Going deeper with Portland's problems
May 7, 2021 11:35 PM   Subscribe

KOIN 6, a CBS affiliate in Portland, will present a series all next week called, "Is Portland Over?" It looks at how, as they say, "The city of Roses has become the city of trash." I'm esp. curious about the perpetrators. Whenever the arrested are shown on TV, they always seem to be young, white men and women. Very rarely are they represented by any other group.

I am interested in knowing the demographics of whom is actually mostly involved in the destruction, unrest and vandalism. I hypothesize that it isn't the homeless, or larger groups of protesters who seem to leave the city by early evening. Black Lives Matter organizers began late last year to complain that these violent protests were beginning to co-opt their social justice and peaceful demonstrations. Now, unfortunately, city residents seem exhausted since any protest seems to remind them of the violent ones.

These other protestors only seem to come out after 9 or 10 p.m. In addition to their demographics, I'm interested in what communities they are coming from. Are they from the central business district, which is where all of the rioting seems to take place, or are they coming from elsewhere? And what is their motivation? Is social justice their motivation or are they simply opportunists for civil unrest? I might contact PSU, the Portland Police and the Urban League for help. Any other thoughts or suggestions. I'm thinking of how this could be a reporting project of my own.
posted by CollectiveMind to Society & Culture (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: One more thing. Portland used to be one of America's most desirable cities. That it has plummeted so far so fast is at the root of this project. A city that is supposed to be so known for it's progressiveness and supposed sophistication of its residents seems to be unable to lift itself up from chaos and I also wonder is any city as susceptible?
posted by CollectiveMind at 11:39 PM on May 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

I am a random student, no longer living in Portland, but occasionally visiting:

I suspect outlying aggressors are likely from fringe groups, or a mix of transient/homeless, proud boyish people, and a large number of people negatively affected by the pandemic already hinging on transience. (Certainly open to correction from anyone else).

Regarding 'dying' cities: many cities do not die, but certainly shrink or sit like warm coals. It's so difficult to know if a person isn't within the interior.

Absolutely any city is susceptible. People were saying New Orleans or Detroit have never recovered: the reality is recovery takes quite some time. The mentioned are still cultural epicenters, they need time, support, new energy, and of course, funding. I think it's a little insulting when people say they're 'dead': people still live there. They're still working.

I think it would be a rash mistake to say Portlands 'plummeted,' or dying. (I would say it's having a particularly difficult time). I certainly think the party or hayday era of Portland ended years ago, but it still has the framework for progression and sustainability: any person who can recognize value will see this. It will certainly need a lot of time and attention, after this.

I know from experience, transplants or others who may be too exhausted to try to invest more creativity into warm coals, might find more rewarding investments elsewhere. It's going to take significant energy to repair. (Eg the city literally needs to hire cleanup crews. ..I probably have a laundry list, but I don't have the time to physically write it)
posted by firstdaffodils at 12:15 AM on May 8, 2021

One more thing. Portland used to be one of America's most desirable cities. That it has plummeted so far so fast is at the root of this project.

I wouldn't simply accept this framing of the situation. There is a loud contingent ready to declare that every city is "over," that they're all constant chaos, etc....basically the former guy's "American carnage." As the proud resident of a supposed "anarchist jurisdiction," I know that, while cities have certainly struggled with the enormous challenges of COVID, that's simply not the case. Does it really reflect your own experience? Are you unable to go grocery shopping peacefully?
posted by praemunire at 12:28 AM on May 8, 2021 [22 favorites]

as someone who lives in portland and just spent an entire day picking daisies and helping with a friend’s art project i sincerely doubt the entire premise of this question but whatever keeps the rent down i guess
posted by Gymnopedist at 1:15 AM on May 8, 2021 [60 favorites]

Portland used to be one of America's most desirable cities. That it has plummeted so far so fast is at the root of this project.

Are property prices increasing in Portland? Generally when a city become undesirable, property prices stagnate or fall relative to other cities. I'm not familiar with the Portland real estate market, a cursory google suggests that it's still going up.
posted by plonkee at 3:08 AM on May 8, 2021 [4 favorites]

My neighborhood (a couple miles from downtown) has and continues to remain utterly the Portland dream. During the height of the protests, houses were being bought and sold left and right for outrageous prices. Infants and toddlers were still being carted around on bicycles by their parents. Thousands of dogs were out on their walks, and craft beer and artisanal coffee flowed freely. And nothing gets in the way of a Portlander and their brunch plans.
posted by nanook at 7:37 AM on May 8, 2021 [7 favorites]

I would think carefully about who the narrative you’re proposing supports, and it’s accuracy. Words like “chaos” and “rioting” imply a wide-spread danger and a need for funding for a strict, controlling police force. Meanwhile there is a lack of trust in the existing police force due to the alarming and unjust actions we’ve seen them take. One way to avoid having to do the hard work of creating a better system could be to rebuild support for the existing system through fear, suggesting that there’s an active threat or “chaos” in Portland that many of us Portland residents just aren’t seeing or experiencing.

Are humans being harmed by “riots” and “chaos”, or are businesses, property, and corporations? Do these things have a value greater than, equal, or less than a human life?
posted by Secretariat at 7:51 AM on May 8, 2021 [13 favorites]

Response by poster: Then perhaps it would be more accurate to say Portland is in a place from which it, like Detroit and NOLA, will take a long time ... maybe a very long time to recover. I have not been affected because I don't live within the boundaries of Downtown, Chinatown, the Pearl and Old Town. But the people who do, if you scan their weekly community council meetings, are terrified. Areas outside of those areas are indeed not suffering in the same way. But if those groups moved to those areas, I wonder if the consanguinity would remain. That they haven't is one of my interests. While the pandemic raged throughout the summer, BLM protestors and Proud Boy protestors fought, but there was nothing like what is happening now, when neither the Proud Boys or BLM are mentioned as perpetrators. Who they are & where they come from is my other interest. I am imply nothing but I do hypothesize, and how complete KOIN's analysis of the demographics of those rioters/protestors will determine if I will take up my own. And finally, to ask if a life is worth more than a business is as obvious as it is baiting, which is what, unfortunately, continues to fuel the whole, sad mess.
posted by CollectiveMind at 9:12 AM on May 8, 2021

Addendum: I think it's really hyperbolic to say a city is over. (I do suggest googling ghost cities if you like urban excavation)

For your uses, I would suggest googling "Pompeii" or using Google Maps to view the intersection of N MLK near Delta park (or just drive there) in N Portland. There is a quarter acre (or 6th acre?) of trash mounting approximately 1.5-2 ft, surrounded by tents no person has made an effort to organize or clean. Someone has scrawled POMPEII on one of the nearby highway beams in letters maybe 2 x 2ft.

Additionally, a favorite dog park a mile nearby has had the fence torn down, and there's an abandoned, freshly gutted car in the center. People are camping around the perimeter of the park. Not 1-2. Like 15-20. (Delta park)

PDXers sometimes have affluency-blindness, privilege-blindness or sometimes extraordinarily positive perspective (which is a blessing and slightly a curse), so often these negative qualities or occurrences are overlooked by people who aren't forced to directly live with the circumstances. There is sometimes a, "but like.. it's cool no matter what, right?" tone that arrives with privilege and situational blindness (that's also slightly embarrassing). Yes, darling, life is cool no matter what, but sometimes things aren't cool, and require direct action to repair. Sometimes no one is going to fix a problem, aside a person immediately in front of the concern.

People may say, "Well, I had my craft beer today, so it can't be bad!" This can be construed with any line of privilege, and in all honesty, I don't think it's a justifiable statement. It isn't very different from saying, "Well, I can still vacay in Bend!" Sure, true. Because you have whatever qualifiers to do so. This doesn't outline the a map of stability for your area. It just means you have a dash of privilege.

Both opinions are valid at the moment (not Pompeii - but someone please clean up/fix graff/etc) - it makes sense to consider people in community organizations maintaining a fear about their home radius - these are likely the people who are not flying to their vacay homes in Denver to take pandemic breaks. They may have taken an interest in community roles as an active means to fix their community, and now they're frightened as state resources feel slightly choked out as the timeline drags out a bit.

Anyway. Please don't call cities ruinous or name titles like Pompeii. (it would seem to only cluelessly identify careless developers or news people)
posted by firstdaffodils at 9:26 AM on May 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Last last addendum (so sorry mods): Additionally, PDX is a newer west coast city established in 1851.

New Orleans was established in 1718, Detroit in 1701. New Orleans is famously home to the french quarter, Detroit has been an incredible influence for music and still houses the DIA. Each has a thorough blend of culture and genuine color. Each have roughly fifteen decades on Portland.

I believe if you'd like to honor cities that have truly had a difficult time, continue to recognize starting points, privilege, and lack thereof, as you seem to do.
posted by firstdaffodils at 9:45 AM on May 8, 2021

Seattle did this a few years ago. It was basically propaganda aimed at making wealthy homeowners hate the homeless.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:17 AM on May 8, 2021 [14 favorites]

the people who do, if you scan their weekly community council meetings, are terrified.

The questions you ask in your initial post are meaningful questions, but...Look, before you go journalizing, I beg you, take some classes, any classes, where you are trained to read sources critically. If you are not yet capable of understanding why "weekly community council meetings" tend to reflect only a particular, tending-extreme view of a particular demographic, you are in no way intellectually prepared to deal responsibly with this complex and fraught topic.

Portland is in a place from which it, like Detroit and NOLA, will take a long time ... maybe a very long time to recover.

As someone who grew up and went to public school in one of the latter places, I would have to say that this is one of the most ridiculous fucking comparisons I have ever heard.
posted by praemunire at 10:28 AM on May 8, 2021 [19 favorites]

Seattle was hit with a big self-important local-news “documentary” titled Seattle is Dying that consisted of horror stories about the filthy homeless and the liberals who mollycoddle them. Sad to say the local station (a Sinclair affiliate) put a huge amount of hype behind this broadcast and, I think, genuinely changed local discourse. Everybody now “knows” that Seattle is “dying” because of a few homeless encampments amidst mind-boggling wealth.

It sound like, having succeeded in Seattle, the same campaign is hitting Portland now.
posted by argybarg at 11:11 AM on May 8, 2021 [18 favorites]

I have not been affected because I don't live within the boundaries of Downtown, Chinatown, the Pearl and Old Town. But the people who do, if you scan their weekly community council meetings, are terrified.

My person who lives in the Pearl says life for the securely housed remains, y'know, normal for these days. Person is not attending community council meetings to express this.

Keep in mind that TV news can be sensationalist, yeah?
posted by away for regrooving at 12:43 PM on May 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

As a resident, my response, which seconds observations made above, would be to push back on the framing of your question and add specifically that your selection of geographic foci (i.e. "Downtown, Chinatown, the Pearl and Old Town") and comparisons (Detroit and NOLA) are highly skewed and not representative of Portland. For instance, there is nothing in Portland that at all compares to the city-wide and neighborhood-scale changes experienced by Detroit and New Orleans. The perspective of your inquiry does however accord with some usual suspects - that is, the more affluent residents of those neighborhoods and certain local and national "news" sources.
posted by DeepSeaHaggis at 3:44 PM on May 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

> Portland used to be one of America's most desirable cities. That it has plummeted so far so fast is at the root of this project.

A quick look at Zillow shows that the median cost of a house in Portland has increased 12% in a single year. Your statement is objectively false.

> [Portland] seems to be unable to lift itself up from chaos

A logical place to start, I would think, is to compare Portland's crime rates to other cities over the past year, as well as to Portland over the past 50 years. Broadly speaking, crime rates have decreased in the United States over the past 50 years, with a possible small increase from the bottom of the dip during Covid (more study is necessary to create signal frm noise). Has Portland's crime rate followed this trend? Is it higher or lower (or neither/both) to this trend?

> I have not been affected because I don't live within the boundaries of Downtown, Chinatown, the Pearl and Old Town.

Perhaps your limited perspective has distorted your thinking.

> But the people who do, if you scan their weekly community council meetings, are terrified.

I think you'd be served by exploring whether the people who have the time to complain at community council meetings are representative of the city at large.


There are a lot of good comments on this thread about how the narrative you're proposing aligns with right wing propaganda. Another thing I'd add to that is that a more simple explanation for the phenomenon you're describing is not that Portland is losing desirability -- but that it is far too desirable, pushing housing costs up, thereby enriching those with property and impoverishing those without.
posted by lewedswiver at 4:40 PM on May 8, 2021 [4 favorites]

Although the critiques of the framing are valid, based on mainstream news reports in Seattle plus stuff on Twitter and comments by mefites including gucci mane (I think), it seems like Portland has experienced ongoing civil unrest following George Floyd pto a greater extent than other cities.

KOIN is not a Sinclair network, but even assuming that the program is a propaganda hit piece it would still be interesting to hear about the demographics & motivations of these involved. Perhaps that is covered by local media but all I tend to hear in Seattle is reports of cops arresting kids for the 500th night in a row or whatever.
posted by lumpy at 4:40 PM on May 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think it might be interesting to compare Portland to Minneapolis. Both read as desirable, predominantly white, second-tier US cities (whether that description is true or not) with higher than otherwise expected levels of recent protest. If you search ask.metafilter you can find loads of people recommending the Twin Cities as a place to live; Portland perhaps more people wanting to move there and being gently told that the job market is bad. But in the context you set out it feels like they could have a lot in common - certainly more than with NOLA (literally drowned) and Detroit (rust belt decline and white flight) which have suffered from major structural challenges that any city would struggle to recover from.
posted by plonkee at 6:02 PM on May 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think it is dangerous and immoral to just assume this comes from "Proud Boyish" groups like someone above suggested.

There seems to be two issues, both of which fall under your question.

First, if you drive anywhere along I-205 east of Portland, or along I-5 north of Portland, you will see tons and tons (and tons!) of homeless camps with trash everywhere. My co-parent lives between SE Division and Powell and whenever I drive my kids there, the trash and tents and shopping carts and random piles of stuff are overwhelming. I know that at Foster and I-205 they placed large boulders to make the homeless camps move, but it seems that the whole Springwater Corridor is overwhelmed. I don't have a solution, other than to make them move, but that would just put the problem in a different neighborhood.

From a family member who lived on the streets for a bit, it appears that these are mostly "tweaker/druggie" camps that aren't safe. But I'm sure there are exceptions.

The second issue is downtown Portland. That area has been smashed to bits by anarchists and (in my opinion) Antifa activists who want to sow chaos. You can have 10,000 peaceful protestors, but 100 people with anarchy in mind can change the whole course of a protest. I think the downtown businesses have a right to worry. We have gone on for almost a year with continuous chaotic protests that lead to property destruction. I personally haven't been downtown for over a year because I don't want to be caught/blocked by a protest.

So, yes, the city seems to be having major problems. Is Portland over? I have no idea. But I would certainly not suggest that friends or family move here or visit downtown given the current climate. I don't like Ted Wheeler, but I'm hopeful that his current stance of standing up to the anarchists might hlep. Time will tell.
posted by tacodave at 8:59 PM on May 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Right wing media conglomerate Sinclair is pushing this narrative in multiple cities right now. Here in Baltimore it's a transparent attempt to starve public schools in favor of private and increase funding for police in Black communities.
posted by postel's law at 9:05 PM on May 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Here’s a perfect summary of the problem:
The second issue is downtown Portland. That area has been smashed to bits by anarchists and (in my opinion) Antifa activists who want to sow chaos. ...I personally haven't been downtown for over a year because I don't want to be caught/blocked by a protest.

Basically, much of the handwringing about how terrible things are is ... being done by folks who haven’t even been to the places they are talking about.

Forbes ran a sensationalist story in January, written by a guy who lives in Lake Oswego. Everything since then is just responding to this.

Yes, there are problems. The biggest problems downtown stem from the fact that so many fewer people are going there these days, because they’re working from home and tourism has dropped. Revenue at downtown businesses has dropped significantly—because of the pandemic, not because of protests.

We also do have a lot of houseless folks in Portland. It’s expensive here and we have a housing shortage. Encampments are more common in many places right now—not because of anarchy but because folks don’t have other places to go.

But, right now activists are mounting a campaign to reduce police funding and find other approaches to policing. Cops are powerful and business interests are colluding to push this narrative of lawlessness. There are also signs that cops are deliberating not responding to certain calls as a work slowdown. Crime rates going up serve their interest. They’re also in the middle of negotiating their contract, so stories of terror can influence negotiations in cops’ favor. Pretty awful, right?

The publisher of the Portland Mercury has an excellent take on all this. Portland is not dead. It’s just fine.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:13 PM on May 8, 2021 [5 favorites]

The "Portland Is Dead" line of thinking seems to come from the outdated 1950's mode of thought that posits that cities are only as vibrant as their downtowns are. I've lived in Portland for 20 years now, and I have never once considered downtown (not the Pearl, but the area bounded by Burnside/405/SW Market/the river) to be a particularly interesting destination, nor would it be somewhere I'd send a tourist. When I first moved here, I worked in that downtown core, and there were like four decent places to go get a drink (RIP, The Lotus), and most businesses rolled up their sidewalks at about 8PM.

Portland, as is the case with a lot of cities, is much more about its neighborhoods than its downtown, if you're talking about "what is Portland". Hawthorne, Mississippi, Alberta, Powell, N Williams, etc...those are the places where Portland's life happens, not a downtown that is anchored by hotels and office buildings.

COVID absolutely did a number on downtown; it emptied out pretty completely at first. So by the time the protests started in earnest, downtown was already a ghost town for the most part; if you want to use a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic as the instigating incident of the death of a mid-major American city, go ahead, but you'll be wrong. Downtown will revive once life returns to some semblance of how it was pre-pandemic and people are present in downtown at most hours of the day; until then, sure, Portland will appear "dead".

The large number of unhoused people is for sure an issue, but it is not an existential threat to the survival of an entire city, like a lot of media outlets want you to believe it is. It's what a lot of cities, particularly high cost of living cities, are dealing with - Portland is not unique in that regard. The problem absolutely needs attention, but while that attention is being paid (even if too slowly right now), Portland is still Portland. It's just that most people who aren't from here look in the wrong place to try and find what that means.
posted by pdb at 10:56 AM on May 9, 2021 [6 favorites]

Is social justice their motivation or are they simply opportunists for civil unrest?

The criminals who trashed urban areas in the evening after BLM protesters left for the day are Social Justice Anti-Warriors getting their vandalizing kicks, gleeful in the knowledge that BLM will be blamed.

And most everybody throwing around the term antifa is ignorant, and just parroting right-wing media. Once I hear it from you, I shut down: you're a lost cause.

Just my 2¢.
posted by Rash at 11:06 AM on May 9, 2021

"I'm thinking of how this could be a reporting project of my own."

If you really want a reporting project, maybe look into how cities that are supposedly "over" are, in fact, anything but. I don't want to make it seem like Detroit or New Orleans don't have any problems, because they do, but there are hundreds of thousands, probably even millions of people living happily in those metro areas. Raising families, owning businesses, going to school, living life. It's hard for a lot of them, but, like, it's hard for a lot of people in "cool" cities, too.

I grew up in a town in the Rust Belt that was over well before I came along. Most of its manufacturing base had gone abroad, replaced mostly with drugs, it would seem. My high school was regularly locked down due to gang fights. I got mugged by some gang members walking home from school. I have multiple classmates on death row. And yet, here I am. I turned out fine. My mom still lives there; she's fine - just retired this week. I go back to visit her fairly often, and it's always fun because of all the good restaurants and ice cream places. Some of them I grew up with, and some are new. Last time I was there, we went to a new fine-dining restaurant downtown recently opened by her co-worker's boyfriend, who had been a line cook at Olive Garden. It was incredible. I still haven't been to the new microbrewery, but people say it's nice. One of my high school classmates has an EGOT. What is over?

On the flip side, if you're interested in "dying" cities, take a look at the decisions that led them to die. In almost every case, you'll find that it wasn't rioting, or crime of any sort, or demographic change (which, let's be clear, is a euphemism for more black people). I'll save you the time and let you know that this reporting has already been done. Glass House by Brian Alexander is a good, readable book on the topic.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:28 PM on May 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

hi i live around portland in the southern suburbs

something i've noticed in the Portland is A Hellhole discourse is that people flatten a bunch of issues into "portland is now a hellhole and it's because of protests and antifa and property damage"

non-protest issues i have noticed in local news and observed over the last year and 3 months-ish:

- portland's downtown/old town/chinatown area has a lot of bars and nightspots and walk-in retail and not much else. COVID closing a lot of those spots or limiting hours has caused the character of those places to change considerably. for months and months, a lot of retail strips in town felt creepy and empty
- there's of course the trash pickup scandal where the inner downtown core was paying for trash cleanup that wasn't happening. hm. wonder why there's trash downtown lol
- homicides are up
- the police are extra snitty and weird due to protests (ie being unpleasant or just not sending cops out "because they need to respond to protests" -- even when people are calling in crimes in progress etc), so more people are getting unpleasant police responses when they call in crimes of any sort
- more people are living on the street + portland has "not been sweeping camps as much" air quotes because cities lie but you get me -- for some people there is a perception of "way more people living outside all of a sudden" or "people living outside closer to me", or people living in "nicer" neighborhoods
- oh yeah and somehow housing prices are still rising despite the fact that COVID has fucked up a huge number of people's livelihoods here

and in a general sense COVID and the economy and last year and change have been incredibly hard on people and outside of everything else there's a general sense that people are not doing as well. i feel like you're more likely to see someone in visible distress while wandering around town these days.

so yeah we're collectively not doing great but it's excruciating for me to encounter presumably reasonable people look at all this and settle on "a very small number of protestors doing property damage" as the reason why e.g. businesses are shut down in downtown.

cool free reporting project idea: what entities in town might benefit from displacing the effects of slow-moving structural breakdown onto a small, easily otherized group of people?
posted by nixon's meatloaf at 10:15 AM on May 10, 2021 [4 favorites]

I spent my formative years in an actual dying city (Erie, PA). I return regularly to visit family there.

A dying city hollows itself out until commercial buildings are cheaper than single-family houses in the suburbs. And then, as jobs continue to evaporate, the suburbs empty out too. The average age of the populace climbs and the average education and income drop because people graduate from high school, leave town to go to college, and never come back because there's no future for them at home. Schools close due to a lack of children. Eventually, attempts by city officials to draw new business to the town are doomed because of the lack of a well-educated population. When a city is dying, it doesn't go down guns blazing like in right-wing fantasies. People don't take to the streets to protest and fight. They just move away.

Also, this takes decades.

Portland's current strife is, what, eleven months old now? Portland is fine. The demonstrations and violence in Portland are a response to current events, not an irreversible trend. If this is what passes for local news, find a better news source.
posted by Subaru drwxrwxrwx at 12:54 PM on May 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

The Portland Mercury has an excellent response to this terrible KOIN story:

But to give you a quick idea of the pro-business slant this article takes, the story contains quotes from 14 people, 7 of whom are business owners (!!), four out-of-towners, two misinformed people, and one local mayor—whether he knows what he's talking about is for you to decide. Interestingly not a single local homeless or social justice advocate was interviewed, even though the story hinges on homeless and social justice issues. ... personally, I’m “over” hyperbolic, poorly written and researched articles that glorify businesspeople and demonize the homeless and anyone practicing their First Amendment rights. I’m also “over” the constant screams of “look at this trash” or “omigod, broken windows” being prioritized over holding an increasingly militarized police bureau accountable for their actions, or ignoring the racial inequity that continues to push people of color out of the city. And I’m especially “over” downtown business boosters like KOIN pretending that the pandemic is “over” and acting furious that the devastating problems caused by COVID haven’t already just magically disappeared.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:24 AM on May 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Following on the story from the Mercury bluedaisy posted, it took me a while to put it together but KOIN owns a giant freaking tower in the middle of the supposed "hellscape". Maybe Jeff just got tired of driving past it all on his way to the building parking garage.
posted by fiercekitten at 1:53 PM on May 13, 2021

A new article on OregonLive.com today has poll results from people who live in or near Portland regarding their feelings about the downtown area.
posted by tacodave at 2:57 PM on May 14, 2021

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