Let me clarify, I was born in Portland and can proudly call myself a genuine Oregonian, a unicorn perhaps, but I am a now a minority in my own state. Last it was check, only 46% of the Beaver state’s residents were born here. For the past 20 years, my sleepy ugly duckling state has been transformed into a beauty queen. Oregon was the geeky kid that you ignored in high school but today has the fame, fortune, and social status that makes the girls swoon and the guys jealous.
I left the state in 1991 for college at the precipice of the Grunge movement before everyone could smell Teen Spirit or know that Pearl Jam was something you should spread on toast. When I told them that I was from Portland they would say, “isn’t that on the East Coast?” When I would tell them, “No, that would be Portland, Maine and there was in fact a sizable city in Oregon called Portland,” the shock and awe ensued. After correcting their pronunciation of my beloved state (numerous times) and dispelling the myths that we were a wet, backwards state, I would go into a sales pitch, defending my beloved state against all else. I would focus on the picturesque beauty, ability to ski and surf on the same day and how honest and friendly the people were.
I had no idea that my (and every other Oregonians’) sales pitch would be so damn effective because after 24 years away I came home for good to over 1.37M more residents clogging up our archaic transportation network and buying houses that are 194% more expensive than they were in 1990.
Yes, I get that my sleepy city and by extension, my podunk state is now the hot commodity. Thanks to marketing we have attracted television shows which display our gorgeous scenery for everyone to lust for, we are home to some of the world’s most iconic brands, and despite the influx of outsiders, we are still genuinely nice folks.
But this is the classic problem of social exuberance. If one person rides a Harley-Davidson or has a tattoo, then society thinks that the behavior is unique and “weird” but when you pass the tipping point where Grandma is sporting a tat and driving a Harley does it differentiate you from the rest of society?
By the same token if it is hip and cool to move to Oregon and this mass exodus has resulted in a 53% increase in population in the past 24 years. At what point must we acknowledge that the Oregon brand has been diluted, and we are now a homogenized shadow of what made this state so desirable.
Don’t get me wrong I have plenty of good friends that moved here and now identify as Oregonians and I would be genuinely heartbroken if they left. However, my point is when is enough enough? When can Oregon go back to being a nice place to live and raise a family? When can we turn our attention to cleaning up the mess that double-digit growth rates have had on our infrastructure?
In fact, there are at least 99 documented reasons why Portland sucks which is sure to dissuade someone from moving here.
My personal pet peeves are that traffic sucks, we have taken politically correct to the extreme for fear of telling people the truth and the amount of people living on the streets is a disappointment. Oh and one more thing … when will the sun come out? It is July 28th can I please wake up to the sunshine? FYI, to a native Oregonian, the day after July 4th is when summer weather officially begins.
Case in point, it used to take me 15 minutes to get from SW Portland to anywhere in the metro area now I can’t even get from the west hills to downtown Portland in 15 minutes thanks to the constant traffic on HWY 26. Think about this, in the past 25 years, Oregon’s only major strategic transportation project other than the light rail has been the Tilikum Crossing, albeit pretty but doesn’t exactly alleviate the transportation issues. Stereotypes aside, pretty or bridge or not, not enough people are going to trade their car for a bike to truly make a difference on the roads. It is my belief that the Metro planners failed to plan for the tremendous success that we have witnessed in the past 2.5 decades.
Portland was an urban planning mecca but lost sight of the famous quote from the movie Field of Dreams “It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.” The quote articulates Portland and by extension, Oregon’s problem, when you create something good people will want to be a part of it. IE “Success begets success” so you have to plan accordingly for success or in this case more people coming to Oregon.
A quick check on the 2016 Portland’s population growth rate shows that we are settling down to a sustainable metro growth rate of 1.8%. If this trend continues then maybe, the Metro planners can focus on infrastructure projects that improve the quality of life for Portlanders such as expanding HWY 26, developing a west side freeway past Hillsboro that takes interstate traffic off of I-5 in the metro area corridor with a third bridge crossing over the Columbia River.
All of this may be crazy talk, and I might be a little jaded that people have discovered the secret of Portland but to keep on “Keeping Portland Weird” we should try harder at making Portland habitable for everyone even the Californian transplants. And yes, I do remember the famous Tom Mcall signs welcoming Californians to Oregon for a vacation then promptly reminding them to go back to California.