Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Presenting Portlandia?

My expectations of Portland, mainly based on the TV show Portlandia, were that it would be Melbourne 2.0 with more hipsters, better coffee and better public transport. There have been mixed results in meeting these expectations, with the first being debatable, the second false and the last true.

Portland enjoys legendary status in the planning world and has been held up by planners everywhere as a model city for public transport. This legacy may even be a source of economic development through planning tourism, like this trip! As such I was under the impression that there would be either street cars, light rail or buses available as soon as you walk out of your front door. While this wasn’t quite the case, I was impressed with the reach of the routes, the simplicity of the colour code system and the integration and connecting of modes.

Not long into our visit it became apparent that homelessness is ubiquitous in Portland. The scale and nakedness of the problem was the biggest culture shock for me. While it is widely acknowledged that the inadequate provision of mental health services is a major contributor to homelessness, it is unclear whether it has inadvertently exacerbated by the gentrification that has swept through the city. Gentrification of the inner city has led to low income earners having to move further out of Portland in areas where there is less public transport available causing them to become more reliant on cars. This problem is playing out at Portland State University, where cycling has decreased and more students are driving.

Despite this, the culture of cycling is enviable in Portland, as it has transcended fringe hipster culture into the mainstream. How it managed to do this or whether it has always been this way will be the subject of my research project.

By far my favourite thing about Portland is the abundance of awesome local craft beer. At the Sunday market I tried the Rogue Good Chit Pilsner made with floor malted barley. This old-school technique of malting is still very uncommon in the Australian craft beer scene. Though I didn’t get a chance to investigate, I have no doubt that the beer industry in Portland contributes substantially to the local economy. Australia’s craft beer industry is still in its infancy so it was cool to see such a thriving beer scene.

Angela Plazzer