"GENTRIFICATION" is a word that's been on the lips of many Portlanders these days—people are talking about it with increasing frequency in bars, on TriMet, in the press, and on social media. With this discussion has come an outpouring of strong emotions: sadness! resentment! rage! bitterness! (To paraphrase Yoda: "Fear, anger, hatred... Portland, this is.") That's some pretty negative stuff—and yet it kind of feels good, doesn't it? Just let it out, Portland. Let it all out.
By broaching this subject, we've lanced a cultural boil—these pent-up frustrations had to be drained from our psyches. As a native Portlander and now-reluctant suburbanite, this process of complaining and blaming has been as cathartic for me as it's been for everyone else. But much like primal scream therapy or listening to Sia, something needs to come after that catharsis. All this discussion has been good, but now that we've opened up the wound, we can't just let it fester. It's time to stop commiserating and start talking about solutions.
Last week, I wrote an article on my blog, PretentiousPDX. "Four Rules for Talking About Gentrification in Portland" ended up getting shared all over the place, proving either that using the G-word guarantees hits these days, or that there's an insatiable demand for jokes about Lewis and Clark being the original hipsters. (It's probably the former.) Here's the CliffsNotes version of those rules: (1) Stop accepting Portland's problems just because Portland's still less crappy than other cities, (2) Stop fixating on Portland's aesthetic "authenticity," (3) Start being cognizant of the true costs of gentrification, and (4) As Portland inevitably changes, figure out what's worth saving.
Since that post, I've thought a lot about that last point. Where do we go from here? I think we need to talk about not just what's worth saving, but what's worth changing, too. Now, I'm not an urban planner or an architect. Nor am I an expert on crime or homelessness or race. But as someone who's spent the greater part of the last three decades at least passively thinking about these issues (minus a few years of my childhood when I was utterly devoted to hating the Sonics), here are my three best ideas for what I hope will be Portland's renaissance, not its demise.
1. We need Metro-wide solutions, not Portland-centric ones.
Portland and its suburbs are mutually dependent—and as Portland residents continue to be pushed out of the city, that dependency is only going to grow stronger. Yet the divide between the city core and... well, everywhere else continues to deepen. Look at how much time and money we lost because Portland and Vancouver couldn't see eye-to-eye on the Columbia River Crossing. (One can also argue that the creation of downtown's "Entertainment District" is a nod to a certain degree of outdated bridge-and-tunnel prejudice.) We need to talk about transportation infrastructure and the quality of life throughout and around Portland—not just places like downtown and the Pearl, or Mississippi and Alberta, or Division. If we don't, we run the risk of further stratifying the upper, lower, and middle classes into completely separate communities.
2. We need to start being socially informed and responsible Portlanders—in ways that actually matter.
Portlanders pay a lot of attention to whether or not their coffee is fair-trade and their eggs are cage-free—but how much scrutiny do we give to local developers and local (or not) businesses? How many of us even know who those players are? (Given that nobody said much when Hoyt Street Properties all but ignored their affordable housing goal, I'm guessing the answer is "not many.") Do we put our money where our mouth is? Sure, there was widespread whining over the demise of Besaw's, but what would you do if Pok Pok and Salt & Straw announced they were creating a hybrid venture to go in its place? Would you still be outraged—or would you be standing in line as soon as you finished griping about it on Facebook?
3. Get on board with moving forward.
Everyone's had a chance to talk about what they think makes (or, maybe more accurately, made) Portland great. But as many have pointed out, that's mostly just nostalgia. And nostalgia is useless. The real question is: How do we want to be defined in 2030 or 2060? What will this city look like by then? If our small-town mentality is proving to be unsustainable, what comes next? We need to start charting a course for Portland now—or else, as we're seeing, outside interests will do it for us. How many of us have researched what amount of affordable housing would actually be useful? Or what it would take for Portland to strengthen renters' rights? [See "Out of Control," News, this issue.] How many of us have read the city's 2015 Climate Action Plan? Or the 2035 Comprehensive Plan? What do we think of the city's proposal to reduce all human methane emissions by 50 percent, or to ban all non-artisan hot dogs? (Those aren't actually in there, but you wouldn't know unless you read the plan, right?)
So who gets to be part of this conversation? Everyone who lives or works in Portland—or has and wishes that they still could. Whether you've been here a year or a lifetime, we're all stakeholders in Portland's future. The transplants of today will be tomorrow's victims of gentrification. This isn't just a discussion for natives, or homeowners, or elected officials. That said, it's important that we respect our elders. Even if you recently moved here, you have a right to be heard—but know, and recognize, that the passion you feel for this city may run far deeper in long-time residents.
There's no panacea here, no magic salve to heal the wounds of gentrification. Portland's changing, and it's affecting all of us. There is, however, an opportunity to stop complaining about Portland's present, and start having a meaningful discussion about its future. That's my plan. I hope you'll join me.
Yume Delegato is a Portland native. After spending a few years covering Portland's live music scene, he now runs the tongue-in-cheek website PretentiousPDX.com. You can find him on Twitter & Instagram: @PretentiousPDX.