I’ve been thinking a lot about how Portland is changing. I figure the city leaders must know many of us feel like the city is growing too quickly and leaving some folks behind. But maybe they don’t. After all, I’ve never told them how I feel. So with a city council meeting on the books for tomorrow, one in which much of what I’ve been thinking about will be discussed, I sent this note out to them today.
Dear Mayor Hales and City Council,
I’ve met a few of you before.
Mayor Hales, we met at the opening reception for the “We Build Green Cities” video a few years back. Soon after that, I showed you around Wieden+Kennedy, so you could learn about the agency’s unconventional school, WK12, and the Portland Incubator Experiment. Your curiosity and interest in what the tech community needed in order to grow impressed me.
Mr. Fish, we have spoken at numerous Harper’s Playground events and I always appreciated how eager you were to hear my thoughts on the city.
For the rest of you, I appreciate the hard work you do on behalf on Portland. And I’ll quickly introduce myself.
I’ve lived here in Portland for most of the last 20 years. I’ve been involved in the art community, the film community, and most recently the advertising community, where I’ve been lucky enough to work with Travel Oregon and Travel Portland. In fact I came up with the idea for, and wrote, the 7 Wonders of Oregon campaign.
I have also taught at PSU, I host most of the Moth storytelling events here in town and do some auctioneering for non-profits I believe in, as well as my daughter’s elementary school, Abernethy.
Which is to say I’ve been lucky enough to come in contact with a wide spectrum of Portlanders and while I can’t speak for anyone but myself, I think there are lot of people who are feeling the way I am. So here goes.
I love Portland.
I love that we’re an epicenter for zines and the performing arts, and food and drink and urban planning. I love how as a city we figure out how reuse and recycle not just cans and bottles but cruiser bikes and old buildings. I love how many unique local businesses we have and support. I love how we’re a city that feels like a big town and I love how nice and friendly the people are who live here, how open-minded and unafraid to be themselves.
That said I’m loving it a little less than I used to.
I’ve always been a supporter of build up, not out. But it feels like we’re building up and filling in so fast that our city is changing very quickly.
I can stand in my front yard and see three massive houses being built where modest, affordable middle class houses once stood.
I live near Division and 32nd, so I’m in the heart of it.
But it’s happening all over Portland. Heck, it’s happening all over America.
I know this transformation has positives for the city.
The construction industry is booming and new businesses with good jobs are being created and moving here, which means a higher tax base, so more road improvement and public transportation and better schools.
But I also fear we are losing some of what makes this city so amazing.
Our famously livable city is becoming less livable. Traffic is worsening which is annoying, but also dangerous.
Just this past weekend there were two pedestrians hit in our neighborhood, one at 31st and Division Friday night, another at 32nd and Division on Saturday minutes after the Division/Clinton Street parade ended and with dozens of kids right there, including my own.
(And let me remind the bike and transit advocates that traffic affects bikes and bus schedules as well.)
Portland is also becoming a lot more expensive.
So much of the new housing being built is high-end and it’s often being built where more affordable housing once stood.
Artist studios and small businesses are making way for new developments.
As a result, many of the people who have made this city so interesting and distinct are becoming disenfranchised and are being pushed out. It’s affecting artists, service workers, teachers.
I hear many of them ask can I afford to stay? Do I want to?
But I also hear concerns from my older Richmond neighbors, the ones who were born into and grew up in the houses they still live in.
What happening to my neighborhood? Why are the builders of these big new houses so disrespectful of everyone who lives nearby?
It’s difficult for folks to have to consider moving from somewhere they love and helped shape.
But I also fear it could spell trouble for the city.
If Portland becomes less livable and we lose too much of our unique culture and diversity, we’ll stop being a destination for tourism and businesses looking to relocate.
I’m not opposed to change. It’s inevitable and it can be good.
Personally, I like all the new restaurants and shops on Division, but I also like the old businesses that have managed to hold on.
And I’m pro-growth.
In fact we’re turning our garage into an ADU for my mother-in-law, doing our best to work with neighbors, recycle as much wood as possible and match our house, working with BDS to meet every requirement and code.
I just hope we can change and grow in ways that work for all Portlanders and don’t change our city so radically we lose what makes it’s special.
I have a few things I’d like to ask.
Very specially I’d ask that you consider ensuring that “lots of record” and “lot remnants” be removed from the section of the Zoning Code that covers single dwellings (Title 33.110)
My understanding is this will slow down the lot splitting that incentivizes single family residential demolitions.
More generally I’d ask that you to do anything in your power to promote the building and saving of affordable housing.
I think this is so important to Portland’s future.
And I’d ask that you continue to find ways to make cross streets like Division and 32nd safer. We got a notice that work is going to be done to make the area around 26th and Powell safer, which we’re thankful of.
Finally, what can I do?
How can I, and others like me, help Portland grow and change in a way that is more inclusive and enjoyable?
I really do love this city. I can’t imagine a better place to raise my kids and grow old.
But I also find myself asking my wife where the next Portland is.
And I really want to stop asking her that.
Thanks for listening, and I’m eager to hear any thoughts.