Rider Mail: Portland Pretension
So, Portland. There are two main schools of thought about the city amongst the planning nerd crowds I run with. One is the considerate “Portland is good at getting things done, which means that there’s not a lot of changes for me to make if I were to go there. I want to make a difference, so I’ll stay here.” The other is the less-polite “Portland can suck a dick. We’re so fucking perfect. Fuck Portland.” The former feeling is often from people who have yet to visit, but are familiar with Portland’s public policy. The latter voiced by people who have visited on either professional or vacational terms.
Surprisingly, what follows is an email from someone who has yet to visit the Big P, wouldn’t really mind doing so, and generally sees the direction Portland takes as a good one.
Subject: Identified a source of annoyance due to pretension
Explain something about why what you like is good/better. Then follow it up by saying, “of course,” with justification about why.
[Note to all: This is the wrong way to use "of course" mid-sentence. A mid-sentence "of course" is supposed to be contrary. Fact.]
Example, the one that’s annoying me as I listen online:
“Say, it’s interesting to hear… discussing Denver – I hear people around the nation for years talking about plans for infrastructure, and it sounds like they’re all copying what Portland’s already been doing for 20 or 30 years.”
He gets cut off by the host and NPR also immediately starts playing the “wrap it up” music as they head into a non-commercial break of PSAs. All of that was one monologue. It pissed me off that I actually transcribed all of that word-for-word.
[Monolog transcription cut for brevity, but you can listen and/or read it here!]
So a quick response to a few key parts, and I’m pissed, so this may be amusing:
“Of course, everybody knows that the light rail here has been a role model for the nation for many years. In fact, I know that as I speak they’re breaking ground on the largest suspension bridge across the city’s river.” Know who did light rail first, and kicked off Portland’s revolution? San Diego!
Also, while it’s fun comparing things to themselves – like how this guy compares Portland’s new bridge to Portland’s other bridges – I’m not impressed. So Portland’s building a bigger bridge than Portland has before – that’s totally useless information. “Largest” is a comparative word, so you should be comparing things Portland does to things other places do. I could trumpet how MARTA’s running the newest buses that MARTA owns, or how my penis is the biggest penis on me, and that’s saying about the same amount of information.
“At the same time, the debt problem is hurting places in the nation, Portland seems to thrive in times of high unemployment.” Really? It’s hard to say if Portland loves itself that much more when it’s unemployed, or if he’s saying that Portland is nicer when the rest of the nation’s out of work. But I question this in all cases, because typically cities don’t get nicer when their residents have less money and worse morale. And typically when the rest of the country and world have less money, as a regional urban economy, you usually don’t get more. Unless your entire economy is based on banking and debt consolidation (hey, fuck you Charlotte).
[Charlotte is awesome. He's just jealous.]
“Of course, we’re known now as the most European city in America – the bicycle increase here is really…” Oh, so that’s a seatpost up your ass. I see you’re working on copying the French stereotypes of snobbery. I guess it’ll take about 20 to 30 years before they start to get good at it.
Not to put down bicycling, or light rail, all things that give Portland a good quality of life, but it’d be nice if they didn’t make the rest of the country think that it made them douchebags too. I think a more tempered attitude would be more appealing when trying to explain things to other regions. Atlanta tends to be more upbeat and positive, wanting to learn from others. Of course, we’ve had the largest tree canopy for a metro area for 15 out of the last 23 years – we’re working on the largest streetcar project under construction in Atlanta right now. Ugh.
So here’s the thing. I doubt the person who called into the radio show was a planner, transit or bridge person of any sort. I actually give the people in charge a lot more credit than that. I mean, I think they circle jerk about how cool they are in the privacy of a nerd happy hour, but not on the radio. So, the tooting of the horn and the patting on the back is not being done by the people who are making it happen. What the hell is that all about, then? Why are some Portland residents so friggin proud to live there when all most of them do is… just live there? And why do we accept this projected superiority?
What’s your experience with Portland, or people from it? If you’re in the industry, do you find the attitude to be consistent, or some weird abstract put upon the city by it’s clueless and privileged residents?*
*Not that Portland consists of only clueless and/or privileged people. Just the horn-tooters.