I recently returned from a trip to Portland, Oregon. As a city planner, I expected to be impressed with the city as a walkable, bikeable, transit-oriented, artsy, mixed-use place, with lots of independent stores, restaurants and food trucks -- all with a touch of cool weirdness (as in the legendary "Voodoo Donuts"). I was not disappointed. I can see why young people gravitate to Portland -- although a surprising number of them seem to end up on the street as "homeless hippies." Maybe that is the inevitable flip side of being that cool of a place!
I also expected to return to Cleveland a little depressed, with Cleveland suffering in comparison to the mythic "Portlandia"! I was pleasantly surprised, however, to find that I came home even more upbeat about what we have here in Cleve-Land! Now, I do admit that my perspective is a little skewed, as a resident of the Coventry-Shaker Square-University Circle "triangle" -- one of Cleveland's more competitive neighborhood areas. But my reaction wouldn't be all that different if I lived in Ohio CIty, Tremont, Gordon Square, etc.
Cleveland has many of the desirable urban qualities I found in Portland, and, in some respects, Cleveland appears stronger. Really! The museums and institutions of University Circle cannot be matched by anything found in Portland. And although Portland has a river, with a nice riverwalk, there is nothing in Portland rivalling our Great Lake. And as for grittiness -- like old industrial warehouses converted to contemporary uses (or, in some cases, still sitting vacant -- "true grit") -- Cleveland wins hands down! And, finally, with respect to diversity, particularly racial diversity, Cleveland wins again.
I will admit that Portland's downtown merges rather seamlessly into the residential neighborhoods to the north, like the Pearl Distrct, unlike the greater downtown/ neighborhood divide that we find in Cleveland. And, of course, despite Cleveland's advances in becoming a more bicycle-friendly city, we may never catch up to Portland in that regard.
And although many Cleveland neighborhoods rival those of Portland in their positive qualities, there is also no doubt that Cleveland loses in a comparison to Portland with respect to the negative elements of urban life, such as poverty and neighborhood decline. Although I didn't do a full tour of Portland, I didn't see anything there rivalling our more challenged neighborhoods.
For those of you who know both cities, I would like to hear your thoughts on this tale of two cities.