Sunday, August 15, 2010

Portland, Oregon

So, I've been a derelict blogger. The summer has been hot and humid, which drives me into my cave, punctuated by periods of travel. But finally it's a lovely summer evening in Hyde Park. The breeze is blowing my curtains in the soft air, and I feel like finally catching up.

In late June, I went for a week-long convention in Portland, Oregon, which interested me a lot because it has accomplished so much in its efforts to be a livable, green, and interesting city. It's the only downtown I've been to in a long time where I could hear the robins singing early in the morning.

In part, that's owed to the heavy promotion of bicycle traffic, including large, well-marked bike lanes throughout the downtown (and of course, the kind of weather conducive to biking). Here is the morning commute going past on the main drag.

In addition, it had an intuitive-to-use tram system that was free in the downtown and convention center district. In addition to appealing to convention attendees, it seemed well used by the locals. Here is the red line coming through the oldest part of town. It probably helps that there is relatively light traffic downtown. They obeyed the stoplights and still made excellent time. I gather that they had recently added two extra lines. connecting the convention center with downtown. It certainly made me eager to attend any future conferences there.

It showed how pleasant a city can be when there's a concerted effort to get away from cars. However, it may also have been the economic downturn cutting down on the traffic. In any case, it made staying downtown extremely pleasant.

In addition, I enjoyed being near the waterfront. It was clear that a lot of effort had gone into rethinking the city's relationship with the river, which now boasts a long parkway that was well used by recreational bikers, joggers, day care classes, tai chi groups, and unfortunately, the many homeless.

The convention center and sports arena are also right along the riverfront on the other side, pulling people into the old heart of the city. The twin spires to the right is the convention center.

Downtown Portland is on a human scale because so much of the 19th century architecture has been conserved and redesigned, not just the official historic district by the river. I took a lot of photos since so much of the architecture had interesting flourishes with only an occasional boring glass box. However, with the economic downturn, it looked as though Portland was suffering. There were too many of these signs (and many many homeless).

On some streets there was more of a sense that Portland had looked quite a bit different not so long ago and that it still had some catching up to do..

I stayed in a lovely hotel--the Hotel Monaco--with the friendliest staff. When I got off the elevator on my floor, there was a goldfish in a bowl with a sign that said, hello, my name is Leonard. The bellman told me that it was a grand old department store that had been rethought as a grand new hotel.

Portland seemed to specialize in quirky flourishes and really nice people in the service industries (who made a point of treating the customer as an individual). One thing that amused me was the civic art on a not very grand scale that had sprouted up downtown. Here's a great threesome--an odd little statue, a fire hydrant, and in the middle, these wonderful water fountains that are scattered around downtown. They are apparently known as Benson Bubblers--a donation in 1912 by a timber baron to the city--they bring water from the Cascade Mountains into the city.

And then there was the block where the otter, bear, deer, and ducks had made a home by some pools of water.

And I loved that they had managed to preserve an avenue of elms leading down toward Portland State University. I know Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt as Rough Rider behind him appreciate the lovely shade. I haven't seen so many elms since the Midway elms died off in the 1970s.They are uniquely graceful for a boulevard since they rise up in a vase shape with overarching branches.

No wonder the robins were singing in Portland.