This rant was originally published on our sister paper The Portland Mercury's blog, Blogtown. Get updates from the Rose City over here.
Citizens and lovers of Portland: I regret to inform you that the internet has given birth to yet another tiring, thoughtless “Portland is dying” think piece—this one courtesy of KOIN news.
I can’t imagine that viewers were clamoring for such a story, since it’s been done (so terribly) before, but KOIN’s recent article “From Wonderful to War Zone: Portland’s Reputation Transformation”—posing the unasked-for question, “Is Portland Over?”—takes the trope to new and dizzying heights.
While each paragraph of “From Wonderful to War Zone” contains at least one problematic phrase—that title for starters!—I’m a busy guy, and I’ve got more important things to do than constantly swatting down wildly inaccurate opinion pieces from every uninformed ding-dong that comes down the pike. But to give you a quick idea of the pro-business slant this article takes, the story contains quotes from 14 people, 7 of whom are business owners (!!), four out-of-towners, two misinformed people, and one local mayor—whether he knows what he's talking about is for you to decide. Interestingly not a single local homeless or social justice advocate was interviewed, even though the story hinges on homeless and social justice issues.
As you can guess, there's A LOT of ridiculousness here—which is why I’m limiting this rebuttal to only 7 of the most egregiously stupid statements in KOIN's article (of which there are oh-so-many). Buckle up! It’s gonna be fun.
1) “Everywhere you look, the City of Roses has become the city of trash and filth.”
This is THE VERY FIRST SENTENCE. Now if this story was clearly labeled as an "opinion piece” from yet another know-nothing, white business dude shaking his fist at the clouds while cursing the rising cost of potatoes… who would care? We'd all roll our eyes and move on with our lives. But nope! KOIN's article is presented as actual “news,” which means they presumably believe that this wild first statement is solidly based in fact.
So let’s break it down, shall we?
“Everywhere you look, the City of Roses has become the city of trash and filth.” Everywhere? Okay… I’m looking outside right now… and I have to admit I’m not seeing a lot of trash and filth. However I do see a sweet young couple pushing their baby in a stroller, hunky gay guys riding a bicycle built for two, and my neighbor’s annoyingly manicured lawn and garden. No trash and no filth (unless you count my disgusting, unwashed, pollen-covered car).
There’s a good chance that at least 80 percent of the city’s residents are witnessing a somewhat similar scene outside their windows. SO WHAT THE FUCK IS KOIN TALKING ABOUT? Here’s the thing: KOIN and a lot of wealthy old-guard Portlanders don’t consider where you live to be “Portland.” To them, Portland consists solely of roughly one square mile (AKA the central business district) of downtown, because that’s where their money is made and their personal fortunes are (supposedly) being diminished. So falsely claiming that the entirety of Portland (all 145 square miles of it) has become a “city of trash and filth” is really insulting to my neighbor who takes great pride in his annoyingly manicured lawn.
One more quick thing about that deeply absurd sentence: True, there is more garbage in downtown Portland… certainly more than was found in previous non-pandemic years where much of the core wasn’t forced to suddenly close and stay inside for months, grinding city services to a halt. Weird how garbage might pile up!
Oops, sorry, one more quick thing about that deeply absurd sentence: Why does KOIN write “garbage AND filth”? Apparently "garbage" is not the same as "filth," so do they mean the literal definition, which is “foul or disgusting dirt”? Or is it the more abstract meaning of "filth," which is “moral impurity or obscenity”? If it’s the latter, then maybe they’re thinking of “filth” as less of a “it” and more of a “who.” And if that’s the case, I wonder “who” they are referring to when they say “filth”?
I just spent five paragraphs talking about the very first sentence. I promise I’ll be less wordy going forward.
2) “In the past year, peaceful protests have been hijacked by violence, city landmarks have been defaced and torn down and uncontrolled vandalism has forced the closure of businesses.”
Oh, brother. Okay… focusing on quick takedowns here. Bullet-point time!
• “Peaceful protests have been hijacked by violence….” True! If they’re talking about how in 2020 the Portland Police were documented using violence against peaceful protesters a whopping 6,000-plus times.
• “…city landmarks have been defaced and torn down….” Again, true! And I can imagine someone being very upset by this if they take pleasure in glorifying slave owners and championing white supremacy.
• “…uncontrolled vandalism has forced the closure of businesses….” Also true! Wait... they forgot to factor in the economic devastation of a once-in-a-century pandemic… so maybe NOT so true?
Look how verbally restrained I was that time! Bullet points are great.
3) “Much of the civil unrest starts and ends here,” said [Cameron’s Books & Magazines] owner Crystal Zingsheim. “Everyone sees the bookstore as the backdrop of Murderville USA and pretty much we’re just left to keep peace on our own.”
First of all, hat tips for the “Murderville USA” reference. It’s hilarious—even though St. Louis is actually the current “murder capital” of the nation. In fact, Portland didn’t even crack the top 60! (Up your murder game, Portland! You’re making KOIN look foolish.)
Anyway, using Cameron’s as a prime example of how “nightly violent protests” put a small local shop out of business is just a touch disingenuous, considering their building was sold out from under them in 2019, and the short-term lease they negotiated, so they could stay a bit longer, ran out in April—which didn’t have anything to do with protesters. (Unless maybe the landlord was antifa?)
Oh, and this just in: Portland has landed on the top 20 list for "Best Small Business Cities in America." Not bad for Murderville, USA!
4) “The central business district—the heart of the city—is empty.”
BLECCH!! Again, this is how KOIN and the city’s richest see Portland. People who make the money are the “heart,” while people like you are… I don’t know… the foot? (Also, the downtown core is far from empty. I was at Ross Dress for Less last Sunday and it was so crowded that I was forced to buy my Calvin Klein mid-thigh boxer briefs online. Which I look fantastic in, btw.)
5) “'The media coverage of Portland with civil unrest and the pandemic unfortunately scared a lot of these [tourists] away and that means less money getting brought into the city,’ [commercial real estate broker Doug Bean] said.”
C’mon, I already wrote about this! Read the Mercury now and then, Doug!
6) “Imagine you’ve just picked up visitors at Portland International Airport. You get in the car to take a ride downtown. As you drive west down I-84, you see dozens of tents line both sides of the freeway.”
OH, THE HORROR! Dear friends, I still so fondly remember the pre-pandemic days, when a trip down I-84 meant seeing rolling, grassy hills, adorable children in knee-britches and pinafores dancing gaily, and winged, nude cherubs flying though the air, strumming harps and singing, “Welcome to Portland, the land of endless enchantment!” One day, Portland, as god as my witness, the once glorious and pristine I-84 shall regain its previous, and well-deserved title: “The heart of the city!”
7) “Downtown Portland needs life support, residents don’t feel safe, a humanitarian crisis is playing out on the streets and trash is literally piling up. It’s worth asking: is Portland over?”
Well, I would never deign to speak for all of Portland—but personally, I’m “over” hyperbolic, poorly written and researched articles that glorify businesspeople and demonize the homeless and anyone practicing their First Amendment rights. I’m also “over” the constant screams of “look at this trash” or “omigod, broken windows” being prioritized over holding an increasingly militarized police bureau accountable for their actions, or ignoring the racial inequity that continues to push people of color out of the city. And I’m especially “over” downtown business boosters like KOIN pretending that the pandemic is “over” and acting furious that the devastating problems caused by COVID haven’t already just magically disappeared.
Seriously, KOIN is acting like they fell asleep in 2017 in the middle of a Portlandia episode, and suddenly just woke up to demand, “What the FUCK have you people been doing during my nap??” Not that you'd know it from their article, but there are actually very smart people—from the public and private sector—diligently working on Portland's houseless crisis right now. But sure, by all means, interview Portland "experts" like "Eileen, visiting from Florida."
So… yeah. When it comes to stories like this, I’m over it too.