I Fell In Love With Portland. Here’s Why.

Portland is a city of dreamers. We work nine-to-fives just long enough to launch our side hustles. We sell sneakers from Volkswagen vans and crowdfund projects that make a difference. We find quiet corners in the basement at Townshend’s or the Purple Room at Powell’s and sketch out crazy ideas that won’t make anyone rich, because that’s not the point.

When I was 17, I moved to Oregon chasing a dream of my own — to run cross country and track for the Ducks. A decade later, the honeymoon phase hasn’t ended. I still stop on my runs in Washington Park to stare out at Mt. Hood. I still open the window in my Goose Hollow apartment to hear the Timbers Army chanting on match days. And during the magical summer months when Portland’s blue skies feel permanent, I still open the sunroof in my car, blast country music (a holdover from my days in Virginia), and wonder how I got lucky enough to end up in this place.

I suspect many people in this city can relate to my experience. Others probably resent me for it, and I get it. Portland used to feel like a well-kept secret. Now the secret is out, and people are pouring here in droves, driving up housing prices, backing up traffic, and renting out apartments in a black smudge of a building that belongs in Mordor, not on the banks of the Willamette.

The keep-out-of-my-city crowd can come across as petty and nativist, but I get the anxiety: Is Portland losing what makes it special as even newer newcomers flock to the city? And at the current rate, will any of us have the money to stick around?

I’ve thought about this question a lot since meeting Elizabeth Guerrero, who lives in the same East Portland neighborhood where her immigrant parents settled four decades ago. Guerrero is a dreamer in every sense of the word: a DACA recipient brought to America when she was four years old, an entrepreneur trying to make a food cart work on 122nd Ave., a mom who coaches her daughter’s soccer team.

Guerrero’s rise from a service-industry worker at The Original Taco House to the owner of La Osita feels like something plucked from an Obama stump speech. But it also feels like a litmus test for our city. Five years from now, will Portland still be a community where a daughter of Mexican immigrants can start a business, raise a family, and afford to live inside the city limits? Or is that dream slipping away, like it did in Seattle and San Francisco, under the guise of good intentions?

I’m optimistic about the future of this city — and if you can’t already tell, I’m not “neutral” about it. Bridgeliner won’t be either. At our best, we will lift up local voices that aren’t being heard, connect people with ways to get involved, and help move the needle toward solutions and progress. And we’ll do it with lots of emojis and Blazers GIFs, because we don’t think it should feel like homework to #livelikeyoulivehere.

by Ben DeJarnette
(Originally published in 2018)

Photo Credit:  Cat Mapper (Max Ogden)

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