PORTLAND, Oregon — Let’s be real here. Portland’s reputation on the national stage has taken, let’s say, a bit of a hit over the past two years. If you believe certain cable news outlets, you’d think that Portland is a city of “endless riots,” at its “breaking point” with abuse becoming the “daily norm.”
The Trump administration labeled the Rose City an “anarchist jurisdiction.” Those of us who live here are constantly having to assure our out-of-town loved ones that the city is not, in fact, currently on fire.
While this city is a far cry from, you know, all of that… there are still very real, very pervasive problems that are hard for anyone who spends more than five minutes here to miss, and Portland’s less-than-stellar reputation is not entirely undeserved.
Thousands of people are living in poverty, forced to try and survive outside in inhumane conditions. Increasing shootings and homicides plague parks, streets, and restaurants. People of color are targeted in violent, racist hate crimes. Extremist groups play war games on the streets. Businesses are packing up and moving out to the suburbs, trash and graffiti are piling up, and the KGW inbox is filled every day with the frustrations of people who live here and work here and are sick of it.
So when TIME named Portland one of the “World’s Greatest Places of 2022” this week, a few of us were taken aback. Are we all talking about the same Portland? Portland… Oregon?
“I've visited Portland many times, all through the pandemic,” the author of the TIME article, Sucheta Rawal, said. She last visited Portland over Fourth of July weekend. “Portland is great every time of the year, in the summertime, with all the flowers blooming and the weather being so perfect. It was really great.”
For Rawal, who also loved her visits to the Portland Japanese Garden and the International Rose Test Garden, the idea of Portland as an inclusive oasis made an impression, especially when it comes to food. “I tried every kind of cuisine in a course of four days — from Australian to Malaysian, Thai, we had Filipino to Sri Lanka to Scandinavia. You name it, everything was there.”
It was more than the availability of cuisines, Rawal said. It was the way they were treated.
“These were very authentic mom-and-pop restaurants that served original flavors in a very unique way. Not hole-in-the-wall restaurants, but more elevated ethnic food, presented beautifully.”
It’s the idea of inclusivity that led Rawal to pitch Portland as one of TIME’s Greatest Places. “All are welcome” is the subtitle of the article, which touts renovations to Portland International Airport that include a sensory room for people with autism and anxiety.
“Some of the things we are looking for are what is new, what exciting experiences can people have, and is the city thriving? Is it growing or changing in some way?” Rawal said. “In Portland, one of the things I wrote about was recovery and inclusiveness, creating that balance of growing as a city, but also being inclusive to everybody.”
“Inclusive to everybody” is a big claim in a city where you’d need to earn more than $60,000 to live comfortably, according to the MIT Living Wage Calculator. It's a city where demand for affordable housing far outpaces availability, a city with a long history of racism and abuse toward the mentally ill. But Rawal said that she herself never felt unsafe staying in downtown Portland and walking around late into the evening, and that seeing the city from the perspective of an outsider, measures taken toward inclusivity were refreshing.
“Sometimes when I tell people I'm traveling to Portland, the first thing they tell me is what they heard in the news. But I have traveled to so many places and I get the same question when it's not Portland. It may be Mongolia. It may be the Middle East. My job as a travel writer is to actually go there. Things happen everywhere, but it's only once we go there and experience it that we really know what is actually going on.”
Portland is a city that can certainly use a morale boost, and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler was more than happy to take the W, tweeting that he “couldn’t agree more” with TIME’s designation.