Review of Salem, Oregon

Salem is fine with me
Star Rating - 9/6/2010
Hi, I have lived in Salem for 11 years. I lived in Portland the other 35 yrs of my life. My husband and I moved here for a teaching job, not out of choice. Salem has always been put-upon, put-down, and just plain bad mouthed. It is really ridiculous. It isn't that all of the criticisms are off the mark, but some of them really truly are! And generalizations abound. It is amazing how one person can live in a town and have X experience and another in the same town has Y experience, totally different.

We live in an inner-city neighborhood in a 100 yr old house. This neighborhood has always been "on the other side of the tracks". Very mixed income, mostly low income and plenty of people on SS etc. There are some half-way houses a few blocks away. The prison is about a mile or two away. But guess what? We have had NO problem with crime, I have a beautiful garden in my front yard, great neighbors all around me. I am walking distance to the Capitol (known as one of the more beautiful ones in the country), downtown, Willamette University, Bush Park (large city park), the hospital, Waterfront park etc. We have a 7 year old son who is doing great... we are enrolling him in the neighborhood school. We are both very highly educated ourselves. Sure there are plenty of people who might LOOK "scary" or "homeless" or just plain out of it... but really most of those folks have a sad story to tell. They are still Oregonians and they are still fully, utterly HUMAN. And "they" are all over Oregon! All over the country!

What you need to understand is that Salem has a LOT of poverty... more than 50% are below the poverty level. Now is that Salem's fault? Hardly! The wealthy and powerful in Portland have always burdened Salem with the prisons, mental institutions, etc. Most of the economy here is either state employees, public service jobs (education, police etc) and the hospital is well regarded and employs a lot of people. I may be missing some key employers. But there are all sorts of wonderful people here, and I am not just cheerleading. Artists of all kinds, musicians, wonderful teachers, families!!!! I would never raise my child in a place that wasn't a good place for children.

So many people say there is nothing to do in Salem. They are almost always referring to nightlife, entertainment etc. Then they will say that Portland has all "the culture". Well, DUH!! It has a couple million people... we have a few hundred thousand. Portland has bucketloads of high income folks, lots of "old money", and it is a large, metropolitan city! Hell, New Yorkers are moving there it is so hip. And I love Portland. One of the best cities in the country. And here is poor Salem trying to compete. It is apples and oranges and people who compare Portland restaurants, nightlife, cultural events to Salem's don't get the apple/orange thing.

And please don't tell me there is more to do in Eugene and Corvallis. First of all, those are university towns with MUCH less poverty. The prisons etc weren't thrown there way. Eugene has much more wealth. Corvallis does too. Great towns, I am just saying that considering the history of Salem, the level of poverty, the diverse cultures... I think it has an amazing amount of "things to do". I could make a loooong list, but here is just a few things that come to mind: the independent music scene is very strong, better than Eugene and Corvallis in many ways. We have a great independent movie theatre with top-notch films of all kinds. Of course we have plenty of regular movie theatres. Restauants? Portland has literally the best restaurants in the country... much more per capita than New York or Chicago. People can afford to eat at them. Salem DOES have several quality restaurants. And the local food movement is huge all over Oregon, including Salem. We have some really nice parks, including Minto-Brown a wildlife refuge area that covers about the third of the area around Salem. Willamette Universities art museum, a very highly rated childrens museum, art galleries, the Salem art fair (biggest in the state), a great library, not enough bookstores and NOTHING compares to Powell's in Portland. But we do have independent bookstores here. WE have a very nice waterfront park.

I could make a long list of the negatives, of course. Sprawl. The planning commission and much of the city council are simply outgrowths of the Chamber of Commerce (some city council members are quite liberal). I am about as liberal politically as you can get and I have met plenty of like minded people. People here are generally unassuming... not boring or dumb, just not showy and trying to put on a scene. Family people. Hispanic families making a go of it. Older folks. Students. Small business owners. Farmers, nursery workers and owners.

Rain? It rains all over Western Oregon, not just in Salem! It is just the same in Portland and the entire valley. Very dry in the summer and fall, very wet in the winter and spring. Beautiful.... diverse natural areas abound. People who find Salem boring need to live in Portland. People we want a more slow pace, with plenty of diversity, plenty of cultural events and groups, interesting neighbors.. in short, "real" people will like Salem. If you are looking for a nice mid-sized city that is close to Portland, close the the coast, close to the mountains, close to really everything...well, Salem isn't bad.
Carolyn | Salem, OR
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2 Replies

I moved here a year ago and I know this woman's post is almost a decade old, but I just find it hilarious that she wants us all to be cognizant of the humanity of people, but then call Salem the place that "real" people real love - even after giving Portland some strongly undue compliments. And this my friends is where my chief complaint about the simple folk of Salem comes in - the poster is correct. People are unassuming here, there is a lot of poverty but I don't sense it as much as libertarian vibes wanting to prevent an expanded tax base to give the children of this county the school the little humans truly deserve. People here are willfully ignorant. I'm not talking political affiliation, specifically. I'm saying whatever they're into, they are tunnel visioned. And that's fine, but know what that means. It means they say in a folksy way that they live and let live, but really what they're saying is they don't care about anyone but themselves. You can see it in their tax base, you can see it in their cliques, you can see at city council. Portland has a really horrible history of discrimination much like the rest of Oregon that was founded as a white person state not much more than 120 years ago. But they're looking outward and trying to fix it. If you are a HUMAN BEING who cares about anything beyond yourself and your property taxes, Salem is NOT for you. I'm not even sure the lower middle class homeowners that live on $15/hr are complaining. They don't want your fancy influx from somewhere else, they don't want it to be better. They just wanna be left alone. So that means you'll have space to do what you want, but you're not going to change a thing. My only hope for Salem is that the next generation all get college educations and evolve this disappointing place. It's beautiful, but most people I've met are extremely narrow minded, liberal or conservative. I think it's the crappy education system. Plus, there is no "inner city" here. It's called downtown, and it's meh, ok, with alot of potential.
me | Salem, OR

This is the best and most fair-handed review I have read of Salem on this whole thread. I cannot believe the woman below who lived there from 85-87 and is making judgments about it now! A lot of things change in three decades. I will definitely consider Salem for my pacific northwest relocation.
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