September 17, 2014

"Will Portland Always Be a Retirement Community for the Young?"

From the New York Times Magazine:


Portland has taken hold of the cultural imagination as, to borrow the tag line from “Portlandia,” the place where young people go to retire. And for good reason: The city has nearly all the perks that economists suggest lead to a high quality of life — coastlines, mountains, mild winters and summers, restaurants, cultural institutions and clean air. (Fortunately, college-educated people don’t value sunshine as much as they used to.) … According to professors from Portland State University, the city has been able to attract and retain young college-educated

Portland … has more highly educated people than it knows what to do with. Portland is not a corporate town, as its neighbors Seattle and San Francisco have become.  …

Portland’s residents may, as the saying goes, want to keep their city weird. But do they want to keep it broke too? …

Since 1950, the disparity between incomes and home prices has steadily widened to the point that many urban areas have become largely unaffordable to the middle-class workers who once inhabited them. Economists at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia have coined the term “superstar cities” to refer to the likes of New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boston. “Even large metropolitan areas might evolve into communities that are affordable only by the rich, just [like] exclusive resort areas,” wrote the economists Joseph Gyourko, Christopher Mayer and Todd Sinai in a 2013 article.

Portland’s story is slightly different in that many of its immigrants have come in search of a different kind of wealth. Most people, after all, can’t willingly up and move to a new city for — rather than a job opportunity — some ephemeral or lofty ideals about homesteading and locally grown kale. But quite a few Portlanders have done so. “As our culture and expectations grow, decadence rises,” Albouy said. “We’re not the hungry immigrant nation we used to be. We’re more into meaning, into jobs that find fulfillment. And at least some people are willing to accept lower pay to go somewhere they care about.”  …

“Jobs are thinner here,” he said. “But the intelligent urban planning makes my heart sing.” …

Heartwarming planning, however, can only go so far. Portland’s paradox is that it attracts so many of “the young and the restless,” as demographers call them, that it has become a city of the overeducated and underemployed — a place where young people are, in many cases, forced into their semiretirement.  …

Yet Portland is hardly immune from larger economic forces. The vast majority of its migrants hail from the West Coast, including many who have been priced out of Seattle or San Francisco. And as more of these newcomers flood the city, they threaten to remake its slacker image. Surreptitiously, this process is already underway. Between 2001 and 2012, gross domestic product per person grew 50 percent, more than any other city, even those in Silicon Valley. Accordingly, employment is climbing, as are housing prices and the overall cost of living.

Affordability has long been one of Portland’s most attractive features. What happens when that disappears? Schrock and Jurjevich, the economists at Portland State, have coined a term, the amenity paradox, that refers to cities where the same amenities that attract people end up eroding what made a city desirable in the first place. Portland seems likely to fall into this historical cycle. …

Another solution for keeping Portland weird, at least temporarily, may come from within the city itself. In the wake of the financial crisis, many young college graduates have delayed their lives, put off worries about jobs and houses and families and instead moved to cool cities to wait out the recession, says William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution.

During that time, the young and educated abandoned cities like Phoenix and Atlanta in large numbers for places like Austin and Portland. But as job prospects improve, and unemployment shrinks to its lowest levels since the crash, it’s likely that many of the young people who fled to Portland will soon chase their ambitions to less cool places — the ones that people move to when it’s time to become an adult. Then Portland will find out who the true believers really are.


Full article here.

Posted in


If you love this region and have a view to its future please subscribe, donate, or become a Patron.

Share on


  1. An entitlement mentality in other words. Let’s have others fund my cushy life style so I can be happy. Like many parts of Europe or BC or Detroit.
    Let’s tax the rich and productive folks more.
    Life is not fair.
    This socialist approach usually does not end well.

    1. Thomas do the same opportunities exist for young people out of school as they did for Baby Boomers like yourself? No. Was buying a house 9 times income when you were trying to buy your first house in Germany or where ever you’re from? No. In your days were kids living in cars eating Kraft Dinner because they cant afford their college tuition? No. You baby boomers are the ones with the entitlement mentality, hey I got mine now why should I give up my pile of spoils built on cheap oil, land, lower tuition, inflation. Right? And don’t post back saying interest rate were 18% in the 80’s please.

Subscribe to Viewpoint Vancouver

Get breaking news and fresh views, direct to your inbox.

Join 7,291 other subscribers

Show your Support

Check our Patreon page for stylish coffee mugs, private city tours, and more – or, make a one-time or recurring donation. Thank you for helping shape this place we love.

Popular Articles

See All

All Articles