On March 21, 2018 Lea and I moved from Mérida, Yucatán, México to Portland, Oregon. The process of making this decision began in 2010 when we visited Portland for the first time thinking we might move there (we both had previously been to Portland for other events). For many reasons we decided not to move to Portland at that time—choosing instead for the bolder move to Mérida a little later in 2013. We ended up staying in Mérida for 4 ½ years. We began the process of deciding to leave Mérida during my year abroad in Italy in 2017—and Lea’s concurrent year alone in Mérida. In August of 2017 we visited Portland again. During that visit we spoke with many folks (friends, former students, city planners, etc) about the city and spent time looking at nearly 20 different properties (both building sites and condominiums). We had originally intended to only build or buy a part-time home—to escape the oppressive heat of Mérida during the summer months. After spending time in Portland it became obvious to both of us that our hearts were just not into having two homes and that we needed a place that would work well for us as aged. Almost simultaneously, but independently, we came to the same conclusion: it was time to leave Mérida and resettle in Portland. For the many wonderful friends we are leaving behind, we are very sad. We will continue to nurture those friendships either on-line or by visiting them in their homes here in the United States.
Portland has many of it’s own issues including cogestion from the private automobile; increase in property values that limits affordable housing; people who are temporarily without a home; accelerating growth rate and reduced local taxing authority have put the squeeze on local governments to provide adequate services for a growing population; potential natural disasters of eruption of volcanoes and earthquakes (something our daughter and son-in-law geologist are very worried about). Many people have asked: Why move to Portland? Recently, the US News and World Report ranked Portland 6th in the nation for the best place to live behind Austin, Colorado Springs, Denver, Des Moines and Fayetteville. Here is the link to their findings.
Here are ten reasons for us.It is duly noted that this is a highly personal and, naturally, exclusive list. It is biased towards what Lea and need and our world-view. It is not a recommendation—simply our feelings about the place we now will call home.
The state is very similar politically to Minnesota—meaning it is primary “blue.” While there are many issues facing the city and state, we are optimistic these issues will be faced with compassion and expertise—and in full transparency. We like to be where there is diversity and tolerance. We crave a true participatory democracy. Since religion has become the center of many political issues (especially the evangelicals that support DT), I like that “Portland residents are also less willing to commit to an organized faith than those who live in other parts of the country. In the U.S., Portland is rated at the top of the list for residents without a religious affiliation.” (source) This is certainly not a “swipe” at organized religion. I don’t care who practices what religion. What I do care about is when religion steps over the government line and tries to influence policy based on one point of view. I am hopeful Oregonian’s tendencies at blurring the boundaries between church and state are minimal. Apropos this concern, I like this quote from the New York Times review by Michiko Kakutani of James Comey’s new book “A Higher Loyalty”:Long passages in Comey’s thesis [his masters thesis] are also devoted to explicating the various sorts of pride that Niebuhr argued could afflict human beings — most notably, moral pride and spiritual pride, which can lead to the sin of self-righteousness.
Lea and I are just not suited to weather extremes—either hot (Mérida) or cold (Minnesota.) Portland’s weather is mild even though in the winter it is overcast and rainy and there can be hot days in the summer (average high is 81°F). We both like the ability to regulate our body temperature by layering our clothes and not relying on mechanical means like air conditioning or continuous heating—or shedding nearly all of ones clothes. One side benefit is enjoying the clothes that we have accumulated over the years on our trips in Europe and Japan. We like simple, long-lasting and high quality clothes. We were not able to wear these clothes except of rare exceptions in Mexico.
Portland has a reputation of being “weird.” For us this simply means the conditions (social, political and economic) are right for people to be themselves without being judged. This tolerance and non-conformity is something I cherish in a society. It has resulted in a strong culture of local craftsperson’s making beer, liquor, leather goods, wood products, paper goods, oil paints (my favorite is Gamblin), etc. This deeply embedded DIY scene is supported by curious and informed shoppers who are determined to buy-local and sustainably. Another important thing about Portland is the diversity and uniqueness of the neighborhoods. There still exists in Portland neighborhood shopping districts that are unique and easily accessible by public transportation. We intend to “shop local.” Oregon also does not have a sales tax.
- Pure Food + Coffee
As we age we will, no doubt, face increasing more complicated health issues. The quality food that is at the nexus of healthy living. We now that toxicity and levels of pesticides in non-organic food have serious impacts on our health. In Mexico, we could not verify the source of our food. We felt that it was urgent to be in a place where we could know the source of our food and verify that it is free of chemicals, pesticides and damaging preservatives. Within a few blocks of our home, there is one of the largest organic farmer’s markets in the Northwest. We can get locally grown pure food and meet with the farmers directly. There are numerous restaurants that support our desire for vegan food. Even the local Safeway has a large section of locally grown organic food—including one of our favorite go-to foods: the sweet potato. The Willamette Valley is a fertile and verdant center of sustainable agriculture and viticulture. The local business tradition is also prevalent in the food choices. Locally made organic mustards, ketchup, kimchi, etc expands the range of choices beyond the usual national brands. Beside food, there are at least six local coffee roasters. We are working our way through each one. So far we have tried Umbria, Ristretto, Vita, Coava and Case Study. Lea and I are serious coffee lovers. The only shock is the price of coffee: roughly 5X the price we paid for organic Chiapas coffee in Mérida. On the positive side, the coffee is from certified fare-trade regions and living wages are paid at the source and in Portland.
- Walkable and Ridable
We can live in central Porltand and not need to own a car. We are enjoying traveling all over the city via the Tri-Met—Portland’s integrated transportation system of buses, street cars and light rail. Given our age (over 65) we are referred to as “Honored Citizens” and can ride free in the downtown loop. They offer realtime arrival information on our phones. If we do need a car, we can easily grab a Car2Go or ZipCar or rent a car downtown. We can walk from our home in a 30-45 minute radius and be to most of the neighborhoods. Since we try to walk at least 10,000 steps a day, this is made even easier by the walkability of safeness of the city’s streets and sidewalks. Finally, bicycle riders have a strong and politically active presence in Portland—ensuring that there are bike lanes and respect for the rider (of course there are always flagrant exceptions.)
- Affordable Studio Space
The second bedroom in our condominium will be Lea’s studio. She likes to be able to move back and forth from weaving to other activities like reading. She also likes the coziness of being home. I, on the other hand, like being outside the home. I like being part of an arts community. I have rented a very nice studio that fits nicely into our retirement budget. It is a space within the former NW Marine Ironworks. It will be able a 30 minute bus ride, 20 minutes by bicycle or an hour walking. Depending on the weather (which changes quickly here in Portland) I can ride, bike or walk. The owner, Ken Unkeles, talks about his mission to ease the squeeze on art spaces within Portland in this Oregon Public Broadcasting piece. I am looking forward to being part of this community of artists.
- Health Care
The Oregon Health Sciences Univiersity is a large and innovative teaching hospital. It is close to us. In addition, there are plant-based general practitioners who understand and support those that want to live without eating flesh. There is also a Rocksteady boxing location where Lea will be able to train within a program that is specifically tailored to persons with Parkinson’s (she has some of the symptoms but has not be diagnosed.) Besides healthcare options, the expanded options for our daily walks will contribute to our efforts to stay healthy.
- Green + Water
Living in Mérida meant giving up the verdant hardwood forests and grassy plains of Minnesota. We missed forest walking with its the sounds and smells. Our eyes hurt from the lack of green. The forest for us is life affirming and central to our well-being. We know that an hour walk in the woods can help rebalance and restore us. Within 15 minutes we can be at Washington Park with the Japanese Garden, the International Rose Test Garden and the Hoyt Arboretum. This easy accessibility is an important aspect of why we like Portland. Finally, we love that Portland is on the Columbia River and near the ocean. Walking along the river walk in the evening after dinner is such a delight. It brings a completeness to the day.
Within 2+ hours in any direction by car we can be at the rugged and beautiful oceanside, dry mountain plains, dense forests or mountains. There are buses to the Oregon coastal cities from Portland. We can be in Seattle by train in under 4 hours. The airport has, among other choices, non-stops to Minneapolis, Amsterdam, London and Tokyo—yet is small enough to navigate quickly. I can, relatively easily, get to Blacksburg, VA to see my kids and their families.
- Adventure for Body + Mind
The final entry relates precisely to our love of adventure. Neither of us have ever lived in the Pacific Northwest and this will likely be our last move. But we do like to discover. Moving to Portland means we can benefit from all of the above and spend time learning about a new geography and people. I love to travel more than Lea does—but we both enjoy traveling together. As we age, our travel is slowing down and changing in its nature. We now tend to go one place and stay longer instead of cramming in several cities over a compressed period of time. This location will be perfect for leisurely excursions.Besides places to exercise the body, Portland is a city of books—literally. On the commercial side, there is Powell’s “City of Books”, a full city block, 3-story building full of books. Founded in 1971 by Walter Powell, it contains over 68,000 square feet (6,300 m2), about 1.6 acres of retail floor space. CNN rates it one of the ten “coolest” bookstores in the world. The City of Books has nine color-coded rooms and over 3,500 different sections and claims to be the largest independent used and new bookstore in the world. It is less than a 10 minute walk from our home.The main branch of the Multnomah County Public Library is only 5 minutes from our home. A continuation of the Library Association of Portland, established in 1864, the system now has 19 branches offering books, magazines, DVDs, and computers. It is the largest library system in Oregon serving a population of 724,680, with more than 425,000 registered borrowers. According to the Public Library Association, it ranks second among U.S. libraries, based on circulation of books and materials, and ranks first among libraries serving fewer than one million residents. In this respect, it is the busiest in the nation. (source) I am considering applying to serve on the Library Foundation or Library Board after we get settled.Finally, there is a vibrant arts community. There are eleven galleries forming the Portland Art Dealers Association. There are frequent lectures and each month the galleries coordinate their new openings on the First Thursday of the month. Across the street from our home is the Portland Art Museum.It was founded in 1892 and is the oldest art museum in the Pacific Northwest. The building, designed by noted Portland architect Pietro Belluschi, was open in 1932. In 1994 the museum expanded next door when it bought the Masonic Temple. I am just beginning to explore their collection—but as new members we can stroll over there at any time.
So, in summary, these are some of the reasons we are living in Portland. Over the years, I will write about our experiences.