Anyone who likes to lump a whole country together under one set of stereotypes needs to spend some time in Portland, Oregon. So many of the tendencies that people equate with the U.S. and Americans go out the window in that city.
First of all, you can get by pretty well without a car. An all-day transportation pass is $4.25 and that sets you up on the buses, light rail, and streetcars. And that transportation will actually get you where you need to go, including the airport. Not since I left New York City have I seen kids taking a field trip to the zoo on public transportation. Nice. The cars that you do see are seldom gas-guzzling SUVs, but rather small cars that get good gas mileage.
Second, riding a bike to work is really easy. There are bike lanes all over the place and you can carry your bike onto the light rail trains and hang the bike from a hook. All the buses have a rack for you to put your bike on the front.
There is very little waste. Glass bottles require a deposit, there’s curbside recycling for cans and plastic, and practically everybody with a house composts. My friend’s kid goes to a school where they even grow their own veggies and herbs to use in the cafeteria.
So what are the downsides? The weather sucks bigtime, first of all. I’m talking a coat and hat in June and not much sun even now. “In the winter we hardly see the sun at all,” the locals say. There’s also not a whole lot of ethnic diversity. I probably saw a black person or two at some point during my time there, but I can’t say for sure. Definitely not in the last 24 hours, when I starting trying. In fact it seems this city takes conformity to a new level: if you’re not a tattooed, organic-eating vegetarian with piercings, you don’t quite fit in.
Still, it’s nice to be in a city where suburban sprawl is in check, where mobile food carts are welcomed instead of regulated out of existance, where most everyone buys locally brewed beer, and where you can get a doughnut with Captain Crunch on it. (Photo of my order at Voodoo Doughnut.)
Could I live here? Probably not. But I wish I could have hung around for longer.