- Izhar Bar-Gad
Mixed impressions of Portland
For a long long time Portland got the highest grades as the best place to live in the USA. We were also very fond of it during our visit in 2002 as we found the unique strangeness that Portlandians are so proud of to be a nice mix with the vibrant art scene, heterogeneous population, beautiful buildings, green parks, busy downtown and the large number of coffee shops and book stores.
This time, however, things were more complicated as the COVID pandemic seemed to have thrown things off balance. The immediate impression when you drive into the city is of the large number and high visibility of homeless people who are camping everywhere, typically with piles of junk surrounding them. Their number and even more their impact is higher than we've ever observed in the USA. On the one hand, it is a nice manifestation of the way Portlandians are willing to accept these unfortunate people but on the other hand it seems that the way they approach it is by not walking the streets anymore (as it feels uncomfortable walking) and not going to restaurants but rather picking things for take-away (as it is not a very pleasant to sit and eat when there are multiple homeless people sleeping in front of the restaurant's entrance). As a result the semi-deserted downtown due to the COVID pandemic changes in the people's working habits is giving a strange eerie feeling somewhat like (a light version of) some dystopian future stories.
We really love to walk in the cities we visit and thus had to find an interesting location which did not have this bad vibe. One such place is the Alberta Art District which has great street art ranging from huge murals to tiny stickers. The streets also boast a large number of arts and artisan shops, cafes, restaurant and the Portland specialty: food trucks. While such trucks are seen nowadays in most cities, Portland has taken it to the extreme. A very large and variety of trucks ranging from simple to chef level food are found everywhere. The trucks are typically situated in groups which enables each of us to try a different cuisine.
Portland is still a heaven for book lovers ranging from the enormous Powell City of Books to Yoav's favorite Cosmic Monkey Comicstore, you can find anything and everything. It has great parks: we hiked in Washington park and enjoyed the rose park (never seen so many impressive roses in my life) and the zoo (wonderful with special care for the welfare and habitat of the animals) which are situated within it and we did an hilly orienteering course in Mt. Tabor. Most of all, Portland maintains its strangeness receptive to people of all strangenesses. The extreme case of course is the Freakybuttrue Peculiarium and Museum which bring strangeness to the next level.
Thus, we left Portland wondering whether you can keep this openness, acceptance and strangeness of all people, and of course the homeless as well, while still maintaining a “safe” and “clean” look? It seems that the Europeans (and even Israelis) with a more developed “socialist” system do, at least an apparent better job, but I guess we will let the Portlandians figure it out for themselves, they’ve done an excellent job in the past.