Wonks R Us

Where Public Policy and Small Business Meet

A city that has no confidence in its own ability to prosper is doomed to control by outsiders

That quote by Timothy Egan perfectly sums up how I feel about the direction Portland is heading.  So much energy is going to remaking Portland in the Bay Area’s image that I fear we are losing sight of our own charms.  Something has been luring the creative class here for years, despite the fact that they could make more money elsewhere.  Why do you think that is? Quality of life is clearly part of the attraction, but there is something else that doesn’t get mentioned as often.  Portland is a perfect sandbox.

Eric Weiner traveled the world choosing destinations based on their placement on the the Gross National Happiness Index. Iceland rates as one of the happiest countries in the world.  This is despite the fact that one of their most popular foods is rotted shark.  Weiner’s theory is that Icelandic culture values experience over financial success.  It is neither unusual nor frowned upon to switch professional fields several times over one’s working life.  There is just a cultural recognition that having to choose a single profession is just too limiting. The same holds true for recreational activities like playing in garage bands, of which they have many.  It doesn’t matter whether the only people willing to listen to a band are the people playing in it.  That is beside the point.

Rotted shark aside, Portland shares many of the same values.  Despite ballot measures 47 & 50 decimating funding for the arts, Portland still has an amazing number of experimental theaters, shoved into the back corner of cafes or wherever space is available.  We love our  neighbors ‘ art so much that what started as a monthly gallery walk has spread to neighborhoods around the city. We show up in droves to hear local bands play in parks, outdoor markets and anywhere else people can gather.

Our burgeoning food cart culture is another manifestation of our communitarian values.  We happily travel the city to eat whatever food experiments someone wants to try.  Fried snickers bars?  Yup.  Poutine? Check.   A simple bowl of beans and rice doused with crack sauce?  Now available at 3 carts and an actual restaurant.

So the next time someone complains that Portland needs to be more like Seattle or the Bay Area, smile politely and take them by the hand.  Then go to a free outdoor concert or go on an art walk and treat them to some cart food.  Then remind them that we are happiest just the way we are.

By the way, that quote was said in reference to Seattle at a time when Seattle was struggling with its own feelings of inadequacy.

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