First off, I friggin’ love Portland, so don’t give me that hater bullshit.
Now that I’ve got that out of the way, let’s cut to the chase: Portland is over-the-top passive aggressive.
It manifests in traffic, politics and inter-personal relationships. At the grocery store. At work. In lines. At concerts, sporting events, and the library.
Passive-aggressiveness rules so much, there is a taboo on directness. One cannot say “It creeps me out that the mayor was sucking face with a 17-year-old in a City Hall men’s room” without being labeled a prude. (In the words of Bob Dylan, “They smile to your face, but behind your back they hiss….”)
The People’s Republic of Portland (that’s not a put-down; that part I like) is a one-party state, as Willamette Week‘s Nigel Jaquiss said in his close-up on Newsweek’s Web site this week. “[P]ortland is a … go-along, get-along town where people don’t question the orthodoxy. They’re very comfortable having a real absence of critical debate of most issues.”
Nigel was talking (politely) about the reporters and editors at The Oregonian, which has thrice been scooped (twice by the Willamette Week) on stories about Oregon politicians with (ahem) self-control issues surrounding where they put their penises. (Oh, I’m sorry honey, am I being a prude again?)
That lack of critical coverage of our politics and government means that those with land and money can pretty much do what they want with our city, as long as they call it green.
Commercial real estate developers, the power behind the throne in Portland, have successfully co-opted environmentally-minded liberals in Portland and operate with impunity under the cover of many layers of indignity generated by their unwitting minions.
Example: you cannot be opposed to a streetcar project without being a tool of big oil (yeah, that’s me!), even if a primary goal of said streetcar project is to move not people but real estate.
If somebody says it’s “sustainable,” you damn well better not speak out against it, even if that sustainable condo block is driving gentrification and pushing black and brown folks further to the margins of our city and society.
We’ve got a real race problem in Portland, but you better not talk about it. It makes white liberals very uncomfortable to be confronted with their racism. Our neighborhoods are pretty segregated, but our schools are worse, like the Jim Crow south: separate and way unequal.
Are you a white person with some kind of “bikability” issue? The city’s got you covered! You got a problem with finding a place you can afford to live off your service-sector wages? Sorry, pal, Portland can’t help you unless you work “sustainable” into your pitch. Mental health problems? Hit the road, Jack.
Perhaps my biggest gripe is the disconnect between Portland!! and Portland; that is, between the hip and trendy little Pacific Northwest city as seen in the New York Times (Powell’s! Foodies! Coffee! Sustainable! Green! Did I mention Sustainable?) and the sometimes rough-around-the edges part of Portland I live in.
Next installment: Portland’s extended adolescence.