Other people’s cities

Ezra Klein explains “Why I like reading about Silicon Valley“:

‘In Washington, thinking is constrained by the routine experience of being unable to achieve the clearly possible. In Silicon Valley, it’s unconstrained by the routine experience of being able to achieve the seemingly impossible. ‘

Like Ezra, I too find it refreshing to occasionally escape from the place I live to see how things look from other towns, and this week I came across a handful of other interesting posts.

For example, it came as a surprise to me that people in Columbus, which seems such a happy, thriving boomtown, get insecure sometimes too about their city — against Pittsburgh, of all places!  Though to be sure we’ll probably hear a lot more of this in coming years, since Pittsburgh is sort of the new Boston.

Aaron Renn linked to this interesting interview with a number of young Portlanders.  There’s so much angst among these Portland youth!  Which is an interesting contrast to with the incessant, paradoxical optimism you hear from [mostly white] Detroiters in their 20s.  Some of the soundbytes that especially struck me:

  • “’I think Portland is in a way in danger of being a sort of incubator. People absorb its resources but don’t recycle them. They’re taking their careers elsewhere, and Portland earns a reputation of being a steppingstone rather than a destination.’ Postscript: Williams returned to Portland in mid-October.”
  • ‘Natalie Poulton, 28, moved to Portland last year, and immediately sold her car. “It was a financial burden, and I want to ride a bike everywhere,” says the Ohio native… “I found getting work ridiculously easy; I had a job within a week. But a lot of people here really struggle. I work with 28-year-old people who make $8.50 an hour and smoke pot all the time and come to work and they’re lazy. You could not go to Wooster, Ohio, and do what people do here, or Columbus or Cleveland. I don’t understand the structure of it, or why people would want to do it. In five years, what are you going to have, if you’re not building real relationships, if you’re just doing what you feel like doing?”
  • ‘”When I arrived I found that ‘livability’ was generally reserved for the majority of white people who score sweet government jobs and that most everyone else is either funding their existence with family money… People leave Portland for all sorts of reasons. Mainly they realize it’s a waste of time and they’d probably be happier somewhere else. I saw plenty of bright people buckle. Pour all their energy into drawing comics or the local bike scene instead of doing something constructive with it, something that might be relevant on a national or international scale. They lose confidence. The waste of potential is a tragedy… The creative class will eat itself, eventually, or tattoo itself to death. And so will Portland.”’
  • [As a fairly recent grad of an American Library Association-accredited master’s program, I can appreciate this one for a completely different reason:] ” ‘I made a friend who has her master’s in library science; she’s been applying for three years and is working part time as a page. She admitted to me she has a trust fund…  (I)f I can’t get a job, I can’t live here. I don’t have a special income that can support this never-ending quest. ‘”
  • [A black guy in Portland!!!  You’d think they didn’t have any.  And, pleasantly, he seems to be the most successful:] “I didn’t take the unemployment road, which unfortunately a lot of people seem to milk here. That’s not going to make the economy any better… Everybody in Portland paints. Everyone in Portland is a photographer, and does music. At some point you have to say, what can I do to make this different? I think people are afraid to have their dreams crushed, so they don’t go and say, “Hey, can I display my art in your store?” Which is sad. They come here with this false hope, that they’re going to rise to the top right away. It’s not that way. Nothing in life is that way. It’s like making a cake; it takes time to fluff. You can’t just put it in the oven and then boom, you take it out in five minutes.’”

But, you know, this racket’s been working for New York City for the last century, hasn’t it?

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4 responses to “Other people’s cities

  1. I especially like the last Portlander’s comment about unemployment. It would be fantastic if more people took the initiative to make something work for themselves!

  2. Andy–nice blog! As someone who grew up in those 40 miles (mere blocks off of 96) I am still constantly surprised at the dichotomy between the two communities. Your blog makes me even more certain that coming back to Detroit is what I want to do.

  3. Really an interesting look at Portland. I never would have guessed that it was the “land of the living dead” as it seems to some that live there. I have a very romanticzed view of it in my head, but I have never been there, so I guess it doesn’t count. However, I find it very sad that it sounds as though it is ripe with possibilities, but lacks in any community spirit. If no one cares about the people they live with or place they live in, then this is what happens.

    Thank you for today’s education, Andy. I enjoyed it.

  4. thanks so much for checking out the blog, guys! Heather, I’m so glad to hear you’d consider coming back (maybe it’s that cold snap you’ve all had in Florida lately).

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