Gentrification in Portland

The second ride I took during Pedalpalooza was Le Tour de Gentrification, co-hosted by super cool blogger and ride enthusiast Hart Noecker (Rebel Metropolis) and professor and former council candidate Nicholas Caleb. A full rundown of stops and discussion can be found here.

Here’s the thing… I don’t claim to know much about Portland despite having spent a couple of summers here. What I do know is that it’s changed. Another thing I know is that I’m a minority. From a city recently buzzing with gentrification news (hey Atlanta!) and also claiming another gentrified borough (where Brooklyn at?!), I’m in the thick of the gentrificated (I made up a word there) life.

Gentrification. I’ve heard the term thrown around a lot. I’ve never heard it more used and abused than during my stints in PDX. Embarrassingly enough, I’ve never taken the time to learn about it. In another related event, a friend of mine from Atlanta, who also lived in Brooklyn, sent me this article about hipster economics. And so began my deep dive into the etymology, history, happenings, and news in gentrification. I felt it was only fitting that I ride along and learn more about Portland’s rich gentrification history. I got schooled in the best of ways.

Here I am, living in NE Portland, oblivious to the history in my own backyard. We began cycling in the SE but quickly clustered several stops right down the street from my new home. How could I be so oblivious? Then I thought, don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re new.

Being new to the city has it’s perks. Most people are welcoming, offering to network and help you meet others. Then some people give you this look like, “Oh, welcome. I guess.”. As if I’m spoiling it for the rest of them, bringing my high-paying NYC salary to little old Portland to raise the rents. Little do they know, I’m unemployed and struggling to make ends meet too.

As we toured, discussions ensued and I did what I do best: sit back (more like lean on my bike) and listen, conjuring up questions to ask once people were long gone. Afterwards, my friends and I ventured on our own to eat dinner and discuss. It was a healthy discussion but left me more confused than ever as to who’s side I was on. Or whether I needed to choose sides at all. Sure, I get it. Gentrification has done some bad stuff. But how can we reverse the damage? And isn’t it kind of a cyclical thing that happens in every major city? Why weren’t we also talking about the black-owned businesses that are thriving due to the new neighbors or the people who fought to stay and open up community housing vs. lame, ugly condos? Perhaps I’m still the lost lady who’s new in town.

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Maybe I’m not bold enough to form an opinion aloud. Maybe I don’t like to speak up unless I feel I’ve done my research. I consider this ride step one in that direction. Learning the history about Portland was the biggest lesson. I need to know more about where I live, what’s happened here before I arrived, and what are the plans for the future. If I plan on staying longer than a summer, it’s my civic duty to know these things. And I’m grateful we rode that night to start the conversation.

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