Portland and L.A: Not Exactly Long-Lost Brothers

One of these cities is the perennial Cinderella to urban planners; the other the ugly sister who always crashes the party. One is the well-planned "City of Roses" (no, not Pasadena), a bastion of mass-transit and controlled development along the Columbia River while its gargantuan sister to the south eschews all such enlightened principles.

That's the gist at least from this paean to Portland in the LA Times today about what the city could learn from its lithe Northern cousin.

A few key differences between these two:

• The vast majority (90%) of job growth in Portland has been in the suburbs

• Portland is actually far less dense than LA

• It has a tiny population of immigrants and poor vis-a-vis LA

• The city is losing families and children and rivals San Francisco for having the lowest percentage of its population under the age of 18 of any major U.S. city.

And he doesn't mention Portland's greatest comparative advantage to LA: amazing beer!

One thing both cities have in common right now: two of the most dynamic music scenes in the country.


Here's Joel Kotkin's piece about Portland a few years ago.

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Portland's lack of psychic energy

I used to think San Fran had the least psychic energy of any American city.

Then I visited Portland.

Amazing. An entire city full of people content to enjoy their lives in the most bovine way possible.

Pioneer Square is the worst -- nothing but skateboarding slackers who, if I had to guess, will sooner or later find themselves incarcerated, either in the criminal justice system or the mental health system. Their lethargy is stupefying. But the rest of the city is not much better.

Portland doesn't have San Fran's trust fund/sold-my-business-and-retired vibe. Still, it shares San Fran's dedication to lifestyle concerns that in NYC/Chi/LA/WashDC are regarded as trivial.

What Portland needs is 50,000 talented, neurotic, poor but hardworking artists and entrepreneurs. People with an eye to making it big. Not people who don't bust their asses because they don't have to.

Portland and LA

It makes no sense to compare Portland and LA - the population difference alone makes the comparison just plain silly. As a tourist, though, Portland strikes me as extraordinarily clean, green, livable and charming -- perhaps moreso than any other American city of its size I've ever seen. Portland gives the impression of combining the best of big city amenities and small-town charm. I would argue that Portland's policies have produced an unusually livable city.