Monday, November 26, 2007

A Little Shameless Provincialism

Like many cities, Portland is sometimes claimed to have the highest suicide rate in the U.S., and as with most of those other cities the claim is bogus. (That kind of data is only aggregated at the state level anyway, but since you are asking: Alaska. Far and away.)

Still, when you are entering the darkest two months of the year and our trademarked sullen clouds are banked from here to the four green-grey horizons, it's not a hard story to believe.

So it's mostly to lift my own spirits, and only secondarily to bait the readership, that today I'm going on a provincial spree. It's the Truth as I see it. It's michael5000's five favorite things about Portland. Not necessarily the MOST favorite. Just five that come to mind.

1. The Outdoors Thing. Five months out of the year, Portland lures you outdoors with leaf-dappled sunlight, warm breezes, gentle sunshine, gloriously long days, and short warm nights. You are firmly encouraged to develop your outdoors interests, be it hiking or kayaking or cycling or, I don't know, ultimate frisbee or something. Plus, there's lots of outdoors to get out in. Walkable neighborhoods, big parks, and a huge variety of town, rural, and natural environments within an hour's drive all beckon you out of your room. It makes for a population that is, on balance, in slightly better shape, has a little more spring in its step, and has a kind of wholesomeness that comes from frequent exposure to big trees and running water.

2. The Indoors Thing. Five months out of the year, Portland politely suggests you retreat indoors from short, grey days and cool, wet nights. It doesn't ever really GET cold, but it FEELS cold, and so you pretty much need to get an indoor hobby. It engenders a city of coffee shops, of alternative movie theaters, of rock clubs, and of a performing arts scene disproportionate to the population. Portlanders spend the winter on the creative arts, making stuff and doing stuff, or reading books from our outstanding public library or our legendary bookstore. It makes for a population that is, on balance, a little better-read, a little quirkier and a little more creative, and has a little bit of the manic energy you would expect from survivors of chronic cabin fever. It's cool.

3. The Garden Thing. Primo soil, sun-drenched summers, and mild winters combine to make Portland a town where the challenge is not getting something to grow -- it's keeping your plants under control. But if they get away from you, no big deal. You can just plow everything under and start again. It makes people neighborly. Also, it makes things purty.

4. Bridges. It's fun just to list 'em. The green cathedral of St. John's in the north; then, the soaring, silver-arched Fremont; the pragmatic rust-red Broadway; the squat, gothic Steel; the flat, wide functionality of the Burnside; the machine-age Morrison; the Hawthorne, a sweet Norman Rockwell painting of a bridge; the Marquam, that much maligned ribbon in the sky: the high, spindly Ross Island clad in baby blue; and in the south the ricketty, narrow death trap of the Sellwood.

[edit: check out today's Wikipedia picture of the day!]

5. Houses. People in Portland love old houses, and so does the state planning code. Do we still have bland hateful sprawl out on the edges? Sure we do. But also have vital, thriving neighborhoods in the city's heart. You know what people call "inner-city problems" in Portland? Gentrification, that's what. And if you are going to have a problem....

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Portland, Oregon, or Portland, Maine?
A: Give me a goddam break.

Q: You said "five months" and "five months."
A: The other two months are transitional.

Q: The things that you have mentioned do not interest me.
A: I should have said, we now have more breweries than any other city in the world.

Q: Gardening? Isn't that just for little old ladies?
A: Not in Portland. In Portland you could put your big dog in the back of your big truck after a full morning of snowboarding, listen to loud indie rock all the way back to town, watch a football game at a brew pub, and then go home and tend your roses. It's cool.

Q: Could I watch a basketball game, instead?
A: Of course.

Q: What about baseball?
A: We're not so much into that.

Q: How dare you minimize the horrors of gentrification!
A: On the whole, I feel that gentrification is a positive social force. This goes beyond its obvious and profound benefits for a city's basic housing stock. Gentrification usually acts to diffuse poverty through a wide area, and prevents any given part of a city from becoming a chronically impovershed poverty trap for everyone who lives there. It encourages investment in low-income neighborhoods. The idea that it breaks up community networks of support was always pretty specious, and more so now that communication costs are approaching zero. Sure, nobody wants to lose the lease on their place. It's a real drag. But foes of gentrification want to make their sentimentality into your social issue.

Q: You sound defensive.
A: Nah. It's just a different way of thinking about things than most people are used to.

Q: Do you realize that Seattle is not a part of Portland?
A: Oh, it's you again.


fingerstothebone said...

I do 'the outdoor thing' year round, in the rain and in the dark. You see lots of things in the dark that you don't see during the day, like owls flying around, bats flying around. People's yards look different in the dark. This spring, on my night walks, I heard a baby owl calling. And finally spotted the nest (well, ok, inferred the location), when I caught the mama return to the nest several nights later. Last year, we saw a fawn (yeah, in Portland). And of course, there are the cats on their nightly hunting trips. Things look different in the rain and gray light, everything is shiny and the colors are intense.

And that's just in the neighborhood.

Kritkrat said...

I think all of Alaska's suicides must come from interior AK, because the whole time I lived there, I never knew one person that committed suicide - and that's saying a lot when you are in rural AK where everyone knows everyone. If I lived in interior AK though, I think I would have been the first to go...

Rebel said...

"Q: You said "five months" and "five months."
A: The other two months are transitional."

And by "transitional" I'm sure you mean rainy and grey with occasional 'sun breaks'.

I can't believe you left the tram off your list. ;)

blythe said...

so wait, which is it? ME or OR? i joke. or do i?

Michael5000 said...

@fingers: It's just too bad you haven't been able to cultivate any indoor hobbies.

@kadonk: I think you are from the Panhandle? I would guess that the rate is relatively much lower down there. One does sometimes hear that alcohol is sometimes abused in the interior....

@rebel: The tram! An odd little bubble, scuttling up and down the hospital hill, grazing the roof of your car as you drive down the freeway...

@blythe: Oh, blythe, it's not YOU. It's ME. Wait. What was the question?

Anonymous said...

So, you sold me. Rex and I are packing our bags, leaving lovely (in that abandoned red brick factory rust belt sort of way) Confluence NY, and heading West where the people are happier, thinner, cooler, and the gardens aren't frozen for 6 months of the year. Well, once our daughter goes to college, anyway.

Chance said...

Stop making me miss Portland, gawdammit.

Michael5000 said...

@sandy: Bring her with! We've got colleges! She could be a brainy lefty at Lewis and Clark! Or, an alarmingly brainy lefty at Reed! Or, a brainy Catholic lefty at UP! Or, she could enjoy the convenience and economy of a large urban commuter school at PSU! The choice is hers!

Bridget said...

I love this city. I ended up moving here 15 years ago without ever having visited. I had just read an article that Portland had more green spaces, coffee shops and bookstores per capita than any other city in the United States and I was sold. I have never lived anywhere that felt more like home.

Dang, I'm a gettin' weepy!

Bridget said...

Wikipedia has a picture of the day? Weird.

Anonymous said...

I love you last line about gentrification. I had not thought of it that way but it's true.

The place is lovely with it's five and five. Seems easier planning the wardrobe with just two seasons and a few transitions.

There is something healthy in if not loving where you live, at least not hating it. I have to work on that!

Oh btw, I played the music from your site while cleaning the other night and it stopped after the fishes one. (Which I loved.) I will be going back there to hear more. Nice mix of message and movability.