Tuesday, April 12, 2005

some thoughts on portland, oregon

Portland feels like a pretty hip, creative city - on Sunday I jumped on one of the free trams to go to the convention centre where I was working for the week, and got only a few blocks before I spotted the Saturday market, which was worth stopping for. It was a small, vibrant market reminiscent of the one at Camden Lock - all incense burning, carved wooden toys and stalls selling vegetarian food.


I spotted someone wearing a t-shirt which read 'Keep Portland Weird'. The city is full of home-brew bars, too; I had a couple of excellent drinks in a place named 'Rock Bottom'. Whenever they do those 'most liveable city' lists, Portland is invariably near the top.

But elsewhere I saw someone with a cardboard sign which read 'unable to work, too nervous to steal'. Quite a lot of people begging, actually, but then Oregon - for all Portland's progressive tendencies - has had the highest unemployment rate in the US practically every month for the last three years, although things have improved in the last few months - in January 2004 there were 158,841 Oregonians without jobs. A year on the number was down to 131,805, which is better without being inspiring. Little wonder that the Republicans didn't get a look in in the election last year.

I don't really suffer from wanderlust, but when I'm in a new place I want to find out everything I can about a place; I spent a few hours skimming through books on the area in Borders but I didn't find anything that really appealed, although there's a book by Chuck Palahniuk (who wrote Fight Club), entitled 'Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk Through Portland, Oregon', which sets out to focus on Portland's capacity for supporting an alternative lifestyle; in fact it just seemed to chronicle his various experiences with sex-workers and strippers. Wooo.

Back on the tram, the heavily accented announcements, saying 'Please provide seats for seniors and riders with disabilities' comes out, every time, as 'please provide seats for seniors and writers with disabilities'.

Like I said, it's an arty city.


Mark Holland said...

Oregon - for all Portland's progressive tendencies - has had the highest unemployment rate in the US practically every month for the last three years

An obvious case of cause and effect perhaps?

jonathan said...

Hi Mark,

The main problem seems to have been the decline of traditional manufactoring industries - namely fishing, logging and agriculture - which were heavily hit by overfishing, automation and competition from Mexico and Canada, whose trade barriers were lifted in the 90s. If the 'progressive' culture of Oregon has had an economic impact at all, it is a positive one, as it's largely the movement of the high-tech electronics industry to the State which has brought about Portland's more cosmopolitan feel, and that same industry has reinvigorated the local economy.

Mark Holland said...

Good stuff. It certainly sounds like an interesting place to visit.

I have to say though that I don't think you can call fishing, logging and agriculture 'manufacturing'. They're primary industries. Electronics is a secondary manufacturing industry.

jonathan said...

Oh yeah, good point :-)

It was nice; a shame I had to go in spring when it was foggy and - frankly - not very different to the UK in terms of weather, but it made for an interesting break.

Laban said...

Interesting place. What they used to call 'right-on'. If you're taking the train from Seattle to SF they close the toilets all the way thru Oregon, to keep the poo off the track. Green, but uncomfortable.

I see the Mayor of Portland refused to support the "Mrs Oregon" pageant because the contestants had to be female and married to a man. You can read Liberal Larry's report here.


Anonymous said...

Hello Jonathon, Reading your Portland stuff. I played a gig/did an instore there and it was the best vibe of the whole tour. Cool place. I think there are alot of people living a very 'natural' life in the hills, which adds to the unemployment figures. A friend of mine has to cross two mountains to visit his son and spends alot of time in his mountain retreat.
One of the better places in the USA i.m.h.o. (Amapola)

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