Portland, apparently, is dying. This according to an attention-grabbing headline on an op-ed in Forbes by a business consultant from Lake Oswego, who is also a frequent Forbes contributor.
Bill Conerly predicts a dire end for the city, writing, “But in Portland, Oregon, continued violence and vandalism have combined with high housing costs, homelessness and poor community leadership to raise the question: how long before this city dies?”
He uses the “deaths” of other cities you might have heard of — Pompei, Tikal and Petra — to prove that a city can die. It’s a dramatic rhetorical device to compare Portland to an ancient city suddenly destroyed by a volcano, but it sure doesn’t make sense.
The real question is, does Conerly even believe his own premise?
Conerly blames “antifa mobs,” high housing costs as well as homeless people and the availability of cheap tents (“Now the homeless have discovered inexpensive tents, some as cheap as $25 new.”) for Portland’s upcoming demise.
Considering the experience of living on the streets only from the perspective of those who have to drive past their too-fancy $25 tents seems like it’s missing the bigger picture, as well as minimizing the constant, and sometimes fatal, struggle of living without a home.
In an email, Conerly elaborated on his complaint, saying, “I’m very concerned about the well-being of homeless people.”
“My article, though, focused on a single aspect of the issue: how it might impact the overall attractiveness of the area,” he said. “That’s because the focus of the article was on the viability of Portland.”
Conerly also acknowledges the coronavirus pandemic’s role in the current state of most cities in his article, saying, “Downtowns across the country have emptied due to the pandemic, causing many stores and restaurants to close.”
But instead of meaningfully exploring how the pandemic has impacted the economy and downtown, he remains focused on people experiencing homelessness, and on protests as the real problems with Portland, even after writing that those protests don’t really impact most people and it is “unlikely but possible” they will be the “straw that breaks the camel’s back” of Portland.
After hearing from Conerly, it’s hard to believe he actually thinks Portland is dying or even all that sick.
“Population data in the metro area for the 12 months ending 7/1/2020 showed lower growth than in six previous years, but it was still growth,” he said in his email. “Population change is always a mix of some people leaving and some moving in.”
Portland, like nearly every single other place on planet Earth, is struggling to keep any economy running under the weight of a deadly virus. A lot of people have died — almost 2,000 people in Oregon — but the city itself certainly isn’t dying.
If you walk around any neighborhood shopping district, you better be double masking, because people are out and about — walking, getting food, shopping. Mount Tabor on a car-free Wednesday is full of groups of walkers and bikers. Good luck buying a house in the city or the suburbs right now — inventory is historically low because more people want to buy than sell. And our basketball team is, as usual, still breaking our hearts.
“Yes, the housing market is strong now,” Conerly said in his response to my questions. “I believe much or all of the strength is the shift of current residents from apartments to single-family homes. That’s partly due to low mortgage rates, and partly a shift to remote work, and possibly because it’s less fun to live close-in during a lockdown.”
OK then. So, Portland is just exactly like everywhere else. In the throes of a global pandemic, sure, but nowhere near death at all.
— Lizzy Acker