Living in Oregon
March 16, 2005 12:00 PM   Subscribe

What can you tell me about Portland, OR? The good, the bad and the indifferent?

My wife and I vacationing in Oregon this summer with the intent of deciding if we could live there, and we need your help. We're a mid-30's couple with 2 kids looking to escape the DC/MD/VA rat race.

We're pretty blue in our politics, and would like a place with a slower pace of life. We want more time with our kids, more opportunities to do outdoorsy stuff, a lower cost of living, dramatically shorter commutes (me = 2 hrs/day, her = 1.5 hrs/day) and generally less stress in our lives. We don't want to live in the boonies, but we dont want to live in a gigantic burb either.

We like the arts, we like to eat a wide variety of foods (from sushi to mexican to whatever) and outdoor activities. So, we need more info: traffic, schools, crime, congestion, weather, leisure activities, neighborhoods, local politics, etc. Tell us what you know, and we will love you forever!
posted by Irontom to Travel & Transportation around Portland, OR (28 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
See previous AxMe thread on the subject for glowing recommendations (and my dissent) for living in Portland.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:07 PM on March 16, 2005

I've never lived in Portland, but I did visit there 1.5 years ago to help determine if my then partner and I could live there. While we both loved the vibe of the city, she couldn't handle the lack of sunshine that we experienced while there.

I didn't find congestion to be an issue at all. We walked or took transit everywhere we went and we went plenty of places. To date it's the only city that I've ever vacationed to without renting a car.

I was a little saddened by the sheer number of street beggars, but none of them were particularly in-your-face. Portland is very progressive considering the majority of the rest of the state is pretty conservative.

The only down side (for me) is the economy. I believe there was a headline on the local alternative paper the week we were there that said something to the effect of "Portland, the economic armpit of the PNW". YMMV depending on what you do for a living.

Good luck.

Also, if you find that Portland is a bit too bustling for you, which you may given that you want a slower pace... consider the southwest. Albuquerque and Portland are similar in many ways, though Albuquerque is cheaper, has way more sunshine and some would argue less "culture". I'm finally starting to really enjoy it, myself.
posted by FlamingBore at 12:21 PM on March 16, 2005

Portland is pure awesome.

I dunno about traffic or schools (Portland is a very, very bike friendly city) but the crime isn't bad compared to other metropolitan areas and the town seems to encourage a leisurely lifestyle. If you're working in Portland (not in some hideous hellhole suburb like Beaverton) your commute will pretty much be a half-hour by bus, at the most.

You have to be comfortable with 9 months of grey skies and rain, though.
posted by cmonkey at 12:31 PM on March 16, 2005

Portland pretty much matches what you've described.

Personally, I like the weather here. I don't mind the grey in the winter and I like the rough approximation of 4 seasons.

Outdoors: Oregon has it all. Mountains, ocean, rivers, desert.

Cost of Living: housing prices have been rising pretty dramatically over the past few years. It's nearly as bad as Seattle (which, in turn, isn't as bad as SF). I presume that PDX will still seem cheaper than metro DC. High income tax is a bummer, but you forget about that with no sales tax.

Politics: the urban parts of Multnomah County are blue, bluer and bluest. Suburban parts of the metro are more middle of the road.

Food: great food of all types can be found, coffee is better and beer is the best in America, no contest.

Traffic: depends on where you live and where you gotta go. At worst, though, I'd be suprised if you had more than an hour commute. I live in the city and work in the burbs and my commute is only 20min each way. Mass transit and biking to work are also very popular.

Crime: not so much, except typical urban property crime

Schools: depends on how old your children are. I've heard that both the public elementary schools in my neighborhood (Sunnyside and Buckman) are highly desirable. One is an arts magnet I think.

Neighborhoods: I find the suburban (Beaverton, etc.) areas stultifying. There are plenty of desirable neighborhoods closer to downtown to fit all kinds of situations.

Economy: was very bad, has been getting better over the last year or so.
posted by turbodog at 12:32 PM on March 16, 2005

I lived in Portland for two years. I loved it and miss it terribly. It's a great city with tons of things to do, and should that get boring, mountains or beaches or California or Washington are all short drives away.

What I liked most about Portland was that even in the downtown area, it didn't feel like a huge, imposing megalopolis. Pedestrian- and bike-friendly, and the public transit system (as well as the major road layout in general) is fantastic.
posted by m0nm0n at 12:35 PM on March 16, 2005

Don't forget the beer. We have great beer here. It's how we get through the gloomy winters.
posted by chrisroberts at 12:38 PM on March 16, 2005

It's been a few years since I've lived there, and the previous thread noted above is fairly comprehensive. I'll echo many of the points:


It's beautiful.
Decent cultural attractions/arts scene.
Bike and pedestrian friendly.
Great beer.
Great coffee.
Some very good restaurants.
Mild climate.
The rain isn't as bad as some would have you think (Seattle's a lot grayer).


Traffic is getting worse.
People can be cliquey.
Not very diverse.
Cap on property taxes helped kill the schools.
Economy in the NW is still pretty ugly.
Hard/impossible to find good italian food; bagels.
Suburban hell outside the city (Beaverton....shudder).
The passing of ballot measure 37 (compelling government compensation for land use restrictions) may drastically change the face and financial state of the state.

All in all, if I had a good job lined up (and if my wife could ever bear to be 3000 miles from her family, which she couldn't) I'd be happy to return.
posted by jalexei at 12:51 PM on March 16, 2005

I live in Portland now, and to speak directly to your question, it sounds right up your alley.

Life is slower in Portland, despite the metropolitan area now topping 1 million. Some might argue that Portland is too provincial for its size; the city has taken deliberate steps to slow growth, and thus Portland has retained a lot of its sleepy urban neighborhoods. Part of this stems from progressive/green politics (70% of the Portland vote went to Kerry), but also because Portland seems to have an inferiority complex akin to Seattle's 20 years ago (hence the comparisons mentioned in the thread above). I'm definitely a lefty, but sometimes Portland's laid back politics--and its inability to cater to businesses that would bolster economic growth--get to me.

As for livability, it's imminently livable. Great art, great music, good food (not great yet, but it will be soon). The commute is only an issue if you live outside of Portland and have to take the interstate in. But if you live and work in Portland proper, the commute won't be an issue. Of all the things you mention, schools are the only thing to worry about. Taxation here, as has been mentioned, is wacky. I pay federal taxes, state tax, and a county tax, amounting to 33% of my income (I only paid about 20% when I lived in Seattle) and sometimes wonder where it all goes. Depending on what your priorities are, this is good or bad. Schools have suffered big time, but there is great public transportation, great homeless services, and lots of public parks. If you move here, and have the means, put your kids in private school.

Jobwise, Oregon does have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. But if you're employable, this won't be an issue. I've never had trouble finding well-paying employment in Portland, and we do have some big big companies that provide lots of jobs -- Nike, Intel, Adidas, inparticular. If you're into the coporate scene.

If you do move here, consider living in in NE Portland if you want to buy a house, or the Pearl if you're rich, like the urban life, and want a condo. Fremont/Alameda (NE) is up and coming, with some of the best restaurants and artist shops in town.

BTW, the PNW has the best summers in the country.
posted by kables at 12:59 PM on March 16, 2005

A few more comments of possible interest:

Food - see Chowhound bulletin board ("PDX" discussions)

General - wikitravel page. guide - So You'd Like to ... move to Portland

Insiders' Guide to Portland, Oregon

City Smart: Portland

Weather - the summer is definitely the best time of year, and therefore deceptive for judging how you'd feel if you lived there year-round.

Jobs - you might mention what type of jobs you and your wife have, and try to get some feedback on how easy it will be to find employment in the area.

Housing - you might want to work with a real estate agent to at least get a feel for neighborhoods and costs, although your best choices will be based to some extent on where you work.

In general - the Portland area is much less developed than DC/VA/MD, which means fewer jobs (at least numerically), less traffic, and much easier access to outdoor recreation. Much of the state isn't suitable for farming, and logging is a declining industry.
posted by WestCoaster at 1:00 PM on March 16, 2005

And then there's Loretta Lynn weighing in: "Portland Oregon and sloe gin fizz/If that ain't love, tell me what is."
posted by goatdog at 1:01 PM on March 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

I've spent 24 years of my life there. Speaking generally, I love the city, but I loathe suburbia. Aloha, Hillsboro, Tualatin, Gresham, Vancouver, et. al - they might be cheaper places to live, but they're not Portland, and might as well be So. Cal.

Speaking of particular neighborhoods, Portland's layout is odd, in that there aren't any "bad" or "good" neighborhoods, rather isolated areas that can be more dangerous then others.

One thing I've noticed on leaving the city is the huge amount of green space. Being a kid and having undeveloped areas to have free reign is probably the biggest thing I could thank my parents for.
posted by iamck at 1:04 PM on March 16, 2005

I've live here for 20+ years as well and I a traveled a bunch as a kid (dad was in the air force) and I can tell you that I really like it here. Yes, there are a lot of gray days but some years are better than others. This spring has been the best one so far...we've had sun and 60+ degree temps for two weeks now but that will not be the case next year or the year after.

The biggest problems here are the schools (I don't have kids but they are getting ready to shut a few schools down) and the growth boundaries which keep new housing to a minimum along the outskirts of Portland proper but almost every 'available' square inch within is used for houses. Every neighborhood has nice places in them but some are not very liveable. I live in the north part (Piedmont) which is experiencing a renaissance of sorts. It takes me 7 minutes to get to work downtown near Portland State Univ. The Alberta street district is artsy and up and coming. The Albina area is real nice now as well.

Portland has lots of parks and green spaces. The downtown doesn't necessarily roll up it's sidewalks at 7pm like Seattle (or on weekends). Very dog friendly town (I've got four) and very a nice place for us gay folks too. There are several good colleges and universities (Reed, Univ. of Portland, Lewis & Clark) and the beach and mountains are 1 hour away and the high desert isn't much further. The Columbia River Gorge is awesome for hiking and an active volcano to watch on a somewhat regular basis nearby.

We have folks from all over the world here too, diversity is not a problem, inside the city. I would think that we almost have the best of all possibilities here except for the weather at times. There are the usual problems that occur like dealers and panhandling but nothing I have to give much attention too.
posted by Jikido at 1:39 PM on March 16, 2005

I haven't been to Portland yet, but a whole bunch of my old pals from the midwest ended up moving out there, so it must be ok. I usually here good things about the culture of Portland as well.
posted by raster at 1:55 PM on March 16, 2005

If you move here and you've got kids, you've got to go with private school. The public schools just don't begin to compare to the public schools in Northern Virginia or the Maryland suburbs of DC.

A bigger adjustment for me was the lack of racial and cultural diversity. Portland is the whitest city I've ever lived. There are small bubbles of black, Asian and Eastern European populations scattered around the city, but over all it's very, very, very white.

Other than that, Portland is a great place to live. I moved here from Northern Virginia four years ago, and I love it.

I was afraid I'd have a hard time adjusting to the weather, but "rain" by Portland standards is more like "drizzle" by East Coast standards. Most of the time, it's never all that hot and never all that cold in Portland.

Culturally, this is a really laid back place to live. I've been able to do pretty well professionally even though I often considered myself "lazy" by East Coast standards. This is not a cut throat town. Lots of people put quality of life above other things.

Rent is really cheap in Portland, and housing prices -- though higher than they were five years ago -- are quite reasonable by DC standards.

You can rent a two or three bedroom apartment for $700 or $800. You can get a house in some of the most desireable neighborhoods for $350,000 to $400,000. In more ordinary, safe, middle class neighborhoods, houses are generally in the $200,000 to $250,000 range.

I'd strongly recommend living in the city limits instead of in the 'burbs. When you visit, you'll learn a little about the character of the different neighborhoods.

A little summary of the five "quadrants" of the city:

Close in southwest is the downtown part of the city, where the tall buidings are. Not many people live in downtown, where everything except a bunch of bars and a few restaurants closes at 6 p.m.
Farther out from downtown, there are a lot of nice small-town feeling neighborhoods in Southwest. Oregon Health Sciences University and Lewis and Clark College are in Southwest. It's a hilly part of town, so the "grid" doesn't really work and the streets don't always make sense.

There are a bunch of really nice, densely developed upscale "yuppie" feeling neighborhoods in Northwest. The Pearl has art galleries, restaurants and condos, and is much loved by suburbanites. Farther out there's Forest Park, the largest wild park inside city limits in the US.

Closer in to downtown, Southeast is a mix between hippies and hipsters, with some artists thrown in for good measure. There are a lot of 20- and 30-somethings who live in Southeast, especially near Belmont and Hawthorne. There are lots of good restaurants, with a big emphasis on vegetarian-friendly food and brunch. Farther out, Southeast is less attractive. There are a lot of pretty ordinary blue-collar neighborhoods, with occasional strip mall-lined major roads forming the major arteries. A lot of Asian and Eastern European immigrants live in the farther out neighborhoods of Southeast Portland.

Inner Northeast Portland is getting more and more gentrified. Historically, a lot of the city's black population has lived in this part of the city. The Rose Garden (basketball arena), Lloyd Center Mall, a convention center and lots of businesses are in the area closest to downtown. Still close in, but a little farther east, there are a number of Ethiopian restaurants and good pedestrian-friendly shopping areas. The cultural feel of inner Northeast Portland is similar to that of inner Southeast -- just as laid back, but maybe a little more professional and a little less hippy.

There are some really nice, developed areas of North Portland, especially around the University of Portland. By and large, however, this part of the city is the "last frontier." North Portland is the most racially diverse and the poorest part of town. But compared to the DC area, that's nothing. I'd the worse parts of North Portland to some of the seedier parts of Annandale or Springfield, Virginia. And gentrification has reached the North, too. I wouldn't be surprised to see big property value climbs here in the next few years.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:58 PM on March 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

Irontom, your question describes my situation exactly! (we're coming from boston) We should compare notes.

Seems like I missed the pearl disctrict by a year or two. When some asks this question in 2008 what what neighbor would most likey be today's pearl?
posted by rschroed at 2:04 PM on March 16, 2005

Albina/Mississippi Area (north of downtown)
posted by Jikido at 2:21 PM on March 16, 2005

croutonsupafreak: great neighborhood summary.

If you absolutely have to live in the burbs, they roughly break down into:

Beaverton: west of downtown, home of Nike, shopping malls

Tigard, Tualatin, Wilsonville, etc: (S of SW Portland) where people moved when Beaverton got too "urban"

Hillsboro: west of Beaverton, home of Intel

Jikido: I have to disagree. I think Hawthorne/Belmont/Division is most likely to go Pearl. The modern $250k condos are going up all over the place, stores are going higher end, home prices are racheting up rapidly and many dilapidated houses are being rehabbed and sold to higher income families. Albina/Mississippi will probably have its day, but not before Hawthorne
posted by turbodog at 2:44 PM on March 16, 2005

They've got all the good indie bands.
posted by ludwig_van at 3:09 PM on March 16, 2005

They've got all the good indie bands.

We breed them here...

Everything everyone else has said is spot on, even the conflicting stuff...

Portland Monthly just did a real estate guide [PDF] that may be of some interest in directing your trip. I'd also recommend picking up a copy of Chuck Palahniuk's Fugitives and Refugees : A Walk in Portland, Oregon to give you an idea of stuff to do while you're here, and an interesting perspective on the town in general...

As to the next Pearl my vote goes to Alberta/Killingsworth/MLK (west of Concordia, south of Lombard). Remember that the Pearl was essentially a slum of empty warehouses and prostitutes trolling for johns and crack 10-15 years ago. Which is where a lot of that area of town was say 5 years ago.
posted by togdon at 3:32 PM on March 16, 2005

They've got all the good indie bands.

Including one of my current faves, Menomena.
posted by kindall at 3:39 PM on March 16, 2005

Given your ages, it would seem that your chidren are in elementary or middle school. You may be most interested in providing for their education.
I volunteered in schools where we used to live. The teachers there were unanimous in recommending that we avoid the Portland public schools in favor of the Beaverton District. If you are not planning to do the pickup and delivery of private or religious schools (also the tuition) you might consider the better supported District.
There is another NorthWest - much farther from downtown. The suburban Northwest is full of apartments and condos and McMansions with 3 car garages that sell for $300k up. (Quite a bit up!) Besides the Nike main campus, and a large Intel plant, there are libraries and theaters and shopping centers. And ethnic restaurants. And MAX, the quiet train service to take you down to Portland for the symphony, opera, rock concerts or conventions in the Convention Center.
Some people still go to Trailblazer games.
posted by Cranberry at 5:04 PM on March 16, 2005

Don't forget looking at It'll tell you everything to where bus lines are to where the crime is bad, not to mention where the sewer lines, parks, bus shelters, etc. are too.

By the way. I live here in Portland and love it. Yeah the rain can get to you, but it's the best town I've ever been in and the summer / fall is great. Easiest place in the world too to be a vegan/veggie.
posted by pwb503 at 5:33 PM on March 16, 2005

Some thoughts from my brother Nate who is currently looking at putting new kitchen cabinets in his home in Portland:

"I can’t add much else to what has been said. I’ve
lived here for about 5 years. And can’t really
complain. The Northwest in general is great for the
outdoors, Portland is within an hours drive of it all.
Skiing at mount hood to surfing in the pacific. Lot
of great fishing, hiking, biking, rock climbing,
kayaking, you name it. Beware though, if you’re like
me you will instantly become a beer snob. You will
visit other places expecting grocery stores to have an
endless selection of microbrews, restaurants to be
featuring their own seasonal brew or choose from a
wide spectrum of local micros. Jalexei, if you are
into Italian try Portofino Caffe Italiano, and order
something with their vodka sauce."
posted by jacobsee at 6:46 PM on March 16, 2005

I moved away from Portland (but not because I didn't like living there!) and miss:

- Powell's Books (A square city block of books with used copies stacked right next to new ones! Damn, I never had it so good!)
- Tons of affordable and interesting places to eat. (Nicholas', Flying Pie Pizza, Sushi Takahashi!)
- Neighborhood movie theaters with cheap tickets, great flicks and real food! (Laurelhurst, how I miss thee!)
- Cost of living is pretty low, yet quality of living is pretty high!
- It feels mostly clean and safe.
- Nice liveable neighborhoods, with many trees!

But I'll echo what was said above - diversity is lacking. But I guess that's only compared to where else you've lived.
posted by lpqboy at 9:54 PM on March 16, 2005

We moved here (Portland) almost three years ago from Austin, TX and like it quite a bit. Maybe the last three years have been abnormally dry, or maybe I just don't get out of my basement office enough, but the rain people complain about is a complete non-factor for me. The greenery around the endless neighborhoods that surround the downtown is gorgeous rain or shine.

Rather than retype more of my opinion here I'll point you to the documentary about Portland public transportation that features my wife and I.
posted by nonmyopicdave at 10:53 PM on March 16, 2005

Jalexei, if you are into Italian try Portofino Caffe Italiano, and order something with their vodka sauce."

Thanks - will give it a try the next time I'm in town -
posted by jalexei at 7:13 AM on March 17, 2005

Response by poster: Westcoaster - hopefully this isnt too late. My wife is an insurance claims adjuster, and would be transferring internally with her company, retaining her current salary. I'm a ColdFusion developer, looking to make the transition into something other than IT - I'd love to be involved in the wine business somehow, but I havent yet figured out how to make it happen.
posted by Irontom at 8:39 AM on March 17, 2005

The first year I lived in Portland, the weather did take some time to get used to. At one point, there was over 90 days straight of gray rainy days. The weather people would make comments like “Today, expect rain followed by showers, with a 10 percent chance of sun.” After a while, I just sort of got used to it – life goes on in the rain and it’s better than snow.

If you’re into books, beer, or movies – Portland is a great place. I suspect this has a lot to do with the rain. Drinking, reading, and watching flicks are great things to do on soggy nights. Some geniuses came up with the idea of combining movies and beer and thus the McMenamins Brew ‘n Views were born.

I’ve lived in the SE, NE, and NW parts of town and they are all great and have distinctive characteristics. The Portland urban core is very livable and there are actual neighborhoods within walking distance of the downtown business areas.
posted by Staggering Jack at 8:58 AM on March 17, 2005

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