclists in skirts, or suits, or kilts, or spandex, or jeans commute to work by the thousands and share the road amiably (for the most part) with drivers who are accustomed to sharing the road in return. The parks and streets and bars are filled with people from every imaginable – and some unimaginable – walks of life. All live and let live. It is tolerance elevated to acceptance and acceptance elevated to inclusion.
- Convenience: Portland’s city blocks are about a third the length of those in other large cities. This place was built for walking and biking, for encouraging people to get out on foot and meet and greet and get exercise and to be connected. The shorter blocks make it easy to get places, and trips don’t take up a lot of time. I can get on my bike and go the grocery store, the library, the book store and the clothes swap shop and be back home in an hour. Within a one-mile radius of my apartment there are 21 bike shops, 13 food markets, 15 breweries, 50 clothes shops and 200+ restaurants/bars. Who needs a car? Things are close, easy to find, and mostly locally-owned! And when I don’t need to shop or eat or read, I can get on my bike and ride – safely – for miles and miles. There are over 900 miles of bike ways in Portland. The adventure never ends. Plus, if you ever don’t want to bike or walk, the TriMet public transportation system is reliable, clean, and accessible (especially on those cold, rainy winter days).
- Creativity: Theater, music, art, architecture, design, technology development, dance, knitting, crafting, photography, printing, film…you name it and there is an opportunity to participate, either as maker or consumer. Even food, beer, wine, candy, and clothing has creative flare in Portland. There is so much creativity here, it borders on the ridiculous. But that makes it all the more exciting and fun to be here. There is something for everyone’s taste or whimsy – from the rotating neighborhood Art Walks where you can roam the streets and go inside artists’ homes to view and buy their work and have a real conversation with each artist to the fancy, beautiful Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall or Portland Opera House. Huge wall murals decorate buildings all over the city and even the graffiti art is good.
- Community: One of my favorite things about Portland is the very intentional and concerted effort being made by neighborhoods and various groups of people who share common ideas to build strong, supportive communities for each other. There is a community for everyone here, so there’s no excuse not to belong to at least one. In addition to each neighborhood with geographical identity like Sunnyside or Buckman or The Pearl District, there are intentional communities of people who come together to share and support each other in biking, exploring, walking, hiking, philosophizing, talking science, writing, acting, dancing, overcoming hardship, drinking beer or wine or distilled spirits (yes, people in this town love to drink), reading literature, learning healing arts, getting politically active and hundreds of other endeavors. If you are interested in any topic or idea, there is a group here that will embrace you, support you and invite you to share in their love for that idea or cause. I’ve never lived in a big city before, so having these opportunities to explore and learn with and to be a part of so many kinds of communities has been amazing.
- It’s GREEN: In a city of 600,000+ people, concrete and glass, noise and trash, traffic and crowding are expected, but here in Portland the thing that overshadows all of that is the greenness. Trees are everywhere, some with names or designations such as “Heritage” Trees. Heck, there’s even an app for finding special trees near you in the city! All the street trees in Portland are considered city assets and are protected by city code. When a street needs trees or has an issue with a tree, The Friends of Trees steps in to help. Walk down any street in Portland during the summer and you’ll find apples and cherries and chestnuts and raspberries, raised-bed gardens in medians and yards, community gardens full of food, wildflowers, rain gardens, and more species of conifer trees than you can count! That, plus 275+ public parks – most designed by the famed Olmsted Brothers landscape design firm – makes Portland a haven for people seeking green space. Manicured lawns are here, but uncommon, especially in the southeast part of the city. I love the greenness of it all.
- Quirkiness! Yes, “Keep Portland Weird” is one of the official slogans, mantras, tenets of Portland life, and lots of people here work very hard at making sure it happens. Yes, we have the Unipiper, the World Naked Bike Ride, and a Karaoke Strip Club. I have seen more weirdness here than anywhere – more than I ever imagined I’d see in my lifetime. But it’s not just famous weirdness that endears Portland to me. It’s the quirkiness of everyday people and places – like the pioneer cemeteries where I’ve seen the Coffin Cruisers gather, the guy walking down the street in the rain with his cat hunkered down riding atop his backpack, the street intersections brightly painted with symbols, little free libraries and neighborhood bulletin boards, the poetry boxes and recipe boxes randomly placed in yards for anyone walking by to read, the hummingbirds that stay here all winter because there is so much food for them, the yards filled with toy dinosaurs or gnomes hiding among the rocks and plants, the guy who’s always playing the tuba under the trees in Laurelhurst Park, the lady that saw us walking down the street holding an umbrella and said, “You don’t need an umbrella, you’re an Oregonian!”, the Street Roots vendor who asked me to read his poem that was published in the paper, and the stranger who stops on the sidewalk to share in the joy of a blooming flower.
Bonus reason: It’s Colorful! Not just the people and the culture, but the actual buildings! I absolutely love the old houses here that are painted in three, four, or five different colors. They brighten the neighborhoods and showcase the individualism that makes this city so unique.
These things and more have captured my heart. I love this city I now call home. Sure, Portland is not perfect. It’s a big city with real people and real problems. I am not blind to the issues and challenges around me. I am beginning to get involved with them to see if I can help. But I have never felt so at home, so engaged, so embraced by a place. Portland has chosen me. And I chose Portland, with all its acceptance, convenience, community, creativity, greenness, quirkiness and color.