July 16th, 2013
Portland: A city coming of age
I was having a talk with a few friends who have also grown up in the Portland area, recently. And we started talking about how Portland has changed—and how we have changed with it. We hit an interesting moment when one of them simply stated, “Portland is just like us. It’s a 20-something trying to figure it out.” And in a lot of ways, I think he’s right.
This stage of life is weird. I am hitting the quarter-century mark, twenty and five years of being alive with the last few certainly being the most interesting. Everything was very linear up until the day I walked out of school and into a world where I had to start framing the things for myself. And I have been incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to do that in Portland.
Yes, Portland, the place where the young people go to retire. Where the dream of the nineties is alive. Where we go to Voodoo Donuts and put a bird or whatever on something. (Honestly, I never got that last one.) A city filled with millennial slackers. Where young people cruise out of school and have been chilling in coffee shops in SE ever since.
But the past 24 months since leaving school, I’ve seen the growth of an incredible community of people motivated to create change. Portlanders who don’t ask and plan, but instead, who go and do. And who have helped push those around them towards becoming the type of person who goes and does. The type of people who push a young guy like me to move towards answering the big questions.
In your twenties you are faced with deciding how much of your past will become a part of your future. What part of “who you are” is going to be a part of “what you will be”? What will motivate you? Who will be around you? What will your morals be? These are all questions that you have to face in order to grow and change.
Life in your twenties is this stage of crazy accelerated change. And for me, this all has been centered around the people in this big thing called the city of Portland.
Ironically, Portland is facing these same questions too.
It was historically a lumber and steel city with a large service-based economy to complement those industries. It was historically a place with a very small amount of racial diversity. It was historically a place with a large amount of midwestern transplants and midwestern morals.
Mid-term a music scene has come together, coffee roasters slowly emerged, and computer and apparel companies made this city their home.
Now, Portland is hitting it’s stage of crazy accelerated change—just like I am. Designers, agencies, brands, technologists move here from all over the country—and the world—to our historically small city. These outside people change the considerations of the city with different points of view, concerns, and aspirations.
How much will this city and community change because of these transplants in our community? How much of this change will be accepted? Where will there be a departure from what has historically worked? How will we balance what we love with what we need to make progress? What parts of Portland’s past are essential components that the city holds dear to take sure it will always be… Portland? These are just the beginnings of the questions that everyone from startups to agencies to people in the local government are asking themselves.
Portland is in this growing phase. And we are all playing a role in mentoring its growth. Its “make or break” early twenties are upon us. And we all have a say in what will happen. Every person who lives here today can have a very real impact on what will become part of Portland’s past, what will be created to push the city into the future, and what will always remain as a part of the Portland’s legacy. From those starting a new boutique coffee roaster, to those working for one of the large landmark Portland companies, to the person organizing the next big event to showcase the city.
There has never been a better time or place to get involved in the future of a community. The entire city is wide open and waiting for people to get involved. There are great events like TechFestNW for getting involved with tech, PDX POP Now and MusicFestNW for music, Feast for food, TBA Festival for arts, XOXO for makers, Design Week Portland… the list goes on and on. And if there isn’t something for the group that you want to get involved with, it’s as simple as putting something out there and seeing what sticks.
We are lucky enough to be living here during this time of incredible opportunity. And we should all be a part of testing the waters and seeing what is possible. For me, I’ve found that this place gets better as you spend more time outside of it.
Will I will leave? That remains to be seen. But I at least hope to be one of those people who comes back with big ideas and a fresh perspective. But who knows, I’m just some twenty-something trying to figure this all out anyway.
So what do you see happening in Portland that is novel and will only disappear as part of a fad? What do you want to always to be here? What do you think is missing? What are our potential growing pains as we venture forth into a more mature city and business environment?
Doug Gould is the Alliance Programs Manager for Portland-based startup Cloudability. He serves as a board member for TechFestNW and as a mentor for the Nike+ Accelerator and PIE. After graduating from the University of Oregon, he began his career at Intel. You can follow Doug on Twitter as @dougwgould.
(Image courtesy Cory Grove. Used under Creative Commons.)