My Portland romance

It took a big hit the other day, my romance with Portland. I’ve been here about a year now, and for the first time ever, I really understood how Portland’s progressiveness might be a tall tale.

It was Valentine’s Day, and Charlie and I took a bus ride to SE 82nd and Division. We were going to have dim sum at Wong’s King Seafood Restaurant, something I’ve been trying to organize for the last two weeks–since Chinese New Years started–but have been incredibly unsuccessful with. I was itching to see this part of Portland. When my mom visited in November, she had asked around to figure out where the real Chinatown was, and the resounding answer was this far-off intersection. There were less bikers and pedestrians as the street numbers climbed while increasingly more restaurants and schools flew multilingual banners: Vietnamese, Russian, Chinese and English.

The bus warp-sped through a wormhole between 57th and 85th streets. In that 30-block span, the greenery, the foot traffic–all of it disappeared. The quaint, early 20th century houses faded into 70’s architecture and sprawl. We were dropped off in a literal concrete jungle with debris instead of sidewalks and crosswalks every three blocks.

We had a 40-minute wait for Wong’s, so Charlie and I decided to take a walk in search of the fabled Fubonn Supermarket. But instead of taking a left at 82nd, we took a right and passed countless car dealerships. I watched people dodge traffic to avoid walking a couple endless blocks to the nearest crosswalk. It was an unpleasant street to be on, so we tried the backstreets on our return to Wong’s. Where there should have been asphalt, the streets had been ground into gravel. No sidewalks. No grid pattern. Just dead ends pointing to poor urban planning.

I was stunned. Where was Portland? This “neighborhood” was as good as being in the suburbs, and yet it’s still well within the city limits. Everything we celebrate about Portland–great public transportation, walkability, bikability–none of it applied. Many Chinese and other ethnic groups had been pushed out to the edges due to rising costs of living in inner-Portland, but this was ridiculous. Biking might be a fresh choice in Portland, but it’s also one of the oldest, most common-sense economic options anywhere. On SE 82nd and Division, it was not an option. The streets had clearly been unpaved for years, and it was an unnavigable and dangerously car-saturated area.

Was this racism? Classism? Assuming the Chinese weren’t there till recently, where was the City when the roads began to blister and crack? And assuming the Chinese had been there for a while, did the City presume that this immigrant group preferred the ubiquitous expense of cars over walkability? Even though the majority of people in Asia’s most population-choked cities walk and utilize public transportation? It was an outrage. Where everything great about Portland would have made the best sense, it didn’t exist in one of the areas that needed it the most.

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Filed under: Ethnic groups, Immigration, Portland, , , , , , , , , , , ,

7 Responses

  1. hopptm says:

    denise, all the so-called “progressiveness” that inhabit portland probably aren’t a great deal different than the people we went to college with. sure, they try to live “sustainable” lifestyles in “diverse” neighborhoods, but they never stray too far from their middle class, white upbringing. it’s not about living with a different culture, it’s about living with people who are suitably (instead of actually) different. soon enough, they’ll accept their fate, move to the side of town with the best schools, and call it a life.

    the end game is always the same.

  2. hopptm says:

    “progressives*,” obv.

  3. Charlie says:

    Just for clarity it was me who found out about Wong’s King Seafood and set the date for Valentine’s. Also, I don’t think they were omitting crosswalks. It’s just that the scale of the blocks is so much larger (i.e. non-pedestrian friendly). Anyways, it’s the flip side of Portland ideals that very few people realize. I guess if you eliminate it from one area of the city (where the $ is) it will just get pushed somewhere else. Pretty sad.

  4. Bea says:

    The East side of Portland has never been the focus of city planning for as long as I can remember. Portland’s electeds have always focused on the downtown core. That’s why Portland’s downtown China town has all the art installations and gardens, but who can afford to live there? The most urban renewal energy that has been focused on Portland east of 39th avenue was to rename 82nd “the avenue of Roses” which was a very funny joke. East Portland was abandoned by the City years ago. This isn’t about an individual’s progressive nature. It’s a long standing tradition in Portland to collect property taxes from East side, then ignore the people. Welcome to Portland!

  5. dennetmint says:

    @hopptm: What a Debbie Downer you are! 😛 You’re an article right out of Adbusters!

    @Charlie: If you’ll remember, we got off on 87th and Division, had to run across the street to get to Wong’s on 85th and then took a left at the first streetlight on 82nd.

    @Bea: I remember seeing the “Avenue of Roses” sign! It was more like the Avenue of Car Dealerships. I do still feel like at the very least, it’s a reflection on our City politicians who ignore 82nd (and continue to call Old Town “Chinatown” even though I don’t think there are that many Chinese living there anymore and most of them have moved their businesses to the 82nd/Division area).

    Sadly, I agree with everyone, esp Debbie. But is it really a futile issue? Is it really something that the City intends to keep under the rug at all costs? Esp as more and more immigrants move to Portland? That would seem like blatant discrimination to me.

  6. sushiosoyum says:

    It’s really quite simple. Are the people who live in and around 82nd/Division wealthy? No? Alright, the city doesn’t care about them. Contrast this to a friend of mine who lives in a wealthy neighborhood in Portland who called the city to report a pothole in front of his house. It was fixed in a week! This blatant discrimination shouldn’t be shocking or surprising, it’s always been this way. Money bring results in this capitalist society of ours. If you’re one of the unfortunates, Portland will take a massive shit on you and forget to wipe.

  7. […] a comment » My Portland Romance, posts like this sadden me.  Portland is not as “hip and progressive” as people like […]

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