The distinction—the identity—of Portland, Oregon, is so tangible that it is written down and emulated, often painfully, by cities thirsting to “be like Portland.”
Of course having your own show (a love letter, actually) spoofing your openness, fastidiousness and overall disappointment with everywhere that isn’t Portland makes your particular special blend ripe for commodification. (Yes, we’re still bitter that Portlandia is no longer.)
But the city’s left-coast isolation, its ambivalence towards established norms, and its legacy of cooperation and neighborliness—to hew trees and carve out one’s place among the encroaching wilderness—makes this one of the most earnest cities on the planet.
One of Portlandia’s zingers identified its lampooned target as a “place young people go to retire.” But it’s more like reinvent themselves, taking what was there all along, finding its best parts, and doubling down on what works.
The proof of its people is in Portland’s performance: its citizenry ranks #26 for Educational Attainment and #27 for GDP per capita globally. Portlanders get things done.
The same can be said for the city’s dedication to preserving and treading lightly. Already one of North America’s most pedestrian and bike-friendly cities, Portland applies its Reduce, Reuse and Recycle edict to city planning with mesmerizing results. Dated, run down buildings—some with fantastic stories of timber empires and East Coast outcasts—are lovingly restored to create a sense of place impossible to build new.
Take the Sentinel Hotel, a 100-room, six-storey former timber society hotel, carpet factory and flop house (playing itself in Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho). After a $6-million reno by boutique operator Provenance Hotels unveiled ornate ceilings, secret room with strategic acoustics and enigmatic nooks, the building is today a destination on par with a small museum.
This and others preserved since, like The Society Hotel, “once a sailor’s hotel,” are Portland history and the city, now comfortable with an identity coveted by urban centers around the globe, is increasingly mindful of protecting the gnarled roots of its special sauce.
Speaking of sauce, the city continues its militant pursuit of local everything. This place doesn’t just have craft breweries, it has an Innovation Brewery that pours 15 site-only experimental beers, many never to be repeated again.
Portland jewelry makers don’t just craft pieces—they personally rockhound gemstones in the deserts of Southern Oregon. See the obsession for yourself at Aylee & Co. appropriately housed in a repurposed shipping container.