Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Portland? Portland. Portland!!!

PHX, dusk, pointed approximately in the direction of PDX

Is Portland THE ANSWER? It depends on what the question is, but anyway, I'm planning a trip to find out. And I started following blogs like Portlandize, Portland Afoot, and BikePortland.org to see what they have to say about the place. What happened was, I am reading The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler, as I mentioned in the now-complete "OSG Books and Bikes Week mega-series", and JHK had some flattering and intriguing things to say about PDX. I can bullet point out a few of the key points that would distinguish it from PHX (I'm using IATA airport codes in this post, I know not why):

  • intelligent urban planning featuring limits on land development
  • mild climate (annual precipitation less than NYC)
  • diverse and abundant local produce
  • Powell's books
  • High-density integrated cityscape (JHK says "the texture of life is mixed, complex, and dense")
  • Zoning code requires buildings to have display windows at street level
  • Buildings also must be built out to the sidewalk
  • Last but certainly not least, cyclists are a visible and vital presence in PDX

I love many things about Arizona, and PHX. I take photos and write about everything I am grateful for here. However, the list above is depressingly representative of all that is missing from PHX. To get a quick idea of the type of long-range planning, the vision driving Arizona down the road to the future, have a look at the recently published ADOT pamphlet, "What Moves You Arizona, Long Range Transportation Plan 2010-2035." Although it speaks of vision and alternatives, the pullout quote on page seven speaks the truth: "ADOT’s priority for transportation is to preserve the integrity of the existing system." 

The forecast cost of preserving the integrity of the existing system for 25 years is $89 billion. The bulk is for roads, with some rail, aviation, and transit thrown in. If I had to sum up what this money will be spent on in a single sentence, here's the bullet: "Let all hope that we can come up with the $89 billion so that we can continue to expand the sprawl outwards, and with skill, luck, and a lot of large construction contracts, Arizona in 2035 will look a lot like a fast freeway ride to any prosperous shopping mall or big box store, ideally." This vision does not inspire me. I seek a greater depth and richness in life for me and my family.

If everything else was equal, the climate would not be an issue for me: I have grown to love riding my bicycle in the heat of the summer, and find a certain meditative and purifying quality to it. But everything else is not equal. It's one thing to be cycling through a green shady park, or bombing down some sweet desert singletrack, when it's 112F, and quite something entirely different to be cycling through an asphalt parking lot, its integrity planned to be preserved and expanded for 25 years at a cost of billions, dodging cars when it's 112F.

Riding in PHX dreaming of PDX

My response, then, is to want to take a trip to Portland to check it out. Take the family up there and walk those streets, probably bicycle those streets, for a few days. Get a taste. I kind of get the impression that PDXers may not be super-keen on outsiders coming in to stay. I can only hope for some consideration of my personal traits: openminded bike-crazy blogger, mindful of, and admiring of, the bullet points listed above. And a lover of the outdoors. Full-time bicycle commuter in Phoenix, of all places. I love my cats, love 'em. And I give away lights to other cyclists in need of illumination. 

That's cool, PDXers, anyway, we're just going to stop by to check the place out. See how it stacks up against the other places I've lived and visited in this world. Try the coffee, which is supposed to be pretty good. I would just add, I have a track record of attaining goals that I set my sights on. Even, especially, difficult and life-changing ones.

And do what there if you stay, JRA, what are you thinking? Perhaps I could join on at Portland Design Works, to perfect my bicycle commuter personal drone (BCPD). The BCPD flies about ten feet above and just behind the bicycle commuter, acting as a beacon, illumination source, threat sensor, and 360 degree video feed to support the bicycle commuter. At stops, the BCPD orbits and hovers overhead, surveying oncoming traffic of all types in the intersection, and calculates a opening for the bicycle commuter to make a safe crossing. And in navigation mode, the BCPD takes the lead, flying to the specified destination along bicycle-friendly routes, be it the nearest good coffee shop, public art installation, book store, bike shop, or urban happening. The BCPD also has a fun techno party mode and a headbanger mode. Finally, they implement what I call the BCPD Space Bubble Protocol (SBP), which causes each BCPD to scrupulously avoid bumping into another BCPD. Option 1 is head to PDW to hack on the BCPD.

Option 2? My current chosen career is portable. There's nothing about it which anchors me to PHX, or even USA for that matter. So if PDX tickles my fancy, and that of my family, Option 2 should be workable, too, possibly more than 1. I'm not banking on Option 1, but it's fun to think about.

Hold on, what about option 3, there are always three options given. Well, well, opt.3, that's the good one, isn't it? The interesting one? Where karma, fate, wheels set into motion if you will, chance, unseen factors, tiny choices, previous minute actions multiplied like the relentless flap flap flap (FLAP FLAP FLAP...) of the butterfly's wings, it all plays out and yields...what's next. In a split second, the opening that you have made opens, and you take it. The wheels have been set into motion. The butterfly's wings have flapped. No one can tell for certain what the sunrise will bring. But I plan to be riding my bicycle, whether the middle letter of the local airport code happens to be "H" or "D".



  1. Why a boring place like Portland when Seattle is only 150 miles north?

  2. Ahhhh, Powells books. I could spend days and days and days there...
    Unfortunately while my career is portable (at least if the economy isn't trashed) the Scientist's is pretty location specific, and Portland doesn't have one of those locations really. We are flirting with a sabbatical in Utrecht though, which probably trumps Portland in the bike stuff, but doesn't have Powells.

    Oh, and let me know if you start a kickstarter for the BCPD. I'm in !

  3. Sometimes I wish my roots weren't so deep.

  4. Steve, PDX may have features which distinguish it from SEA. I've been to SEA several times...it seems only fair, and important, that I go see PDX.

    cycler, as a t-shirt wearing fan of The Strand, Powells would be like a second home for me, I imagine. I'm waiting to hear back from PDW regarding the BCPD.

    limom, in Portland one grows potatoes.

  5. We just discussed "The Geography of Nowhere" in my Social Informatics course (though we didn't read it, the professor did reference it). Sounds like an interesting book.

    I hope you have a great trip to Portland. I've never been there, and it's definitely a place I'd like to go eventually.

  6. Apertome, I'm currently encountering some resistance from the family concerning a relocation to Portland. Trying to work through that. I've brought up the points that JHK outlines in Geography, but they seem to be rooted here in PHX. Oh, those roots...


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