Portland perception in decline but still hopeful


Illustration by Maxwell Jablonski

Portland, the Rose City, quickly turned out to be one of the most prominent and growing destinations on the West Coast in the past couple decades. Then came the turn of the decade and suddenly Portland’s image of a shining rose turned to that of a withering weed.

2020 was, to say the least, a difficult year for Portland. A pandemic, a homeless crisis and, according to the city, a staggering rise in shootings has caused its reputation to plummet further than it ever has before.

The public’s perceptions and opinions on Portland have never been as mixed as they are today, and it’s not hard to see why. Whether you’re from Portland, live near Portland or even in a completely different state, residents seem to have a strong feeling about the city.

One person with a passionate opinion regarding Portland is 36-year resident Alexis V, who holds a negative impression of Portland. According to V, there are many problems in Portland right now.

“I dislike the astronomical pricing of housing. The empathy it has towards crime and criminals. The homelessness, the drugs, and the prostitution,” V said, when listing the things he believes have gotten worse over the years.

These complaints are easy to see given the sad state of the city that V references above.

According to Zillow, housing values have increased by 3.2 percent over the past year alone. Oregon was ranked as having the highest drug addiction rate for any state in 2020, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. People also ridicule Portland online for having the most strip clubs per capita in the nation. These are just a few of the many things that have shown how Portland has spiraled into the downward pit it’s in.

One of the most noticeably affected areas of Portland is its Downtown neighborhood, which was once known as a bustling locale with day-round fun. Downtown used to feel like a never ending summer day. Now, with buildings boarded up and streets cluttered with tents that block mobility, Downtown is only a putrid shell of its former self.

“Downtown especially is gross, and perpetually smells like alcohol and pee,” described senior Nick Paries.

Portlanders are not the only people with strongly held opinions regarding this city. Over the course of these past couple decades, Portland has made quite the positive name for itself nationally, known for things like its large cultural and musical scenes. But in recent years, that name has been said for much different reasons.

“I used to be proud to tell people I was from Portland but now quite honestly, I’m embarrassed,” said V.

Many people outside of Portland have developed a very negative perception of the city. This is largely due to the wave of protests that happened throughout the course of 2020, in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Because of this, Portland is now commonly referred to as a “warzone,” or in a state of constant crime and anarchy, by people from outside of the city. This kind of speech is pretty unavoidable, whether online, in the news or in a personal conversation.

But these opinions are simply incorrect. According to outlets like CNN, The New York Times, USA Today and NBC, the majority of protests were primarily peaceful, yet select violent ones got national attention, which has led to this perception of Portland being the lawless warzone that people still think it is.

While the amount of protests in Portland have dropped substantially, the same cannot be said for the crime rate, which has risen drastically. According to Portland.gov, the rate of homicide alone has jumped up 207 percent from 2019 to 2021, with Portland already hitting an all-time high of 96 murders just last year.

Factors like this and the unresolved homeless crisis have caused what some people refer to as a mass exodus from Portland. These claims are only substantiated by the fact that the city of Portland’s population decreased by 13,216 people from 2019 to 2021. This marked the first decrease since 2004.
While the population of Portland residents decreased, the number of homeless has only increased. As of May 2022, the homeless population is estimated to be around that of 5,228 individuals in Multnomah County alone, an increase of more than 1,200 since 2019.

“Portland is going downhill,” said former Portlander Ruby Jackson, who moved away due to other reasons than the city’s current status.

It is an unfortunate truth to many, but the state of Portland is that of a city in crisis. Many people both inside and out of Portland aren’t sure if the city will improve anytime soon. Some, like Jackson, believe that Portland will get much worse before it gets better.

With all of these negative factors and opinions on Portland, it can feel like the city is almost doomed and universally hated. Even so, some believe that Portland has already hit its rock bottom and have hope for the future of Portland. Some even believe that the city is already improving.

While housing prices have been on the rise, they are also forecasted to go down over the course of the year. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2021 Portland’s average hourly wage was ten percent higher than the rest of the nation.

And after what many people consider to be a positive midterm election for Portland, with the introduction of ranked choice voting, these feelings of an improving city have only become widespread. But this would not be the first time for Portland’s hopes to be looking up, just to be shattered all over again. Even after the midterms Portland is just as dirty and dangerous as ever, yet Portland is an incredible city, bursting with culture and future potential. If the city is ever going to improve, Portlanders need to move from complaining to solving.