Day 351

This place is absolutely stunning at night. No matter how many times I walk around the downtown area after sunset, I always find a wealth of new gorgeous neon signs and mesmerizing hilltop views. It’s almost as if a wonderful transformation takes place once you can no longer see the high-rises and skyscrapers. After the night sky consumes the tallest buildings and top floors, you’re left with streets lined with holiday lights; lampposts adorned with red ribbon and bows; and immaculately crafted storefront displays. That's why after two weeks, I still believe Portland truly is a small town masquerading as a big city.

While I was saddened to learn that not many people reside in this beautiful downtown area, it does lead me into something else I’ve been meaning to write about. Over the past couple months I kept hearing that Portlandians are becoming more and more frustrated by the number of residential buildings being raised in the area. To me, this was all rather confusing, because I saw a lot more residential construction in Austin and Seattle. Thankfully, after asking around this weekend, I was finally able to shed some light on this common assumption. It turns out there’s an anger boiling under the surface, because many people feel all these new high-rises will eventually cause the city to lose that “small town” charm I was just talking about. Not to mention, it could lead to a massive rent increase. 

Honestly, I can’t say I blame them. The #1 trend I’ve seen amongst new buildings—from Boston and Charlotte to Austin and Seattle—is that they each feature all-glass façades, even if it doesn’t fit into the surrounding architecture. I’m not saying I’m an expert on any of this, but after traveling this long, it’s certainly noticeable and a tad bit alarming. One of the best parts of this entire trip is seeing how each city is different. Yet, if we continue to erect these cookie-cutters constructions, we’ll wind up stripping all of our homes of their individuality. And that would be a shame, if you ask me. I’m sure there’s an underlying story about citizen responsibility and local government participation here, but I’ll refrain from going off on a tangent today and just leave it at that. I know this is a topic I briefly touched upon back in March and to see the trend continue all the way across the country is a bummer. That's why I decided to bring it up.

Aside from opinions on architecture and city planning, I also learned a few other things about Portland. I discovered that this city loves Chuck Palahniuk. How can I be so sure? Well, I ended up spending my entire Saturday afternoon inside Powell’s City of Books, just to get his signature. Granted, it’s an absolutely amazing bookstore and Chuck is one of my personal inspirations. But, by no means was I expecting to be waiting in line for 4+ hours. To put it into perspective—a Cavs game started when I first entered the line and ended 15 minutes before I secured said signature. For as frustrated as I was though, I couldn’t help but feel bad for Palahniuk. He ended up signing books for a total of 8 hours (that I know of). I applaud him for his dedication; that’s for sure.

The final thing I learned is that Portland and snow do not mix. There was a light dusting of powder late last week and it basically shut the entire city down. It’s odd, because I would’ve assumed they deal with a lot of snow here. Turns out that's not the case. I’ve been told the area only has one or two snowfalls a year. I guess it has something to do with the nearby mountains. Being a hardened Clevelander, it didn’t seem so bad to me. But, believe me when I say, there was barely a soul downtown that morning. Which is a shame, because Portland is absolutely beautiful in the winter. Hell, this place is beautiful all the time. I guess that’s what it comes down to. So, I’ll end this blog by saying that I side with all Portlandians who want to ensure it stays that way.

 P.S. — I did an early morning hike through MacLeay Park on Saturday and for the record, I didn’t get lost this time. I’ll go ahead and chalk that up as a victory.

-Steve-

Day 344

Well Portland, that was one heck of a weekend.

While I admittedly spent a majority of it hiking around the hills of Portland, I still managed to hit up a few great spots and learn some very unique things about the city.

Discovery #1 was ADX Portland, which I learned about from one of my Pollinate colleagues. Billed as a “hub for collaboration where individuals and organizations make and learn,” ADX is a giant co-op workshop that offers everything from metal and wood shops to 3D-printers and laser cutters. To me, it’s a great reflection of Portland’s DIY attitude and I think a lot of other cities would benefit from having such a space available. Personally, I find ADX’s best attribute to be its calendar of classes. As a member of the facility, you can take courses on metalwork, upholstery, woodcarving and so much more.

Discovery #2 was a little thing called Zoobomb, which brings together the quirkiness of Portland’s residents and their overt love of biking. A true PDX tradition, participants ride their bikes downhill from Washington Park station over and over again. Of course, what fun are normal bikes? The Zoobomb crew uses a variety of vehicles from minibikes and tall bikes to skateboards and choppers. And while many riders bring their own gear, a “Zoobomb pile” is always available with loaners. The tradition has become so well known around the city that a permanent pile, located in the downtown area, was erected in 2009.

These are just two examples of what I discovered about Portland this weekend. I have to admit that in a lot of ways this city accurately reflects many of the assumptions people hold about it—from an endless number of artisanal goods and craft stores to a love of nature, fitness and organic food. I’m sure a lot of people out there are fans of Portlandia and while the show's themes are largely exaggerated, I completely understand how their ideas come to be. Everyone here is just doing his or her own thing and having fun in the process.

If I’ve learned anything about PDX in the past week, it has to be that it’s deceptively small. They pack a lot of fun into a little city, even if you don’t realize it at first. I think that says a lot about the people who inhabit it and what they try to stand for—big impact / little footprint.

On a side note, I should probably mention my hike through MacLeay Park on Saturday. Turns out, the park is a lot bigger than I expected it to be. I started my hike around 3:30pm and before I knew it, I was pretty deep in the trails. After awhile, when the sun started to set, I decided to make my way back and that's when I realized just how dark it had become. I wasn't wearing my glasses either; so that wasn't helping anything. Thankfully, I did have cell service and that's how I knew just how far into the woods I had hiked. If it wasn't for my GPS and flashlight app, I'm not sure what I would've done. But, after a good hour or two stumbling along a pitch black trail, I did manage to make my way back to civilization. It was—without a doubt—one of the freakiest things I've encountered on the journey. Lesson learned. 

-Steve-