Thursday, April 15, 2010


Portland, the media darling, appears in two international publications today [HT: Mike Rogoway]

Correction: so this is embarrassing, The Wall Street Journal piece I linked to and commented on today below is from long ago, May 2009 to be exact.  I didn't even notice (such is the haste of my post the the life of the part-time blogger), I just did a quick Google search and up it popped and I didn't think to check that it was the one.  Er, the piece below is the piece Rogoway was referring to.  Many thanks to an astute reader who figured it out - and my apologies.  [The older article is still below and is also interesting and, such is the state of the economy, it reads just as current today as last May]

The Wall Street Journal on Portland

This is about Bay Area commuters who have chosen to live in Portland and Seattle:
Now it is getting more practical for people to live in the Pacific Northwest and continue working for Bay Area-based companies, as more employers loosen their telecommuting policies. Technology also is making it easier to stay connected all the time, and travel between San Francisco and cities to the north has become more convenient, though hard data on Bay Area transplants to the Northwest who retain their local jobs are hard to come by.

Alex Payne plans to move to Portland with his wife next month, while keeping his job at San Francisco-based Twitter Inc. Last October, Mr. Payne caused a stir when he blogged about his frustrations with San Francisco's quality of life, including criticisms of its public transit and high cost of living.

In contrast, the 26-year-old believes Portland is a "model of urban design." Mr. Payne is especially impressed with the revitalization of Portland's Pearl District, a once-grimy industrial neighborhood that now teems with art galleries and restaurants. Portland's lower property costs also are appealing, though he initially plans to rent.
I once found myself in the commuter plane terminal at San Francisco International Airport on a Friday evening (around 6pm or so) and there was a flight to the Redmond airport leaving around the same time as mine (I was headed to give a talk at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo).  All of the passengers were assembled for that flight and clearly knew each other (and the airline staff) very well and were all talking about their weekend plans in Bend.  They were clearly weekly commuters to silicon valley who lived at least part time in Bend and commuted back on weekends.  I was impressed.

The Economist magazine on Portland

This is mostly about the general urban, dense and progressive nature of the city. Here is a taste:

Mr Adams says Portland’s success is “totally replicable”. But much of it seems to be an unintended consequence of land-use policies dating back to 1973. Back then, Oregon adopted “urban-growth boundaries” (UGBs) to preserve the farmlands that were then the mainstay of Oregon’s economy. Over time the rationale for UGBs changed to “don’t Californicate Oregon”—ie, don’t become Los Angeles, a freeway sprawl with no centre. The result has been unusually compact living, which is in turn easily served by public transport.

But cities with sprawling, California-style layouts will find it harder to make people use public transport. Phoenix, for example, has an excellent light-rail system, but it is often empty. And it may be even harder for such cities to get their residents to live more closely together.

Joel Kotkin, a Los Angeles-based demographer and author, thinks that places like Portland, San Francisco and Boston have become “elite cities”, attractive to the young and single, especially those with trust funds, but beyond the reach of middle-class families who want a house with a lawn. Indeed Portland, for all its history of Western grit, is remarkably white, young and childless. Most Americans will therefore continue to migrate to the more affordable “cities of aspiration” such as Houston, Atlanta or Phoenix, thinks Mr Kotkin. As they do so, they may turn decentralised sprawl into quilts of energetic suburbs with a community feeling.
A couple of comments.  Are these really unintended consequences of the UGB?  It seems to me that the intent is to preserve rural land and promote density - and with density comes all the things that the Economist calls success: urban living, bike friendliness, etc.

And I am not so sure about the 'childless' part, perhaps the statistics back this up but in my experience (and in the recent experience of the Portland Public School system) the child population is growing quickly - the little rugrats are everywhere.

As mentioned above, this is an article from last year on Portland from the WSJ

The Wall Street Journal on Portland

This article is about the city attracting educated youngsters even in a time if high local unemployment. Here is a taste:

This drizzly city along the Willamette River has for years been among the most popular urban magnets for college graduates looking to start their careers in a small city of like-minded folks. Now the jobs are drying up, but the people are still coming. The influx of new residents is part of the reason the unemployment rate in the Portland metropolitan area has more than doubled to 11.8% over the past year, and is now above the national average of 8.9%.


The inflow of young college grads helped change Portland's economy over the past two decades. Most notably, it contributed to an increase in the fraction of Oregon workers with college degrees to 28.3% in 2007 (above the national average of 27.5%) from 19.5% in 1990 (below the national average of 21.3%), according to Moody's Of course, some of that increase came from older educated migrants, as well as homegrown college graduates.

When I moved to Portland full time (my father had been here for many years by then) to attend Lewis & Clark in the mid eighties, Portland was a very different place - blue collar and a bit ragged - and this was part of its charm to me. Since then it has changed completely largely because of two things in my narrative: it was low cost and close to the Bay Area, and its blue collar charm and natural beauty helped engender a youth culture that attracted lots of young educated types to the area. And luckily so. [As an aside, a few years after graduating, I found myself in Grad school at Wisconsin and one day I was in the library and overheard a gaggle of Wisconsin undergrads planning their next move after college: most were aiming to relocate to Portland. This was 1994]

So my experience matches the statistics given above. The great news is that in attracting educated folks, the city's economy was made much stronger and more diverse. The bad news is that in doing such a bad job making our own educated youngsters, this economic growth may not be sustainable.

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