You would not believe how many New Yorker’s have flocked to Portland, particularly in the past 10 years. It seems like every other person I meet from baristas to art gallery executives. Some were tired of the city’s egotism or lack of nature, many moved for job offers (though it’s just as hard if not more so to get a job in PDX), and some live here while retaining all their NYC clientele (amazing). Not surprisingly, a good deal are designers.
Simply put, Portland is beautiful. I’ve only been here for nine months (seven years in NYC), but it’s full of creative people with seriously impressive design skills, pleasant dispositions, a love of fine beer, and pre-war affordable housing literally everywhere. It’s a town that ate a city, and it costs nothing to find yourself in the wilderness a mere 10 miles from home.
Of course, it also has its downsides, as does our beloved NYC. So, what are the best and worst things about both? I submit to you a highly abridged travel guide (seriously, this article was, like, 15 pages).
I should say, though, that none of these are really the reason I’m moving back to NYC at the end of this week. My Portland friends are wonderful, creative, and interesting, and it’s been a blessing to spend the past nine months with my cousin and her two tiny kids. But I became an adult in NYC, it’s my home now, it’s where my old friends are and half my family, and, yeah — I’m an ambitious motherfucker.
1. Unique, Beautiful, And Affordable Housing (stores and restaurants too!)
I can’t say enough about this. Gorgeous and half as expensive as NYC. I mean, guys, every apartment I looked at was beautiful inside and out. A million old buildings from the 20s and 30s with walk-in closets, built-in armoires, molding, huge low windows, hardwood floors, claw-foot tubs, subway tile, porcelain sinks, laundry, bike storage, and tons of closets.
And “studio” in Portland doesn’t mean a square where the kitchenette stove is “conveniently” next to your bed. Every section of the apartment is separated, including the closet. And all this for as little as $700/m in the more city-like west side (less if you’re in the east). I have 4 friends that live a little far out in the east side who have a 2-story house with a new deck and backyard, 2 full bathrooms, and a laundry room. Not a closet. A room. They pay $400/each. *face -> table*
Let me just say this to you: the first apartment I looked at I would’ve taken in a heartbeat had it not been the 2nd week I was living in Portland. 1920s facade, marble foyer, dog friendly, on a main street with tons of stores and a bus outside the door, hardwood floors, bay window, murphy bed with a huge mirror on the back side and feet that doubled as sconces, subway tile galley kitchen with porcelain sink, claw-foot tub, original 1930s phone that worked as the door buzzer, and oh, yeah, it sat atop an upscale terrarium store and a coffee shop that served breakfast all day. $850/m. Are you fucking kidding me. (However, internet costs upwards of $60/m, so wtf’s that about.)
Oh, and when I got my lease renewal letter they had not only NOT raised my $755/m rent, but gave me flat-rate lease options: 1yr, 9m, 6m, 3m, month-to-month. I almost fainted.
And as for pets, well, they can’t say no. Really. If you have your GP write up a “Companion Letter” saying that you need your pet for emotional stability they have to allow you the pet, and can’t discriminate against you. Pet-friendly building or not. Who told me about this magic? A broker mid-way through showing me an apt. Yeah, the people here actually want to help you.
2. Affordable Spaces To Create
From inexpensive memberships at non-profits like ADX whose tag-line is “Building a community of thinkers and makers” to the Independent Publishing Resource Center and Em-Space where you can letterpress, screen-print, take classes and so much more, Portland has a wealth of places to do your art on the cheap and come out with gorgeous pieces. From furniture, to iron-work, to books, basically anything you can think of can be made here without the need for thousands of dollars or a a spare art room. And if you need help with design, just go up to anybody on the street. They probably have a design degree or are self-taught geniuses (like Pocket Notes & If Not For Kidnap vixen, Stacey Tran), and are more than happy to help you for free.
3. Collaboration For Collaboration’s Sake: An Artistic World
That’s right. In Portland, people create things together for the sake of making something awesome. It’s not all about networking or image, it’s often just about making something you’re proud of and the experience of making that thing. Poetry collaboration, book and fabric arts, dance, design, woodwork — everything.
Take for instance Stacey Tran and Jessalyn Wakefield’s new series — Our Devour:
Or LitHop PDX, Kevin Sampsell, Jeff Alessandrelli, and Bryan Coffelt’s literary barhop incorporating 6 reading series and 54 writers (reading here Julia Clare Tillinghast, Matthew Dickman, James Gendron, and myself):
I also got to co-ordinate writers for an international arts festival while I was here, which meant money, 12 days of free contemporary dance and art shows/talks, and drinking and gourmet truck food all night. And the people I met! What joy. Many had flown in from NYC to either attend, perform, or volunteer.
And it’s not that drive and passion aren’t expected or appreciated here, but you are in fact more than the sum of your publications. It’s totally fine to be a human being.
4. Mountains, and Lakes, and Trees – Oh, My
It’s all right there. Mere minutes, and you’ve traveled into a stunning wilderness. Lush green from the rain, crystal lakes, rivers, hiking, camping, not to mention all the green within Portland itself. The place is so easy, and so gorgeous.
5. Rain (yep):
I love it. It’s like being under a cloche, everything’s so silent and pensive, it’s the perfect atmosphere for work and introspection, and then the summer hits and it’s 80 and sunny for three months straight (with so much going on).
NEW YORK CITY
- Dizzyingly Ceaseless Creation
Holy crap. I’ve missed this like wow, guys. It’s not that there aren’t people in Portland who’re always creating, because there are, but the sheer amount of people in NYC that are doing it all day and all night and then all day again, and they’re all right on top of you and coming up with completely stupid insane things or completely brilliant insane things *sigh* it’s home.
We get cranky sometimes about having to transfer trains, fighting to get on or off, about being stuck in a confined space with a Mariachi band or someone covered in urine, or that ass hole that leans their entire body against the pole ’cause apparently the rest of us aren’t affected by gravity, but in the end the trains are fucking magic.
24hrs, they’ll get you anywhere, you don’t have to stand in the snow to take them, and they’re even getting wifi now (for better or worse). The buses are annoying, especially with all the rude “BACK DOOR!!” yelling, but at least they’re an option.
Also, taxis? They’re everywhere. In the boroughs you’ll generally need to call one, but in Manhattan they’re like cockroaches.
3. Nothing. Closes.
Call me lazy, I don’t care, but I NEED to be able to go anywhere and get anything at any time, and have it be at the end of my block. Necessities.
4. Neverland: Sleep Is For The Weak
I mean, this is completely insane, but come on, who doesn’t like permission to act like an irresponsible rainbowcunt……forever. NYC has a way of whispering things in your ear like, “You don’t need sleep, silly panda!” or, “It’s not cheating if nobody finds out!” or, “Budget? I don’t understand, drink this $12 whiskey soda and let’s get a cab to the LES.” I’m not saying it’s my jam all the time, but I’ve found it necessary to have the option. You know how when you were a kid it felt really good to be able to hear your parent’s talking in the other room while you were going to sleep? Knowing someone was awake? That’s how I feel about our dear city, except in this case my parents are degenerates.
Oh, god. Summer is wonderful and extraordinary in many places I’ve been, but every time summer comes I remember the way my first summer in NYC felt, and I just die of joy all over again. The drenching humidity, NEVER needing a sweater no matter how late at night it gets, smoking on the sidewalk, movies on roofs, costumed people in the park, beer gardens, summer festivals, warm rain storms and lightning, enormous clouds, yelling and more yelling, iced fucking coffee, oh….I can’t wait.
- Errands And Shopping
Wtf is this no bag thing. I get it at the grocery store, fine, but we’re talking no handle bags or no bags at all. I order a burrito, side of tofu, and a beer to go, and when I show up you hand me these things individually? What IS that?! I don’t have three hands AND I’m walking my dog, so, what, you expect me to put these easily-opened organic containers into my fabric bag so my food can spill all over the place? Enraging.
Additionally, things are only within walking distance if you live on the west side, and even then I have to walk five blocks to get to a Wallgreens. That’s just not right. Plus, you can go blocks without a trash can. This drives me crazy.
Also, it’s been nine months since I’ve had a bacon, egg, and cheese, and while it’s rad that the bodegas here are stocked with shelves and shelves of wine, I am literally dying without my breakfast sandwich.
2. Homeless Population
There are obviously lots of homeless individuals in NYC, but in Portland it seems like so much more. Maybe it’s the fact that they stand outside supermarkets night and day, or that I get asked for things almost constantly, or that they’ll take over the fence-less dog runs in the middle of the day, I don’t know. I know Portland has a huge meth problem, but they need to take better care of these people, end of story.
3. Transportation And A Slow Pace
The TriMet isn’t that bad, but going across the city is sooo much faster than trying to go up or down, god forbid you need to do both. Life is slower paced here, which makes me very antsy. And since it’s all buses, you’re standing out in the cold the whole time.
It almost makes up for it with things like Car2Go, where you can pick up a tiny car wherever someone’s parked one and park it wherever you go ($.38/min), but the radius for this is too small, the parking and traffic too awful, and the iPhone app too finicky. People say you don’t need a car, but if you don’t want to spend your entire life on the bus and if you’d ever like to leave the center of the city, you better have one (or a really generous friend).
Oh, and while they don’t seem to know their cars can go more than 20mph, the good part is that every time they get off the bus they yell, “Thank you!” to the driver. Seriously.
NEW YORK CITY
- That Costs HOW Much?!
I mean, we’re talking everything from transit, to drinks, to housing here, but really the housing is fucking ridiculous. My 400sq.ft. studio in the East Village cost $1,600/m. It’s near impossible to have a dog, landlords and brokers will fuck you at any and all possible turns, nobody gives a shit if your heater doesn’t work, and they still expect at least $1,000/m for a room the size of a closet in a 3bdm apt in Bushwick. I mean, that’s kind of an exaggeration, but it’s also totally not.
2. Vermin (insects and otherwise)
Yes, New York’s cockroach/rat/bed bug problem is equal only to their bat-shit-crazy-egotistical-children problem. The city is dirty as hell, and a massive amount of the inhabitants of that trash heap are incomprehensible sociopaths. I grew up in Santa Barbara, and have lived in San Francisco, New York, and Portland, and nowhere have I ever seen a population so completely out of touch with reality (and I’m not talking about in an artsy way). I wish I was exaggerating, but I’m just not. Many, though, are beautiful, truly creative, and driven (lest we forget).
Things they both have in spades: a great poetry scene (and beautiful bridges). Sure, you don’t get to choose between five readings every night of the week (you only make it to half of those anyway), but readings happen weekly in Portland and there are lots of interesting and accomplished poets including Matthew Dickman, Donald Dunbar, Emily Kendal Frey, and many more. “Household name” poets come through all the time to read at Powell’s, PSU, Literary Arts, Tin House, and other venues. For everything else, there’s the internet.
Lastly, I have to note that in Portland all bars are required by law to serve food. I’m talking actual meals as well as appetizers, so you can quite literally go to a bar at 5…and never leave (well, 1-2am). A Buillet and soda will run you $6. Oh, yeah, and there’s no sales tax.
So, NYC, I’ll see you in a few.
And PDX, leave the porch light on for me.
Alyssa Morhardt-Goldstein is the founding editor of SOUND: a weekly literary magazine on contemporary musico-poetics, and an associate editor for Rattapallax. She received her MFA in poetry from The New School, and her BS in classical vocal performance and literature from Mannes. Her chapbook, Quiet, was selected by Matthea Harvey as The New School’s 2012 Chapbook Contest winner for poetry. She is currently writing the libretto for Jonathan Dawe’s operatic re-telling of Tamburlaine. @Elkawildling