In April it was the New York Times’ 36 Hours in Portland, Ore. Then in May the LA Times jumped on the bandwagon with a mass-transit trek through Portland’s singular sites (oh, and don’t forget their Pearl paean last December: New Luster in the Pearl District of Portland, Oregon).
Our neighbors to the north have also been publishing a slew of stories about Portland, and Oregon in general.
Now it’s Travel and Leisure’s turn: American Eden.
This article may be the most thorough yet. It covers all the standards (Voodoo Doughnuts, check; Powells, check; Ace Hotel, check . . . you get the idea), but is more fun than the typical POVA pablum. There is an attempt to elucidate some of the factors in Portland’s recent, apparent, renaissance, as “Portland has become a metaphor for enlightened humanism and progressive government, a little pocket of Sweden in the States.” Richard Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community, and Everyday Life (Powells | Library) is mentioned of course.
But what’s missing in these sorts of pieces is an effort to unravel how Portland came to be an “American Eden” (hint: it’s not due to Nike). I think the best explanation is in Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone: the collapse and revival of American community (Powells | Library). In the populace of Portland there is a strong belief in the ability to form and shape community. Portland’s not “weird,” it’s just that people here have an old-fashioned collective mindset (though “weird” is better for marketing). We reap the benefits in “quality of life” and other intangibles (and more tangibles like improving transit, good beer, great street festivals, and a strong food, art, music, and literary scene). The rest of the country is starting to take notice. I’m usually cynical about these sorts of things, but after the 15 minutes passes I don’t believe Portland will change for the worse ( though hopefully that asinine “Keep Portland Weird” motto will be jettisoned).