My mom grew up in Oregon. She lived in Klammath Falls until she was 3 years old, then her family moved to Portland. They lived in the Hollywood district with 11 kids. There were months when they couldn’t pay the electric bill, so they lived in darkness. My grandfather was a missionary for the Christian Scientist Church and my grandmother stayed home to watch the kids. They were very poor most of the time. My grandfather made everyone pack up their stuff and move across the country to Philadelphia, when my mom was 12.
I was born in Philadelphia, where my mom met my dad. Although Philly is a great city, full of history and 1st generation immigrant culture, it never jived that well with me. I was searching for a place that I could connect with spiritually. My mom talked about Portland, Oregon from time to time, but we never visited when I was a kid. Most of her family had moved back to the Pacific North West, but they lived in Seattle. We visited Seattle every so often to see my aunts and uncles and my grandmother who moved back there when I was 5.
Even though, we never visited my mom brought a part of Portland into our lives. We went camping every summer around the East Coast. We hiked and walked in nature. These were things my mom loved and packed with her on their journey from Oregon to Philadelphia. She was used to the simple life of Oregonians. She loved nature and wanted to bring that into our lives too. Most Philadelphians don’t go camping or seek out nature, but we did. So, when we finally visited Oregon in 2006 for a family reunion on the coast, I fell immediately in love.
Here was a place with vast mountain ranges and cascading waterfalls, as well as the rugged coastline. Our large family camped on the coast near Newport, at Beverly Beach. Our tents were walking distance to the sand. I grew up spending summers at the Jersey shore, where you sunbathe, eat ice cream, and run in the rough gray waves. The water was warm in New Jersey. Oregon’s ocean is not warm. It’s blue, but rough and bitter cold. I have never swam in it. The beach is bordered by a wall of rock cliffs, jagged like the teeth of a great white shark. We had bonfires on the beach each night with driftwood. Of all the reunions we’d had, this was by far my favorite.
My family stayed for a week after the reunion and visited Portland. I had a friend there that picked me up and brought me to a party on the East side. I really connected with a lot of the people at the party on a higher level than I had with people back East. I realized that I had found a place that I spiritually connected to. My family visited all the touristy spots: Portland Rose Test Gardens, Japanese Gardens, Multnomah Falls, etc. I was in love and I told my parents I would move here as soon as I finished college in Boston. I would have moved the next day, if I didn’t have three more years to complete at Emerson College.
I returned to Boston that fall and raved about Portland to my college friends. As soon as I graduated, I applied to grad schools in Oregon. I needed to take a year off after school to save up money to move and I wanted to travel. While I was traveling, two of my roommates moved out to Portland before me. I sadly wasn’t accepted into Portland State University’s Anthropology program, but I was accepted to Oregon State University. So, Spring 2010, I packed up my car and an ex boyfriend and I drove across the country to Portland.
I lived in Portland for 3 months before moving to Corvallis, Oregon to attend OSU. In those 3 months, I made some long lasting friends. My housemates were very unique. The owner of the house was a guy named Angel True, who legally had changed his name to that, and was a reiki shaman who walked around in a velvet red robe and hand long curly hair and big beard. I was subletting from a girl with dreads who went to work at sleepover camp and was a massage therapist. My roommate was a really rad girl named, Kai, who was a burlesque dancer and artist. She hosted dinner parties at the house with all her unique friends. I soon bonded with all of them and felt a part of their little family. They were very different than my friends back home. They were strippers, burlesque dancers, and artists who made a living outside the conventional 9-5 lifestyle.
I loved living right off of Alberta street and being able to walk to coffee shops and great restaurants. On every last Thursday, there was a street fair on Alberta, where artists could set up stands and sell their hand-made goods. People dressed up in quirky outfits and strolled down the street together. It was so different from Philadelphia. My friends back home thought it sounded weird and didn’t understand why I would want to live in such a strange place. For one, the rent was cheap. I paid $350/month in that 3 bedroom house and beer and food were cheap too. Also there were unique things like food carts everywhere, burlesque shows, and people felt very comfortable in their own skin.
I had a hard time adjusting to how slow everyone drove and how courteous they are on the road to other drivers, bikers, and pedestrians. This is something that doesn’t exist back East. When you asked for directions, people would walk you there themselves and tell you their whole life story. Service was slow in restaurants, but servers made conversation and weren’t rude. It was the complete opposite of home and I loved it. I especially loved how close the outdoors were. I could go hiking at Forest Park right in the city. I could drive 30 minutes and be at the Columbia River Gorge and hike to waterfalls. I went camping, skiing, and to the coast. It was amazing.
Then the show, Portlandia aired that fall. At first my friends were calling me to ask, is it really that strange? Do they do that there? Is this your life? Then people became so familiar with Portland and its quirkiness and “Keep Portland Weird,” slogan that it was recognized as a place to attract young people who wanted to retire. Within the past 6 years, I’ve watched this city transform from a little friendly town with quirks, to a city with horrendous traffic, construction everywhere of condos and high rise apartment buildings, and overcrowded. The cost of rent has skyrocketed and landlords are raising it with very little notice to tenants and forcing people to have to move. A studio costs $1,200 and it used to cost $600. There’s a lack of jobs and the ones that do exist don’t pay enough to afford the rent. It’s outrageous!
They say that 100 people are moving here each day. It is very noticeable that there has been a large influx of people to the city. Unfortunately, Portland was never established enough to house all these people. So, the city has allowed developers to come in and pave over the city with brand new condos and apartments everywhere. All of the well-known staple establishments in Portland are disappearing, because California developers are coming in and offering them tons of money to bulldoze their establishment and build another goddamn apartment complex with no parking. We have already lost the Boiler Room, a bar that hosted karaoke and open-mic comedy for the past 15 years. It is now being turned into a coffee shop or day use building of some sort. They are bulldozing Gustav’s German restaurant in January. Mike’s Drive-in in Milwaukie is gone at the end of it’s lease. Even our beloved block of food carts on 9th-11th and Alder downtown will soon be taken over by high rise multi-use buildings.
I get that they are making room for all the people moving here, but they are erasing the reason people are moving here. If Portland becomes just another city and loses its culture and its quirkiness, then there won’t be any reason to move here. All of the locals are so fed up with them bulldozing old Victorian houses to build condos, that they are deciding to leave Portland. My fiance grew up here and he is ready to move away as well. It just isn’t Portland anymore.
Now, I know you are going to say that I’m not a native and how do I have the right to say that I could move here but no one else can, but my mom was native and I moved here before Portland was on the map for people due to Portlandia. Portland just isn’t equipped for this amount of people to move here. Every time, my fiance and I are driving he points out all the non-Oregon license plates to me. Yesterday, I saw the first New Jersey plate. We see tons of California, Texas, and Florida. Now, I’ve seen Montana, Indiana, New Mexico, etc. It is not a new phenomenon that Californians move up to Portland and Oregon in general and buy vacation homes and hike up the price of real estate, but now even more people are moving here from all over.
The traffic feels like we live in LA, and if it weren’t for the constant rain, I would think we did. I sat for 45 minutes yesterday on the way home and it normally takes 15 minutes without traffic. People aren’t as courteous on the road and their frankly not as nice in general. Portland is ruined. I feel bad for the natives who have watched its full transformation. In some ways the influx of money has helped areas like the Pearl District transform from warehouses with shattered windows and a sort of no man’s land to the hip, upper scale neighborhood it is today. As a result though of the gentrification of all the neighborhoods like Mississippi, Division, Alberta, the minorities that called those areas homes can’t afford to live there any more and are forced to move further East.
I keep hoping it will level out at some point and people will find a different cool place to move to. People haven’t flocked to one city like this since the Gold Rush that brought everyone to California. People normally move somewhere, because of school or work, but nowadays young people are moving places because they are hip. Austin, TX and Boulder, Colorado are experiencing a similar thing to Portland. How do we make it stop?
I can’t go to my favorite trails for a peaceful hike on the weekends without all the lots being full and the trails being packed. We can’t attend an event that is advertised on Facebook, without waiting in a long line to get in and then feeling like a sardine packed in the sweaty oil of hipsters. It is no fun anymore and pretty soon all the cool stuff will turn into housing for the people that moved here for the cool stuff. Then what will be left. Will everyone just pick up and leave and Portland will be left with a bunch of empty unrented apartments?
We are left with the dilemma of whether or not to ride this wave and hope that Portland gets back to it’s old self or at least a semblance of that, or to pick up and move somewhere else. I tell you, for one, I will never move somewhere hip again. I’m not chasing this wave across the U.S. because once a place is discovered as being under the radar and cool, it very rapidly cascades into over crowded and passe. It’s like when you find that secret swimming hole or that secluded island, you better not tell anyone about it or it won’t be secret or secluded any more.
I’ve heard the same thing has happened in Thailand. The once pristine and secluded islands off the coast are now tourist traps with hotels lining the beaches and towels lining the sand. If you’ve found something unique and under the radar, don’t advertise it. Keep that shit a secret. I regret going back to Boston and raving about Portland to everyone. Although, I’m happy a bunch of my college friends moved out here, only one still remains, because the rest were fed up with Portland.
As a travel writer, I try to be very conscious of this. After Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about Bali, the entire city of Ubud developed into a tourist attraction. All the old vendors and markets were taken over by glass front shops. I don’t want to be responsible for ruining a place by touting its beauty to the world. If I discover an unknown place, I might as well rename it and not give the location or everyone will go there and ruin it. It may be too late for Portland though.
My fiance says that Portland was never a quirky, hip town before the hipsters came. It was a just a quiet city overshadowed by Seattle in popularity and they liked it that way. The locals liked their quiet city, where everyone was friendly and loved the outdoors. I don’t know if it can ever get back to that place though. So that leaves us with the burning question: should I stay or should I go? And if you are thinking to yourself, should I move to Portland, the answer is NO!!!!!!