In a fabulous Tuesday essay in Slate magazine, Taylor Clark describes the critical mass of famous and acclaimed indie rock bands that now call Portland home: The Shins, Modest Mouse, Steven Malkmus, Sleater-Kinney, The Decemberists, maybe even the great Johnny Marr or (god forbid) perennially shirtless Red Hot Chili Pepper frontman Anthony Kiedis.
Why am I writing about this on an architecture blog? According to Clark's piece, the attracting force isn't any kind of traditional "scene" where bands influence each other sound-wise. Instead, it's the city itself that attracts. These are people stuck in vans touring most of the year. Portland is where hipsters go to retire, to hang out in bars on Mississippi and Alberta and even to ride mass transit. Clark continues:
So what's luring them here? The rockers themselves have somewhat confusingly praised Portland as a city "entrenched in juvenilia" (Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein), a place with a sense of "calm longevity" (chief Decemberist Colin Meloy), and a home of "really great public transportation" (the Shins' Mercer, who, it's safe to assume, didn't come here for the bus routes).
Musicians...moved to Portland for the same reason as the rest of us: It's easy to live here. In the words of a friend of mine who used to be the music editor at the local alt-weekly, Portland is like a resort community for indie rockers who spend half the year working themselves ragged on tour. You can venture into public dressed like a convicted sex offender or a homeless person, and no one looks at you askew. It's lush and green. Housing is affordable, especially compared with Seattle or San Francisco. The people are nice. The food is good. Creativity is the highest law. For young, hip Portlanders, financial success is a barista job that subsidizes your Romanian-space-folk band or your collages of cartoon unicorns.
It's more than musicians, too. We've heard this talk before, of course, particularly as it concerns the "creative class" that author Richard Florida writes of. I don't want to spout the same old factoids about how the city is becoming hip. But there's more to it than that. How is Portland's cultural identity going to change in the years ahead? Are we destined to become more of a big-big city? We've never sought that status like Seattle has, but it may be coming anyway. (Incidentally, these photos of The Decemberists, Sleater-Kinney and The Shins I took at the filming of a live DVD called Burn to Shine a couple years ago. You can see more pics here.)
And how might these creative voices continue to affect the built environment in Portland? It's already happening, of course. Many of you reading this could be architects recently relocated here in the last few years. I love that. I'm not one of those Oregonian's who is weary about outsiders moving in. Particularly if they're educated and creative-minded, that bodes well for Portland. I may not be as hip as a hipster, but I'll take these people embracing inner Portland in a heartbeat over, say for example (to use a rancid stereotype), Republicans moving to Tigard from Orange County.