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you'd think with such a "creative class" we'd have a decent radio station.

Matthew Stadler

Why the rancid stereotype about Tigard? Doing a better job at inner city development (and gentrification)isn't Portland's greatest opportunity. Recognizing and catalyzing a vibrant, decentralized urbanism is.

Brian Libby

Matthew, you're absolutely right. The future decades will see more significant development in places like Tigard and, as you know, Beaverton, than here in Portland. There's far more opportunity there to make positive change toward a healthy decentralized urban system.

If I succumbed to the aforementioned stereotype, it's because the "opportunity" we speak of stems from the fact that today we're still not there yet. I know there are places of beauty and community and even pedestrian activity in these suburban locales, but if driving and visiting relatives there over the last 30 years is any indication, I still find a lot of it really damn ugly and unpleasant.

For those of you who don't know, Matthew is a superlative local writer and speaker who has made the exploration of suburbs like Beaverton one of his many fascinating endeavors.


Actually Clark's little sketch of Portland sounds a lot like 1992 and little like 2007. The fact is that this is no longer a city where you can live satisfactorily on barista-level wages, which could surprise nobody who's watched housing prices double in five years while one apartment building after another goes condo.

If we want to talk about the bands, the artists and the assorted weirdos that comprise alternative culture in Portland, we have to understand how fundamentally that culture is animated by cheap housing. "Affordably priced" studio condos don't cut it. Dirt Cheap Rental Housing is undebatably the first mandate of any kind of fringe life. But plainly, over the last decade or so, policy and commerce have cooperated diligently to see that very little of that D.C.R.H. remains in the inner city areas. To assert that Portland is now -- much less will continue to be -- some kind of haven for creative, low-wage-earning young people is to stand on simple ignorance of that fact.

Richard Florida's easily-abused ideas, moreover, really need to be tossed. "Next!!" Really, the "class" he believes cities need to attract has very little to do with creative people in general; Florida clearly intends that we glorify, and cater to, young urban professionals--because they're savvy about using computers and/or other people's sweat to make good money. Whether you're an architect or a shoe-store owner doesn't matter as much as whether you have enough money to buy the house that the indie-rockers can't afford to keep. Florida's indicator species of artists, homosexuals and rock bands are of use only to identify up-and-coming regions prepped for the more ambitious to muscle into.

Brian Libby

Gerry, you make some fair points, but everything's relative.

What the Clark piece boils down to for me is a lot of indie rockers and other artist or creative industry people are moving here. They've observed it's cheaper than the cultural Meccas they're used to like NYC or LA. But more than anything, they've come for the environment that Portland has: its walkability, community, and left-leaning poltical and artistic vibe.

Indeed, it's harder for a barista to make ends meet than it used to be here. But as former New York Times pop music critic Ann Powers pointed out in her book, "My Bohemian America", Portland also has a built in advantage here in that there are many large, Victorian era houses that provide opportunity for shared living in a more communal, bohemian setting affordable to young people. Rich multi-platinum selling rockers are not part of this phenomenon. Like Clark wrote, Stephen Malkmus of Pavement fame lives in a veritable castle. But the famous rockers are seeing the environment that exists for non-famous, non-rich young people, and they want in on it too. Really the indie rockers are validating a cultural environment that already existed.

Like any environment, Portland's close-in one is constantly changing and fluid. The added popularity and cost of living is part of that. But it doesn't change the basic thrust of Clark's article, which to me is about a special socio-cultural moment happening in Portland right now that transcends any economic or sociological or artistic data we can throw at it.


is it actually more expensive then 1992? i had a lot of friends with low rent, in the 200's and such. but i also remember people making $5 an hour.

nowadays, seems like rent is about twice as expensive, but bottom feeder wages are pretty close.

additionally, a lot of the cheaper houses were VERY FAR from anything exciting. living in a giant "old portland" home in deep NE back in the 90's was a very different experience. we used to have to drive to everything.

so yea, i challenge this idea that portland has gotten "more expensive". if it has, its not been much more expensive.


Pardon my argumentativeness, Brian, but...
To claim in the late 90s (which is when Powers wrote the book you mention) that there were "many large Victorian-era" houses for rent in Portland was dodgy then, and it's beyond ludicrous now. But anyway, since Portland is so subject to change, as you're pointing out, then none of its advantages can be in fact "built-in," even if they are real.
I find quite a few claims about Portland's livability lately are based less on where we are or can expect to go, and more on what we're just accustomed to thinking. Walkability, cafes, sustainable, cheaper than SF, etc etc: we all know the shorthand. For me, the shorthand gets tiresome because I've lived here, on and off, since I was born, and have bounced around from NW to SW to SE to NE looking for a cheap place to house my lowlife self for 25 years now. For some of us, the message of this special socio-cultural moment is crystal clear: You're Poor. Get Out.


I think Gerry's partly right in asserting that a flourishing art and music scene depends on cheap housing. But I think the fuller truth is that it depends on relatively cheap housing in proximity to wealth and, for lack of a better term, cultural life.

There are plenty of housing markets in the US that are cheaper than Portland's, from Phoenix to Boise to Akron to Albany. But such places, whether for reasons of economic or cultural blight, don't seem to attract the young and artistically ambitious in great numbers. Terribly expensive New York City, on the other hand, still does. If a city is culturally appealing, it's remarkable how ingenuous and determined people--at least young people--can be in finding ways to live cheaply in it. A sign of this kind of determination may be Matthew Stadler's touting of the suburbs as an alternative to central Portland.

And while artistic motivation may not be primarily monetary, serious artists ultimately do need venues and markets for what they produce. At least judging by the greater number of art galleries, popular music clubs, and theater, dance and classical music groups in Portland now compared to one, two or three decades ago, it seems like artists now have a better shot at making a living here through their art. Maybe the influx of those often-maligned types--yuppies, Californians, and empty-nesters—to close-in Portland has something to do with that.

Indie rock musicians may not be as dependent upon wealthy patrons as are more traditional artists, but they too depend upon people with some disposable income. And somehow, young people of a certain socio-economic background always seem to have plenty of money to spend on booze and music--hence the active popular music scene in Portland.

It may not last, but right now Portland seems to be a pretty rare combination of relatively cheap, prosperous and interesting.

Brian Libby

Okay, let's say Portland is now an expensive place to live. At least to a degree, I'd much prefer to live in a nice city that happens to be expensive, maybe in a smaller place or whatever, than a less favorable city that happens to be cheaper. Cities are, I suppose, a matter of taste just like art, fashion, food, etc. Nobody's saying Portland is the greatest, the cheapest, the coolest, or anything. Maybe it's changed a lot in some ways, maybe it's remained the same in others. The point is that there seems to be a growing collective energy here, and some of that, anectdotal evidence suggest, is that Portland is, while still unquestionably an American city, a little more European leaning than most in its approach to handling urban issues. No need to give the city a medal. There's probably too much patting ourselves on the back as it is. We need a comprehensive transportation strategy, better land use planning, more education funding, and a ton of other stuff. I guess it's just one of those things that if you say a bunch of nice stuff about something, it's inevitable that the next step is to play devil's advocate and show that it's largely gray and not so black and white. It's all good, though.


hm, OK, I admit that actually reading the Slate article should have been a prerequisite to commenting on your post. Anyway I just now read the thing. Brian, I take it when you described it as "fabulous" you meant in the archaic sense of "in the manner of a fable or fairytale," right? Because that sure nails it!

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