We’ve been in Portland, Oregon, for two and a half days now. If I were twenty years younger, I would seriously consider moving here.
We wanted to visit Portland because we are urban policy nerds, and knew that Portland was something of a city planner’s dream. It is. Here, in no particular order, are some of our observations:
Billboards are obviously strictly controlled; we counted exactly five between the airport and downtown, making that 45 minute taxi ride far more scenic.
Streets are a bit narrower than in most cities, and blocks are a good deal shorter–even shorter than the “short” blocks in NYC. Most are tree-lined, and in the downtown area there are flower baskets hanging from hooks on the street lights. Although there’s a grid, it isn’t rigid; there are also streets angling off in various directions. All of that makes walking around really pleasant. Plus, the urban core is amazingly compact.
Bikes are everywhere, and there are dedicated bike lanes.
Perhaps the walking and biking account for another observation: people on the streets in Portland are mostly thin.
There are tons of parks–big and small and interactive (kids splashing in park pools is encouraged). The streets are active–unlike in Indianapolis, parking garages all have first-floor retail, so there aren’t long “dead” areas. And most of the retail seems to be local–although there are some national chains, local shops, bars and restaurants (of which there are so many you wonder if anyone here cooks) outnumber them by a significant margin. (I’ve seen few Starbucks, for example, although there are regional and local coffee shops everywhere.) Hundreds of food trucks offer all sorts of creative cuisines (Mauritania has a cuisine? Who knew?)
I wasn’t able to find out how many people live in downtown Portland, but there are many, many apartment buildings, and a good deal of the retail downtown caters to residential needs. (There’s a huge kitchenware store and three supermarkets–including a Whole Foods. So I guess someone must cook….) And there are regular, rotating Farmer’s Markets; we saw one, and it, too, was huge.
Speaking of huge, Powell’s books. An entire city block. 300,000 titles in stock, new and used. We got there a few minutes before 9:00 a.m., when it opened, and there was already a line.
And everywhere you look, you see public transportation. There are buses and trolleys in traffic lanes dedicated to them–no cars allowed. Light rail. A tram to carry folks up the big hill (with bike parking at its base). Nirvana…
We spent yesterday morning riding the trolley system. The cars were immaculate, the system was easy to understand, and $5 bought a 24-hour pass, good for the bus, the trolley and the light rail. The system is obviously well-used, and by a broad cross-section of riders.
I’ve also been absolutely blown away by how NICE people here are. My husband and I stopped to look at a building, and a man asked if he could help us find something. In a shoe store, the clerk whipped out a map and suggested places we should see–and gave me her card in case I had questions. The motorman on the first trolley we rode not only offered complete directions, but let us know when we were approaching the stop at which we needed to transfer. Servers in restaurants have been equally helpful. Drivers yield to pedestrians–and each other– everywhere, and no one honks his horn!
Portland is pretty similar in size to Indianapolis, and every urban amenity I’ve described is something Indianapolis (and other cities) could do, if we had the political will. But fairness requires acknowledging assets we couldn’t duplicate, like the absence of mosquitos. A climate in which you can evidently grow ANYTHING. No humidity. Mild winters that don’t take as much of a toll on roads, buildings and infrastructure. Mountains, rivers and hills.
I’m sure if I actually lived here, I’d find things to complain about. But from our admittedly limited perspective, this is a city to envy.