Keep Portland Weird

Portland is not only about establishing a green image. With a young and vibrant population and with roots in the West coast 70’s, Portland has its share of wacky and weird. Something which the city unlike many other places does much to preserve. Therefore, one of the most famous slogans is ‘Keep Portland Weird’. In this blog, I’ll write a bit about the ‘weirdness’ in Portland and about some of the quirky things that I’ve seen.

‘Keep Portland Weird’ means that Portland already is weird. Historically speaking, Portland can boast with a history similar to that of Seattle and Vancouver. It started as a settlement in 1843, where Asa Lovejoy and William Overton bought a piece of land that later became Downtown Portland. Records show that they purchased the area for 25 cent. And rumours has it that Overton borrowed the money from Lovejoy and never paid back. He then sold his part of the area to Francis W. Pettigrove and moved on.

Later in 1845, the citizens of this new townhood became increasingly weary of the place not having a name. Apparently a dispute ranged between Lovejoy and Pettigrove about what should be the name of the town. Both wanted to name it after their home city, because that is as original as it gets out here. In the end and by pressure from the citizenry they tossed a coin with best out of three, and this is why the city today is named Portland, Oregon after Portland, Maine and not Boston, Oregon after Boston, Massachusetts.

Named Portland the city was well on its way, but unlike many other American cities, it didn’t feature a landmark. Therefore the city asked artist Raymond Kaskey to produce a sculpture depicting the woman from the Seal of Portland. In 1985, this became Portlandia, the second largest copper repoussé in North America, second to that statue which the French brought over and placed in New York. However, the sculpture never really has become the landmark it was intended to be. The reason Portlandia is rather unknown is partly because she, in spite of her size, is very well hidden on the side of the Portland Municipal Services Building on SW 5th Ave. Moreover, Kaskey has claimed the intellectual property rights of her, meaning that you can not find any postcards or key hangings with replicas of her.

It is also for this reason that I suggest that the city of Portland find another landmark or icon to represent the city.

My favourite would be Voodoo Doughnuts. Already known throughout the Pacific Northwest and highly likely all over the US, this place can boast with enormous queues of people who stand in line to get that delicious Voodoo doll or the unlikely Bacon Maple Bar. Or perhaps the Cock-n-Balls which is shaped like a particular male organ. Or what about one with cereals on it; the Loop, Captain My Captain, Triple Chocolate Penetration or the Gay Bar (rainbow coloured Fruit Loops). No matter which one people stand in line for, it is a matter of fact that everyone knows Voodoo Doughnut.

But should you be in need of more stimulating food, Portland holds approximately 600 food vendors throughout the city, many of which are gathered in groups. Walking between SW 9th and SW 11th and SW Washington and SW Adler, dozens of food vendors fill the square selling food from all corners of the world. After my visits to Vancouver and Seattle, I have become increasingly aware of the food vendor tradition, but nothing beats Portland’s multitude of food vendors. A man selling fish and chips tells me that the trend only recently caught on and my host Mike confirmed that it has happened within the last two to three years.

Foodwise, I do wish to make a bit of advertisement about a local Portland place. As fascinating as the food vendor syndrome is, I found my favourite place to be an establishment that sells some of the most delighting pizza slices. It is a long time since I had as good a pizza as I did at Pizzicato. It is a local chain which according to the very charming and smiling cashier, is well known in Portland, though not beyond.

Another well known place is the Tin Shed Garden Café where people line up in the weekends, drinking coffee and chit-chatting while waiting for a table. Mike brought me here on the last day. The place was really nice and the staff friendly, as all the Portland people I have met this far. However, as pleasant as it was, my enjoyment was cut short when a waitress walked past with a receipt pin stuck in her wrist. Being scared of needles, that image still hunts me.

It seems there are several food options when reconsidering the landmark of Portland. But while Portlandia is hidden away and the city has to wait another 70 or so years for the artist rights to wear off, the most prominent contestant has to be the rose. Named the Rose City, Portland shows them in the dozens. Every branch of the city administration, be it water supplies or electricity or signing features a rose. Moreover and perhaps as inspiration, at the outskirts of the city in Washington Park lies the Chinese Rose Garden, which flashes hundreds of different kinds of roses. All of which smell and look amazing.

Portland is really a fresh and vibrant city that does its best to limit its CO2 fingerprint and to increase the options of public transportation and biking. It is a city where the confused tourist is offered a free ride on the bus. It is a city where people enjoy nature be it sea, forest or mountain. And it is a city that I hope to one day re-visit.



Green Portland

Sitting in the train that will take me away from the West coast and inland to Montana, I have ample opportunity to write a bit about a city that has gone directly to my heart. Portland, ladies and gentlemen, is by far a beautiful and relaxed city, where green energy and the love of nature surpasses consumerism and advertisement. That is except from the fact that Portland, as a city in the state of Oregon, has no sales taxes, wherefore many come to the city to shop cheaply.

But except from the occasional shopper, Portland has a certain free spirited vibe about it. I suspect the development of this down to earth West coast city has something to do with the beautiful and lush nature of the region, not unlike Seattle and Vancouver. Portland which is not directly out to the Pacific, but placed near the meeting points of the Columbia and Willamette rivers, has to its east the majestic Cascades. The snow peaks of both Mount Hood as well as Mount St. Helen (on a fortunate day) are visible in the horizon. Mount St. Helen is particularly known for a major volcanic eruption on May 18, 1980.

Many people in fact move to Portland in order to get closer to nature. One of these is Mike who was so polite as to host me through CouchSurfing for my three nights stay. Originally from Delaware, Mike moved to Portland four years ago so that he could hike, bike and be closer to nature than what his home town would allow.

Inventive Portland

As an old seaport (old is relative), Portland used to be dirty and naughty, just like Seattle and Vancouver. I will write more on Portland’s bad-ass past in my next blog, but for now I want to concentrate on what really made Portland stand out in my eyes. And that is how this dirty seaport with 15 men to each woman, and seamstresses enough to supply the American navy with … shirts, has become a truly amazing example of how a city can implement and focus on developing green and low energy solutions. My favourites were the solar run parking ticket machines and the new solar run trash cans, which compress the garbage that mostly consist of Starbucks paper cups these days, into a third when it gets full. This it does three times, with help from a censor, until it is completely full with a compact mass of garbage. Then it sends a notification to the city administration saying that it is full. Not only is it using solar energy, it also cuts down the collecting of garbage by 80 %. That solar energy can contribute in this way in a generally cloudy city like Portland, is in itself an achievement.

Portland also has placed strategic energy hotspots throughout the city for free use (until the autumn when it will start to cost a bit of money) for the use of LEAF car owners. Many citizens of Portland drive around in energy cars, which they can load throughout the city while running errands. In general, cars do not fill that much in the city landscape. Many of the major parking garages have been constructed so that they look like houses and hence do not destroy the generally pleasant view of the downtown. At the same time, downtown is covered by a free rail zone, which means that it is free to use all public transportation that drives on tracks within the centre of Portland, while it in areas is illegal by city law to cruise around in a car at certain hours without a specific purpose. The public infrastructure is very well developed and the stops are not far apart and pleasantly looking. The intersections are very cleverly constructed. I even met a guy from Montreal, Canada who was in Portland to study the structure of these intersections. He claimed, he could stand for ten minutes or more and gaze at the share beauty of the way the intersections and the many cables were placed.

Both the bus stops as well as the invisible parking buildings are part of a Portland vision to have the city look open and friendly. The idea is called Clear Vista and generates that from each intersection, you shall be able to view at least five blocks in each direction. Except from the glass bus stops and the invisible parking buildings, this also results in a strict sign law, which however seems to be broken on several occasions. It is stated that no neon signs are allowed and neither any signs that hang further out than the fire escape on the front of the buildings, except on Broadway. Most of the buildings are painted in light colours which adds to the pleasant feeling of the city.

Being so focused on reducing energy usage, Portland has also done much for the promotion of biking as a way of commuting. 10 % of the cities population bike to and from work, which makes Portland the second-most biked in city. First price goes to Minneapolis, and as a tour guide dryly stated, if they in Minneapolis can stand biking through the Minnesota winter, then they deserve to be number one. I suppose I will see for myself the biking culture in Minneapolis when I stop there. But first I will spend a few days exploring the wonders of National Glacier Park.

Lots of green thoughts,