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I loves me some Omsk.



Brian Libby

Omsk? I had to look that one up. For those of you who don't know either, it's the second largest city in Siberia. I can honestly say, I wasn't expecting that one to come up. But that's cool! Morgan, care to elaborate on why you love a place we associate with banishment?


Interesting point, Brian. I think you're correct, at least as far as which kind of city may be a better place to live (I'm not so sure about which is better for a visit).

The big advantage second-tier cities like Portland have over the cultural capitals is cost. I can live in Portland, and live really well, for half of what it would cost me to enjoy a similar lifestyle in New York, Boston or San Francisco. And it's not just the obvious, housing costs. It's everything. When I visited a friend in San Francisco recently and went to the supermarket with him one day, I noticed that everything I buy regularly -- orange juice, cheese, bread -- costs him 25 or 30 percent more than I pay here.

There are definitely trade-offs that accompany the advantages of life in a smaller city, though. The biggest gap between those major cities and the second tier is in cultural areas. It's not just the Portland Art Museum that's second-rate here. So are the quality of the opera, the symphony, the theater, the restaurants, and, yes, the architecture. We have them, but in nowhere near the quantity or quality we'd have if we were a city with more people and more money. The sad reality is, the important cultural activities and events ONLY happen in the major cultrual capitals -- where the money is.

Still, that said, I'd much rather live in a hassle-free place like Portland and enjoy the A-list cities as a visitor. That, I think, is the best of all possible worlds.


I have to disagree with the last comment regarding certain second rate assertions.

The restaurants here are not second rate. Portland, due to the abundance of organic farms, its 'green' ethos, and the plethora of young chefs has a dynamic restaurant scene. It may not have the big names, but we definately hold our own on creativity and quality.

In addition, the art scene is dynamic and again excels in creativity and quality due to the city's relative affordability and 'vibe'. Definately, the museum is not of the quality of larger cities, but it is very good and I wouldn't necessarily call it second rate - more appropriately, second tier.

Brian Libby

I agree about the restaurants. And I don't necessarily think Portland has second-rate architecture. We don't have a lot of famous buildings, but I think the collective urban fabric is very good. Portland is second tier in terms of size, but there is no American city I find preferable.


Munich gets my vote for fantastic second-tier city. Frankfurt is the financial capital of Germany, Berlin is the official capital, which leaves Munich to be the lifestyle capital.

g. sid

i live in NYC, lived in ptown for 10 years. would never have left if not for my girlfriend's job:(. portland's art scene is great. it is experimental and not over-run by rich assholes (yet). same for restaurant scene. the only draw back as far as i can tell, is the fact that it essentially closes down after midnight. someone please tell me things are changing!

Although NYC is the world's largest playground for the obscenely rich and powerful (read: $$$$$) its art scene is consumptive and rather dull. If you want any sort of vibe or flavor somewhat similar to the west coast,you move to brooklyn, where it's cheap and still has a soul.

in the end, i miss ptown every day of the week, and completely agree here - that as a second tier city, it's advantages are numerous - and just look around - its architecture is actually quite good when examining it vs. NYC or Chicago or even Seattle (which is hideous architecturally).


Oh, I'll agree that the restaurant and art scenes here are dynamic, but my point wasn't really to criticize what we've got. I just wanted to point out that cultural amenities is that one category where the gap is greatest between what you'll find in the first-tier cities and what you'll find in the second-tier cities.

Portland has many restaurants I love, but does it have even one really great -- meaning world-class -- restaurant? No. I loved Portland Opera's production of The Flying Dutchman last week, but will we ever hear any of the leading figures in the opera world perform here? No. As for architecture, can someone name a single example of world-class architecture in Portland? (Anyone??? ... Bueller??? ...)

You can easily find second-tier cities with best-in-class universities (Duke, Yale) or hospitals (Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic) or weather (Honolulu, San Diego) or natural beauty (Portland, Vancouver) or businesses (too many to name). But you NEVER find second-tier cities with cultural amenities that are anywhere close to what you'll encounter in the "A" list cities. That's all. By mentioning this, I don't mean to denigrate anything Portland's got. It's just a simple fact. It's a function of money, pure and simple.

Regarding Brian's original question, about which second-tier cities are favorites, I'd agree: Munich. Also Lyon. And Venice. And on this side of the Atlantic: Vancouver. Cleveland. Pittsburgh. And (of course) Portland ranks right up there. What they all have in common is that, even though they're smaller than the "major" cities -- and, as a result, cheaper and less of a hassle -- you can find in them at least some of the amenities you usually only find in much larger places.


I think Montreal is an amazing place. The city exhibits a unique architecture style, a warm populace and a great scale...with just a touch of decay.

Cologne is a wonderful city, very hip and creative. I would also include Guadalajara, Edinburgh, Seville and Lisbon.

m conroy

amsterdam was fantastic. i'm from LA originally but love living in portland. it has great food and friendly people and is just visually gorgeous compared to anything in southern cal.


Big cities are good at marketing. What really makes a world class resturant? Reviews (really just a form of marketing). The big cities are filled with reviewers and critics and that tends to inflat opinions (and egos).

Voodoo Donuts is a good example of a nice product being pushed into another level all on some lucky reviews. Picture Portland having a built in marketing/reviewing machine (as some of the big cities have) pushing a bunch of different artistic/Business ventures into that higher level.

Las Vegas is a a good example of a midsized city with its marketing developed as well as a big city. One could argue that Portland is a much more vibrant real CITY then Las Vegas, but because of marketing you'd really never no.

Brian Libby

That's an excellent point. I consider Las Vegas to be hell on earth, but somehow they've managed to convince Joe Sixpack otherwise.


You think Portland doesn't do a stellar job of marketing itself? Not a month goes by when it doesn't show up at or near the top of some magazine's or newspaper's or TV show's "best places" list of one kind or another.

Besides Portland, the only other place in the world I can think of that gets such an unending stream of glowing press reports raving about how wonderful it is, is the Greek island of Santorini.


St Louis is incredibly underrated. Very good cultural amenities, fantastic large park (Forest Park) and the historical architecture (much of it very old) is amazing. At one time the city was one of the wealthiest and most important in the US and you can sense it immediately. The Central West End has "private places"--which basically amounts to an early version of a gated community--enormous mansions dating from the turn of the century. Downtown SL is reviving and the cost of living is very low. Allied Works designed the new St Louis Contemporary Museum.


You are all missing the point with Las Vegas. Vegas is the Strip and all it contains. The rest of the city is irrelevant. But what an outrageously pleasant folly the Strip is! The weather is usually fabulous, the surrounding desert stark and beautiful, the shopping is (now) first rate (unfortunately most of my intellectual friends have no money, so they hate Vegas as well, for obvious reasons,but a Joesixpack place it ain't no more). It is also refreshingly open 24 hours, unlike most american cities that shut down at 9pm (OK being originally from southern Europe, I miss dinner at 10pm, what can I say)There are many other reasons Vegas is unique, but the above should be enough to generate plenty of hate mail (hold your gus, I wouldn't want to live there, but it is soooo much fun to visit)

Fred Leeson

I spent a week two summers ago in Tallin, Estonia. City of maybe 300,000, only opened to the west after the collapse of the USSR. It has a FABULOUS medieval old town almost fully surrounded by the orignal defensive wall. Scads of old buildings, either tastefully restored or with restoration in progress. Estonia leaped happily aboard the capitalistic boat and it has a vibrant, energetic economy, while maintaining respect for its historic past. In time, it will rank as one of Europe's great tourist spots (at least in the summer), but it's still comparatively quiet and off the beaten track.


I felt a powerful connection with Berne when I visited. Small city (~140,000) but full of culture. I suppose it helps being the capital of Switzerland. An amazing array of shops along the arcades of the Rathausgasse, especially on the one night of the week when they are allowed to stay open late. University town, lots of museums including Renzo Piano's Klee museum...I could go on for a while...wonderful place.


Dude, if you don't already know about the magic of Omsk, I can't possibly explain it to you... ;)

Thurman Chandler

Sorry, Portland is second-rate. I love Lima, Peru. Is that small enough? I love it's scale, and vibe. It has vibe. Not too big, yet uber-fun, cool buildings ( from colonial Spanish to modernist residences), and great food. 6th World cusine they say!

John Rehm

Taipei, Taiwan. Great urban city nestled among green hills ready for hiking and biking. Its image is a huge disconnect from the reality...and they are working really hard in areas like arts/culture and the enviornment- many of which put PDX to shame.

Mike Thelin

Bilbao, Valencia, Leon, Zurich--all great cities, all second-tier. I agree with Brian regarding our art museum--it never quite feels worth the admission.


Seeing our art museum described as "sub-par" gives me a bit of a smile. Yes, it's true, but I think back to what it was in the 1980s and early 1990s, and how far it's come over the past ten years, it's been pretty amazing growth. Back in college, it was so pathetic I would never have brought visitors to see it. Now, I routinely show it off to friends. No, it's not the Met or the Louvre, but it's growing fast and now hosts major national traveling exhibits.

As for second-tier cities, I find a lot to like about San Diego -- the newly revitalized downtown, the growing light-rail network, the easy access to Tijuana via light-rail, the museums and gardens of Balboa Park, and the easy trip from the airport to downtown.

Brian Libby

A side note, but then hopefully back to talk of other cities:

I kind of regret making my original comment of the art museum here being "sub-par". It's all relative. I wrote that post from the road, and had just been to Tate Modern, so I was energized thinking of some of the amazing museums in huge cities like the Met or MoMA in NYC or the National Gallery and Tate Modern in London. But after going to the Statens Museum in Copenhagen, which left me really underwhelmed, I came to think of the Portland Art Museum in a different light.

I love that they devoted several new floors to contemporary art, I think it's great the way the Buchanans upgraded Belluschi's original, and there are several individual works there I like a great deal. I was both enlivened and disappointed by the architecture of the Jubitz Center. I think if they're able to keep growing the permanent collection and eventually build another building in the surface lot they own across the street, thereby freeing up the floor to ceiling glass-topped Mark for some kind of cafe and/or other public space, PAM can become something I'm very very happy with.


Brian: I don't think you need to regret or amend or rationalize your original opinion about the Portland Art Museum. It IS sub-par. We shouldn't be afraid to say so. If we're content with it as it is, it'll never have any incentive to get better. (And as I mentioned in some earlier posts, inferior cultural amenities are THE biggest difference between most first-tier and second-tier cities.)

Regarding the art museum, I think the Buchanans sort of pulled a bit of a scam on Portland by raising all that money for the "expansion" and then using the vast majority of the expanded space for offices and ballrooms, not for galleries to display art. And every time I walk by, I think the museum missed a tremendous opportunity by not turning the street-level space between the two buildings into a really nice entrance. That tunnel you need to traverse to get from the entrance in the old building to the "expansion" is REALLY unsuccessful.


I agree. We need to be dissatisfied with the Portland Art Museum if we're going to make it better. But the Buchanans made a great start, and I hope Brian Ferriso can keep the momentum going.

As far as I know, the Art Museum can't turn the space between the buildings into an entrance. I think it's still a public street, even if it's closed to cars, and that there are limits on the kind of structures they can put there. Personally, I wish they'd been able to work in some kind of sky bridge between the buildings, but I don't know how well that would work visually. (I can't visualize anything that isn't jarring and ugly)

As far as the offices in the Mark Building, the north side of the building was designed for galleries. I think the offices are "temporary" pending future expansion, and when the block to the north is developed, the Mark Building is ready for a massive, relatively low-cost expansion of gallery space.


Since the discussion hasn't returned to other cities yet, I'd just like to comment in response to comments made that anticipate what might be built on the block to the north. Its neighbor to the east is the northern-most of the South Park Blocks, unique of all the park blocks in terms of the experience it offers to visitors by way of its exposure to the western sun.

Any conventionally designed building placed on the museum's undeveloped northern block will most certainly compromise that unique experience. It would be better if no building were constructed there at all. With that in mind, an expanded sculpture garden might be a better choice for this block. (gallery space below ground like at the Louvre).

Back to other cities...I haven't travelled, so mostly, I'm just listening here.

Toni Magic

I would not call PAM sub par. I think the Greenberg collection is a really interesting collection with some important pieces in it. I think would can make PAM better is to acquire more and better work, which I think they are doing. I also think it would be a major step in the right direction to have more contemporary art shows.

I think Portland is an incredibly interesting place to be right now. I think it is definitely first tier in terms of a being a creative center and is much more dynamic in terms of art and music as well as other niche areas then much, much larger cities.

I think it would make a difference having more corporations and rich people that could invest in museums and the opera and stuff, but I also think that it is a very fragile balance to maintain the dynamic creative environment that is going on in this city and I am not sure that we can cater both to the mega rich and corporation and to our creative community.

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