HEY, NEW PORTLANDER. There's controversy over you right now, but the fact you're reading these words is an extremely good sign.
If you really want to live in this city—or any city—one of the best things you can do is to figure out what its problems are, and who wields power (especially who wields it poorly), and what it aspires to be. Because then maybe you can stake out some of those issues as your own, or help the best candidate win office, or steer your adopted home toward an even better place.
It's not a quick process. It shouldn't be. But we'd argue reading our news coverage—both in the Mercury and at portlandmercury.com—is a really good place to start.
And we've even got a cheat sheet! These are just a few of the things you should be up on as a resident of the Rose City. They're not exhaustive treatises—more like helpful starting points to help you frame the issues. Two other pressing debates in Portland—over housing and transportation—are addressed elsewhere in this section.
Welcome. We're excited to see what you've got.
We assume you've noticed people sleeping in doorways, camping in parks or near trails, and asking for change on off-ramps. Yes, homelessness exists here—as it does in every other major West Coast city.
The latest official count found as many people sleeping outside in Multnomah County in 2015 as there were two years ago (about 1,900), but there's a consensus that the problem's as visible as it's ever been.
Your first question might be why the city's letting this happen. Why don't the cops push people out of the parks and side streets?
In fact, they do. Police launched a weeks-long crackdown on "entrenched" camps just this year. They've been known to arrest people for putting up tents ["Can't Sleep Here," News, July 30, 2014], and the city's repeatedly fended off challenges to its camping ban ["'We Must Do Better Than That,'" News, Feb 11].
But the larger answer is this: Enforcement can verge on useless and cruel when the city doesn't have the shelter beds or housing available to help these people. There's simply nowhere for many of them to go. The mayor's office has proposed stopgaps, including setting up stations where people can store their stuff during the day, but meaningful solutions have so far eluded everyone.
EASY BEING GREEN?
Portland's reputation as an eco-friendly city is much ballyhooed by our leaders—who just agreed on an update to the city's Climate Action Plan—while environmental activists question whether those in power really even care.
In 1993, your new hometown became the first major US city to enact a plan to reduce carbon emissions and improve environmental quality. While local officials have made strides, critics say they haven't done enough to stop fossil-fuel exports from leaving the Port of Portland, and haven't fought hard enough to fend off mega corporations like Royal Dutch Shell and Pembina Pipeline Corporation. Shell, in case you didn't hear, docked a ship in Portland for repairs a couple of months back, causing a huge protest upon its departure for an exploratory oil-drilling mission in the Arctic. Pembina very nearly built a huge propane storage and export facility on the banks of the Columbia River, and is still rumored to be plotting.
While leaders brag about our green status, our very vocal activist community calls on them to do more, and faster. Expect environmental watchdog groups like the Audubon Society of Portland and Portland Rising Tide to keep making waves, and making the news, as they fight to fend off climate change.
LEARNING TO SHARE
You're also going to hear plenty about the "sharing economy" and its effects on Portland, new friends.
While cities across the country rolled out the red carpet for ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, Portland has developed love-hate relationships with the companies.
See, the for-hire transportation industry has historically been tightly regulated in Portland. Suddenly all that's been upended.
When Uber came on the scene late last year, city council briefly sued, then put the brakes on the service until it could come up with a plan to create standards that leveled the playing field between services like Uber and traditional cab companies. It's been a bumpy road, with cabbies complaining transportation network companies (TNCs) are allowed to cut corners, and TNCs claiming they shouldn't have to drive by the same rules.
Final regulations that everyone must abide by will emerge soon. Expect outrage.
Meanwhile, the city's had less success wrangling Airbnb, which many say is openly disregarding safety regulations and eating into Portland's already insufficient housing stock. Even bike share—adopted with fanfare around the country—has been giving the city fits, though there's apparently a program coming to town next summer.
The future's here, and Portland's finding it hard, right now, to adapt.
- Mayor Charlie Hales: Figure out if you like him!
- Portland Bureau of Transportation
RACE TO THE TOP
Those three issues and many, many more will play into a crucial decision Portland's going to make next year: who we'd like to steer the ship.
You can expect a cadre of characters to run for mayor, but right now there are two credible candidates: Mayor Charlie Hales and State Treasurer Ted Wheeler.
Hales is a former city commissioner who left office early in 2002 to take a job in the private sector, then landed back on the scene in 2011, preaching the gospel of strengthening Portland's basic services.
Wheeler's the state treasurer, who used to run Multnomah County. He really wanted to be governor, but found his path likely blocked. Now he's aiming for Hales' job.
Your new city loves a sitting politician. It's notoriously hard for a challenger to bounce an incumbent from city council. Wheeler's got the money to do so—he's independently wealthy, and has shown he can raise funds.
But more important will be the case he makes. Has Hales truly done as poor a job as Wheeler suggests? And is he going to be able to conjure the civic rainbows he's been promising? You've got until May to figure it out.
You've arrived at an exciting time, Portlander.
More Newcomers' Guide Articles: