from The Portland Mercury
by Matt Davis
Is Portland overrated? I’ve tried pitching the following words to the New York Times and the LA Times as an op-ed column, over the last few weeks. Needless to say, neither of them wanted it—they’re too busy running “Ra Ra Portland” pieces. And why not, when it sells advertising?
So, here are my unpublishable thoughts on our fair city. Incidentally, I asked mayoral candidate Sam Adams for a comment when I thought the LA Times might take it. But I never heard back from him. Which, I guess, says more about this city than if he’d returned my inquiry. Still, judge for yourself:
Portland: Overrated?Unless you live here already there’s a strong chance, like most contemporary Americans, you are considering moving to Portland. Well, stop right there.
I, personally, would love to have you—let’s just be sure you have all the facts, first.
It’s hard to pick up a travel section from Berlin to Beijing these days without reading Portland celebrated for its showcase organic cuisine, Bohemian street life, cutting-edge cafes and wacky public art. Not to mention its so-called indy music, ubiquitous left-leaning bumper stickers, streetcars and neolithic house prices.
What’s the problem? I’ll tell you: People here are rude. Perhaps it’s an extension of the city’s media-induced smugness, but I’ve never been anywhere so prone to passive aggression. Occasionally a Portlander can be drawn into open xenophobia, especially when it comes to talking about newcomers who have moved here from elsewhere, but for the most part, they keep their rudeness to themselves.
That’s a problem, because native Portlanders and newcomers alike have an awful lot to be angry about, and you can’t help wishing they’d talk with you about it, instead of just, you know, acting it out.
There’s the weather, for a start. Coming from London in 2006 I thought I knew rain, but an Oregon winter is something you don’t so much live through as survive. Remind me: What does the sun look like? And there are no jobs here, either. Economically, growing up is proving harder for Portland than puff pieces on the city’s burgeoning creative class might have you believe. Young people, especially, are moving here in droves, lured by cheap rent and a misguided perception that perhaps Modest Mouse or The Shins might need a new drummer on the exact day they happen to arrive.
Portland’s creative class is a myth, of course. I worked without pay for six months at a hipster paper before landing a full-time position there, and freely admit to being one of this city’s lucky ones. Most aspiring creatives fall quickly into waiting tables at hipster cafes while they fail to get on with their novel, and slowly turn into the rudest Portlanders of all.
For example, this is the only place on Earth I have ever been asked by a straight-faced waiter who had failed to bring my entrée: “Do I look like I care, buddy?”
It takes restraint here not to rip the odd handlebar moustache off. Then, when it comes to needing a real job, Portland has very few opportunities for newly shorn hipsters because there are hardly any mortgage-paying companies to work for.
Too proud to woo major corporations with hefty tax breaks like they do in real cities, Portland needs to do more to nurture medium-sized employers who can pay home-buying wages. Otherwise the city can scream “sustainability!!!” from its green rooftops without changing the fact that its population influx is unsustainable.
Eventually, all but a fraction of Portland’s creative class will have to leave and live again with its retired parents in California or New York. That’s assuming, of course, that the creative class’s retired parents didn’t already move to Portland—itself a phenomenon somewhat irking to those older Portlanders in the wrong place at the wrong time (i.e here) during the tech boom.