Some news going around Portland at the moment is how Columbia Sportswear is considering closing down their downtown offices due to safety concerns. The Oregonian article covers the details, but all I’ll let John McClane express my response to Columbia.
The number one thing I hear from friends and colleagues visiting Portland for the first time is how they can’t believe how many homeless and junkies there are. I guess it’s something we get used to in this city. I was just in downtown Chicago for work and I was shocked by how few there were, so it makes sense.
There’s a few factors contributing to this. One being Portland’s government is more concerned with how they’re perceived than upholding laws. However, there is only one overarching issue in my mind: Portland refuses to see itself as what it’s become, a big city.
The biggest excuse redditors jump to is “All big cities have this problem.” But that’s the issue, Portland is still “Weird little Portland doing it’s thing on the West Coast.” Every article written in national newspapers and sites, and hipster blogs portrays it as this little city that’s just so goofy and quirky! Well guess what? It’s not anymore.
It’s a major city, with major city problems: traffic, not enough parking, lack of affordable housing, and of course, drugs and crime. Portland Police refuse to enforce current laws, always blaming a lack of funding. I wish I could say my base pay and benefits only cover me showing up to work and doing major projects.
I spent the first 25 years of my life having Detroit, Michigan as the closest major city. While I didn’t live there, as an avid sports fan and concert goer trips into Detroit were very frequent. In my first year living in NW Portland I saw more public defecation and open drug use than in 25 years of going to Old Tiger Stadium and shows at St Andrew’s.
I’ve seen heroin addicts shooting up in broad daylight, next to a jungle-gym. I witnessed a homeless man, walking down NW 11th with his penis out, urinating all over the sidewalk at 9:30 am on a Sunday. Families were out for breakfast and walking their dogs, in full view of this guy. This is in the Pearl District. You’d think the high-rents would at least protect that area. Nope.
I know people who work downtown and it’s a regular occurrence for the homeless and junkies to come into their lobbies and urinate in potted plants. They call the police, who show up 45 minutes later and say “You can fill out an incident report, if you want.” That’s better than when they poop in their doorways, which is another downtown staple.
This of course is added to the cat-calling, and overall screaming of obscenities that are also a staple. I was told once “Go fuck yourself, you miserable piece of shit,” when I responded “No” to “Hey man, can I have $5?” on my walk to work.
I put up with this, but I’m also 6’2″ and a very soft 220 lbs. I can’t imagine the threat to someone more vulnerable. Obviously this isn’t bothering me to the point I want to move, or I would have and obviously I’m not scared to do that (6 cities in 12 years for me). However, it’s not a good trend for the city I love living in.
The problems Portland are facing are part of being a big, growing city. However, they aren’t ready to see themselves as that. To many, it’s just quirky, little Portland with their art fairs and unipiper, Darth Vader. If that’s the way people want to keep viewing it, then things will only get worse.
People won’t be willing to pay $300k+ for a one bedroom condo, when they have to avoid stepping in human poop every morning, while also being screamed at by a junkie, and seeing someone shoot up heroin when they take their kids to the park.
In a way I’m happy Columbia is saying something about this, no matter how absurd they’re going about it (Yeah, no shit your employee’s cars are getting broken into, they’re leaving valuables in plain sight). Although, I say to them what John McClane said to Carl Winslow: “Welcome to the party, pal.”
I’m optimistic (no seriously I am), but it won’t be easy, and widening bike lanes isn’t the answer. The city needs to realize it’s not a small-to-midsize one anymore. It needs to realize it is a big city, with big city problems, and address them accordingly. But what do I know? I just grew up near a once prosperous city, that emptied due to a lack of jobs and the city deteriorating into a mess.