Portland: All Hype and No Substance

 Ottoline Morris
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Star Rating 10/31/2011
After having lived in Seattle, Berlin, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Cork, my husband and I moved to Portland six years ago. Although we had looked at houses on both coasts of the US, and I had wanted to return to Seattle (where we both grew up), my husband was enthusiatic about Portland's much vaunted arts scene and ostensibly green sensibilities, as well as its purported gloomy weather (we both love rain and storms). I reluctantly went along with the move, and it remains the worst mistake I have ever made. Having spent every summer of my childhood at a cabin near Mt Hood, I knew that, in spite of its reputation for gloom, Portland really doesn't have a comparatively high percentage of rainfall. The sky is almost always a uniformly glaring, migraine-inducing white, and summers are bone dry and can be hellishly hot - often over 100 degrees. Our first summer here, we experienced a high temperature of 107. We began making plans then to sell our house and leave - just as housing prices began to plummet.

Whoever is responsible for PR in this city is an absolute genius, albeit shamefully deceptive. The so-called 'hip arts scene' we had heard so much about is non-existent. Somehow, Portlanders seem to confuse the term 'hip' with what would be called 'white trash' in most other cities. We had visions of spending weekends gallery and museum hopping, as we had done when we lived elsewhere, but there are no actual museums in Portland, and what galleries there are are almost entirely full of nothing but local unoriginal and derivative rubbish. Portland's Last Thursday Arts Walk is indistinguishable from a giant frat party - it has little to do with art, and everything to do with getting guttered on PBR and ralphing up in the street. Frame that.

Our first two years in Portland, wanting to support the smudge of culture that did exist here, we secured a box at the opera, and subscribed to the symphony and the ballet as well. After two years of lacklustre performances, 1970s-style lighting and staging, and increasing dumbing-down of content in order to appeal to the majority hick demographic, we gave up and have not subscribed since. We now arrange our work schedules so that we can travel to Seattle or San Francisco for music and dance, though White Bird does bring many excellent dance performances to Portland from around the world. And there is a reason why house concerts, organized and booked by neighbors who have abandoned Portland's 'offical' cultural establishment, are increasingly popular here.

As for the business environment, we have a small international repair business and work out of a workshop in our home. When we first moved to Portland, we had decided that, as we had always done, we would allow local customers to come to our house to obtain repairs by appointment rather than having to mail their items in. After enduring two years of time wasting no-shows, locals doorstepping us at 7.00 am, extreme rudeness, and customers reeking of alcohol or in mid-tweak, we'd had enough. We no longer take in work from locals. But even a large notice on our website, as well as a huge sign on our front door, has not stopped them, zombie-like, from trying to get in. We can never leave our front door open, and have had to install a panic button in addition to alarming the entire house. Maybe it is this lack of consideration or even a shred of intelligence that has contributed to the fact that Portland's shop clerks are so notoriously rude. Having dealt with the public here, I can only sympathize, and wonder if some mass scale lobotomizing chemical experiment hasn't at some time in the recent past been undertaken here.

And as for Portland's celebrated green credentials - pure hubristic hype. Portland is a long way behind San Francisco, Seattle, Berlin, Copenhaven, and many, many other cities in recycling, environmental education, and transportation. From all that we had read before moving here, we thought that we would be able to do without a car in Portland. Instead, we had to buy a car after moving here. The entire SE part of the city is served by only a very small handful of filthy, poorly maintained buses on a scatter-shot schedule. The first thing I did when moving here was to call Metro and ask for a transit or bus map - but they do not even have such a thing. There are no schedules, time-wise or fare-wise, posted at bus stops. And there is no way of getting cross-town, from North to South, on East side public transport - one must go all the way downtown to transfer to another route, then travel back across the open sewer, er, Willamette River. We live in inner South East, and have to take three buses just to get to our 'local' Post Office. Neither the highly publicized Max nor the tram venture anywhere near SE Portland - a huge area of the city with almost no public transportation at all.

In summation, I am trying to think of one nice thing to say about Portland, just one. But not a thing comes to mind. I only wish that we could have spent more time visiting Portland and researching the truth of what we read prior to moving here. Now we are stuck here until housing prices begin to ascend again. It can't happen soon enough for us.



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Were planning a relocation, i have lived in the Portland area growing up for about a year, not too long, and this was 32 years ago. In your opinion and experience, you like Seattle over Portland? We like the Pacific northwest...looking for a nice place, we have 2 children 4 and 6. Thanks



Patrick T.

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Reply to Dean: Education is much better funded in Seattle than in Portland, as are the arts. The public schools are far superior, and there are more educational opportunities for children, including the Museum of History and Industry, the Burke Museum, and the Science Center. Quite simply, there is more money in Seattle, and therefore more funding for the arts. Seattle is a cleaner, lovelier city, and theatre and the symphony are world class. The cost of purchasing a house in Seattle can be three times what it is in Portland for a comparable property, but if you can afford it, and your childrens' educational opportunities are important to you, Seattle is the better choice. It is also a stunning city, surrounded on all sides by mountains and water. And I also feel that it is a safer city, and a great one for walking. One of my favorite things to do a weekend there as a kid was to trek through the arboretum and spy on the abundance of wildlife.



"Having dealt with the public here, I can only sympathize, and wonder if some mass scale lobotomizing chemical experiment hasn't at some time in the recent past been undertaken here." That is very funny. Yes, Portland, OR has no culture, no intelligence, no education and the food scene is actually rather boring and definitely uninspired. Portlanders are pretty vile and I would not trust one to work for me or with me (tried that, never again) as larceny and lying are the cultural ethos here. Portland is generally hell on earth and the suburbs are actually worse although somewhat less dirty than the city. Portland is intensely BORING. There is virtually nothing to do. I did spend a day being bored at what passes for the art museum and have attended the symphony (boring), plays, etc. Everything is a shadow of what you can find in other cities - non of which are in Oregon of course. There is something seriously mentally defective about Portlanders and Oregonians in general. Maybe they all get dropped on their heads early in life and end up without a civil thought in their heads.



Charles L.

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I agree, the PR Hype around Portland is incredibly inaccurate yet powerful and persistent. I keep thinking the editors of the New York Times are large investors and land owners in Portland. They push the place over and over, weekly it seems. And when you get here and buy in it takes a few months or a year to realize it's a con-game. There's nothing here! The only good part is that for the moment there is still a line of greater fools ready to pay 50% more for your house than you did. So I wasted a few years and just made money dumping my house on the next poor sucker.



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