I moved to Portland from Phoenix about 6 months ago because I fell in love with this city and I was in need to of a fresh start. Portland hasn’t let me down. I’m still in love with it and here are the reasons why:
1. I love that I can be outside almost all year round
I just returned from a visit to Phoenix. Because it is August, you can’t really spend any time outside, since it’s too hot. You’re relegated to going from your air-conditioned home to your air-conditioned car to the air-conditioned store. The blazing sun and the searing hot temperatures are oppressive and encourage people to stay indoors. The extreme heat in Phoenix, and the extreme cold in other parts of the country, make it hard for year-round bicycle commuters, pedestrians and transit users. The extreme weather also is detrimental to people using public outdoor spaces, such as parks and plazas. But here in Portland, the summer is idyllic, with comfortable temperatures from July to October. And even at the height of winter, when it rains a lot and the temperatures hover around the 40s, it is not prohibitive to bicycle or walk if you have the right gear on. But in addition to the relatively mild weather here, there is an outdoor culture here in Portland, where people enjoy being outside, whether it be on their bikes, on foot, in parks, in public plazas, at the outdoor seating at cafes, or hiking. Another benefit of an outdoor culture is health and fitness. Being able to bike and walk everywhere, and seeing others who’re also outside, encourages activity and movement.
2. I love the urban forest of Portland
I often go for “daily nature walks” around my neighborhood and I stun my friends on Facebook with photos of the amazing flora I find on my expeditions. One of the benefits we reap from the copious amount of rain that falls here is that Portland has an extremely lush, green and fertile landscape. The neighborhoods are lined with beautiful trees so large that they create a solid canopy over the street. In spring, Portland is a veritable heaven of the most beautiful and varied colors and smells. And even in the winter, though most trees lose their leaves, at least the grass remains green. The urban forest in Portland is just gorgeous, making for an extremely beautiful city!
3. I love the great city parks
I live about a 10 minute walk away from Laurelhurst Park, which is one of the loveliest parks I’ve ever seen. It’s not terribly large, but it’s so well designed, in the Olmstead tradition, that it offers an amazing array of story-book park experiences. It has a duck pond, winding paths, amazing mature trees, a dog park, a horse shoe area, and well-situated benches to take it all in. The best part is that it’s really well used, like all the parks in Portland! My dad once asked if it was safe to hang out at the park, but my answer was a resounding yes, because so many people are actually at the park, making them safe and enjoyable. The parks in Portland are not only beautiful, but a great place to people-watch, unwind and to connect with nature.
4. I love how bicycle friendly it is
When my nephew visited from Philadelphia, he remarked how many darn bicyclists there are in Portland. They are everywhere, he said, with much chagrin, because as a pedestrian, he finds them to be a hazard to a nice walk. But as a bicyclist, Portland is just fantastic because there are so many amenities here for us. Bikeways, designated bike lanes, plentiful bike parking, bike-friendly bridges, a million bike stores, and drivers who’re accustomed to bikers all make Portland an urban cyclist’s paradise. As a year-round bicycle commuter, I very much appreciate Portland’s dedication to creating and maintaining bicycle infrastructure throughout the city. Plus this city has an amazingly committed, large and vocal bicycle community, which I am very proud to be a part of. I’m excited about the Portland-Milwaukee Bridge, which is currently under construction and will be a multi-use transit bridge specifically for light rail trains, pedestrians and cyclists. Living without a car in Portland has not only been possible, but it’s been a real pleasure.
5. I love the strong sense of community
My neighborhood, the Sunnyside Neighborhood in southeast Portland, has a great painted intersection of a big bright sunflower. It was a neighborhood effort and is maintained by the neighborhood, which repaints it on a regular basis. It is evidence of the strong sense of community in Portland. Another sign of the strong sense of community is the free boxes that are left out on sidewalks of things someone no longer needs that maybe someone else might need. I’ve gotten a wonderful summer dress and a great coat hanger from a free sidewalk finds. There is definitely a sense of “we’re all in this together” here in Portland. People tend to band together and help each other out here. Recently I learned about bike moves, where complete strangers with bikes and bike trailers will help people move from their houses, and this is a very common occurrence here in Portland. Now that’s what I call community!
6. I love how friendly the people of Portland are
On the plane to Portland just yesterday, I noticed that people were very friendly and the thought occurred to me, “oh that’s because we’re going to Portland”. People are very helpful and considerate here. I have had countless experiences of people being exceedingly nice and courteous. More strangers smile and say hello to one another on the street than anywhere else I’ve been. Also, you can sense the friendliness of Portland on buses, where people make sure to make room for the elderly and the disabled and moreover, many passengers will shout out a thank you to the bus driver when they get off at their stop. Plus, I’ve noticed that the streets of Portland are often rife not with road rage but with road kindness, where drivers will defer to cyclists and pedestrians and even to each other out of sheer courtesy and kindness.
7. I love the eco-awareness in restaurants and other establishments
A lot of times, it’s hard to find the trash can in restaurants. There will be compost and recycling bins, but trash cans can be elusive. And often, the paper cups and napkins in a lot of restaurants are in fact compostable so there is no reason to throw things in the landfill. There seems to be a heightened awareness of where our waste goes and where things come from in this city, compared to other parts of the country. Food sourcing is also a big topic of conversation in Portland, and many restaurants, grocery stores and farmers markets boast of locally-grown, responsibly-raised, and artisan-made produce and meats. Many homes have small gardens right in their front yards and lots of people grow a great deal of their own food.
8. I love that Portland really is weird
I’ve done some weird things while I’ve been here – like the World Naked Bike Ride, the Bunny Ride, and the Prince Ride. And those are just weird group bike rides I’ve been on. Anything goes in Portland, the weirder the better. There is a certain level of acceptance for people who like to live life on the fringes. This bodes well for creatives, who don’t fit within the traditional 9 to 5 lifestyles and instead cobble together a living doing various things while expressing themselves in whatever ways they want. I often think that Portland is where all the country’s misfits come to live together, creating an open, accepting and interesting place to live.
9. I love the waterfront and the bridges
The Willamette River is beautiful! And the fantastic bridges between the east and west sides are gorgeous. I love that I live only a 20 minute bike ride away from the waterfront and the absolutely fantastic waterfront public spaces are available to me all the time. I appreciate that the waterfront hasn’t fallen prey to private development or highway infrastructure, but instead has become a recreational and connective public amenity for pedestrians and cyclists and a venue for public events, serving as a huge asset for the city.
10. I love that I live right next to the Waffle Window
I can go on and on about the virtues of Waffle Window, which is practically next door to where I live. I also love that I live practically next door to the Bagdad Theater, a historic and grand theater and pub which now plays second run movies and hosts various awesome events. But that’s not the half of it, I live within walking distance to a number of excellent restaurants, retail establishments, coffee shops, two major grocery stores, and yoga studios. And when I get on my bike, almost the entirety of Portland, with all it has to offer, is at my disposal. The urban design of Portland makes it not only easy to live without a car, but easy to connect with others and live with a sense of community.
11. I also love that Portland is nerdy
Powell’s bookstore is only one of the reasons I say Portland is nerdy. There seems to be a real intellectual curiosity in Portlanders, as evidenced by the Science Pubs and other standing-room-only lectures and classes. I’ve attended a packed-house Science and History Pub, which are events hosted at McMenamins venues that feature an array of great speakers. Another sign of the Portland nerdiness is that my bike ride for Pedalpalooza titled “The Urban Architecture of Hawthorne” which I was sure would sound boring to most people who aren’t in the field of urban planning, actually got a huge turn out on a weekday afternoon.
12. I love that Portland has preserved so many historic buildings
Portland is graced with a lot of historic buildings, though it has made its fair share of mistakes with tearing some great buildings down. On the whole, the historic buildings in Portland are numerous still, and they contribute to the wonderful character of the city. The old homes in neighborhoods and the old streetcar-era commercial districts not only add charm to the everyday life of Portland, but the scale and walkability of these environments adds to the livability of the city.
Photo Credit: All photos by the author.