Is Portlandia our generation's suburb?

Reading this rant about “Hot New Food Cities” and agreeing, yeah, often a neighborhood is “up and coming” exactly as much as it looks like 2007 Portland. Coffeeshops are hip if they look like early-2000s Seattle shops; bars are cool if they were novel in 2006.

I’m even losing a taste for single-origin-and-fancy-wood coffee shops. Which are my thing as much as anything is my thing. It’s just, when that’s everywhere, what distinguishes each one? My parents' generation can go to Chili’s in any city in the US; is it that¬†different from me going to Ritual in SF, Victrola in Seattle, and Espresso a Mano in Pittsburgh?

I mean, it is¬†different: I want a world of Ritual and Victrola way more than a world of Chili’s. It’s more interesting to go to, their coffee is pretty uncontroversially better than the food is at Chili’s, and I’ve got to imagine it’s wayyy better to work at an independent shop than a chain. Taking this analogy a step further, if our vegetarian pastrami and Korean BBQ tacos are last generation’s Macaroni Grill chicken parmesan, well, I’m okay with that. We’ve got a ton more variety and creativity going on.

But it’s not enough! As a city, if all you can offer is a good “food scene,” you’re a little bit missing the point. Show me a city where the Korean taco vendors can afford to live and walk to work, now we’re talking. (this criterion is actually a pretty decent one: for it to work, it has to be a walkable place with affordable housing and low crime. there’s of course more: diversity, schools, transportation, environmental niceness, and probably a bunch of other things that aren’t coming to mind right now, but it’s a start.)

So my worry is this: in trying to avoid the mistakes of our parents' and grandparents' generation, we’re not going to move to the suburbs. Fine. But as their folly was putting a nice quiet house with a nice quiet yard over all, are we going to make our own mistake: prioritizing the Portlandia eating-drinking-shopping wonderland over an actually well-functioning city?


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