September 27, 2007

Portland: people who aren't from here bitching about people who aren't from here.

My beloved mini-metropolis has a mass bee in its collective bonnet, and it's incongruously hysterical about the situation. The bee is: people who aren't from Portland are moving to Portland. The incongruity is: the people waxing hysterical about it aren't from Portland either.

Last night my roommate had two delightful drunken friends over for dinner. One of them mentioned seeing an enormous multi-page piece on the Portland food scene in the New York Times, and the conversation turned to all the intolerable rich New Yorkers who are reading shit like this and selling their 500-square-foot apartments to move here and buy 3-bedroom houses and multiple cars. Delightful drunken friend #1 declared sulkily that they're ruining it for all of us -- we, the people who actually live in Portland, will never be able to afford anything in this city once the New Yorkers and San Franciscans get done buying it all up.

I may have gotten slightly hysterical myself at this point. I looked around the group and found it composed as follows:

  • Roommate: moved here from Massachusetts last year. Lives in North Portland and makes, for North Portland rents, pretty nice money.
  • Delightful drunken friend #1: moved here six months ago from various eastern states. Lives in Northeast and makes notable bank doing IT stuff.
  • Delightful drunken friend #2: moved here seven years ago from Minnesota. Just got fired from his part-time bicycle-messenger job and has remarkably little to say about spoiled rich out-of-towners wrecking his city.
  • Oh, and me: moved here two months ago from the Bay Area. Makes a bit less than my roommate but is living in comfort if not luxury in North Portland. Thinks that a city full of recent arrivals is actually kind of neat if the economic repercussions can be dealt with reasonably.

Granted, rolling my eyes skyward and yelling, "None of you are fucking from here either!" was probably not the most mature thing to do at this point. However, it was what I did. Delightful drunken friend #1, still sulky and in defiance of all comparative economic analysis, informed me that it's different because he's not rich. I neglected to ask what his disposable income looks like or how much more money he makes, adjusted for inflation, than the people who lived in his house ten years ago. I've seen the same argument had on the bathroom walls of just about every bar and coffee shop in town, and nobody ever wins it.

Everyone agrees that Portland is gentrifying, and north and northeast Portland are gentrifying so fast that you can almost watch the property values rising, and nearly everyone agrees that it's bullshit. But the people complaining the loudest about it in the places where it's happening the fastest are not the poorer families who can't afford to live inward of 82nd Avenue anymore. They're the single white kids who moved here six months ago from somewhere else and love their new hip neighborhoods and have money to spend on beer and bikes and music. They're me and everybody I know, basically, and we know we're involved and feel guilty about it but we don't want to leave. So we yell at everyone else to go home so it looks like we're doing something to help.

I don't really know what to suggest that people do instead. I know lots of things to suggest that people stop doing -- like assuming that they alone are essential to the proper management of Portland's gentrification issues and are therefore exempt from the moral imperative to leave. Or blaming everything on very specific groups of new Portlanders, like Those Damn New Yorkers, in order to redefine themselves out of the problem. (Who, me? Oh,I'm from Michigan; that's totally different.)

You all talk a lot of trash for people with their mouths full of cupcakes from the I Just Moved Here And Thought I'd Start A Cupcake Shop.

Posted by dianna at September 27, 2007 09:12 AM

We get a lot, a lot, a lot of the same stuff in New York, interestingly, though the character of it's a little different. The problem most people have tends not to be with people coming from outside the city into New York. I think everyone realizes, at some level, that nearly everyone here's from somewhere else, and most of the people who actually have lived here forever remember the 70s and 80s when everyone was scrambling to get out of New York.

Instead, most of the hostility is toward inter-city migration. The big gentrification battlegrounds now are Brooklyn and Harlem. You get the exact same dubious distinctions drawn as the ones you describe. "When I moved from the East Village to Williamsburg I was beautifying a decaying community! But now all the rich trust-fund hipsters from the West Village are moving in and ruining the place!"

It'll be interesting to see what happens if New York keeps attracting more and more wealthy people. Manhattan's essentially out of lower-class neighborhoods now, and Brooklyn's gentrifying at a rapid pace. New York may reach the ultimate end-state of gentrification and collapse under its own weight. What happens when there isn't anywhere you can live in a city unless you make $100,000 or more? You can't run a city with nothing but investment bankers and corporate lawyers.

Posted by: MoltenBoron at September 27, 2007 12:15 PM

Yes you can. You can do it by having all of the people who are in the market for service sector jobs live out in the cheaper suburbs and take 2-hour bus rides every day just to get in to the city to go to work because they need to work somewhere and the jobs are all in the city. It's already happening all over the damn place.

Posted by: Dianna at September 27, 2007 12:27 PM

I remember people complaining about Californians moving to Washington when I was.... gosh, I must have been precisely four years old. Seriously, though, it was all some people could talk about, and that was over a decade ago. I hope Portland has enough stubbornness and wacky fun to withstand the newest influx.

Posted by: Jacob at September 27, 2007 12:40 PM

Thank you. Until I read your comment, I had not realized that people can work in a city without actually living there. This explains all the people I'd see wearing work clothes on the occasions when I took New Jersey Transit out to Newark for my job last summer. I had assumed, heretofore, that the crowds of people were simply taking day trips to the city in the middle of the week. I had not realized that New Jersey Commuter Transit is, in fact, used by commuters.

The point is that rising prices in the city have a ripple effect that spreads out to the suburbs. Rich people move to Williamsburg, which pushes less rich peope to Red Hook, which pushes less rich people to Bed-Stuy, which pushes less rich people to Hoboken, which raises demand for houses in Hoboken and raises prices even in the cheaper suburbs. At some point the city reaches a breaking point.

Posted by: MoltenBoron at September 27, 2007 01:25 PM

Well, yes. Your sarcasm is duly noted, but I stand by my last comment. I think it's a continuous process rather than a threshold of reasonability; if the unaffordable area keeps moving, people have to keep moving to stay out of it. But until it goes so far that outer New York actually becomes inner Philadelphia I don't see them having much choice but to just keep taking longer bus rides -- hence my pointing out that in a lot of places it is already ridiculous but people are still doing it. The whole problem is that if you're barely affording to stay near a job-providing city, you can't necessarily save the money to move to an entirely new metropolitan area.

Unless it's Portland!

Jacob: it's my fond belief that the wacky fun is at this point so obvious and appealing that Portland is attracting people who want to bring some more wacky fun of their own making. If that's the case, then I see no reason why we shouldn't simply siphon off the most fun people from every other major American city and then sit back and cackle about it while riding across the bridges on tall bikes and juggling anatomical donuts in the rain.

Posted by: Dianna at September 27, 2007 05:29 PM

While everyone else is waxing loquacious about one pet peeve, I'm inclined to bring up another:




Posted by: Chris at September 28, 2007 07:33 AM

I wish everybody would just have less pet peeves. And they should post less comments about them.

You mean like that?

Posted by: Dianna at September 28, 2007 09:49 AM