Just came back from a visit. Now, granted, it was a Saturday night in an as-ideal winter’s day/night (crystal clear, low 40s, no rain) for Portland.
The downtown was absolutely hopping. And it was big. And it had several different pockets of neighborhoods. I’ve been to similarly-sized metro areas (Cleveland, Raleigh, Indianapolis, St. Louis) and Portland’s downtown seemed a few orders of magnitude nicer and busier. A lot closer to a city of 5 million than 2.5 million.
Am I high on crack? Did I just see Portland’s downtown with rose-colored glasses? Or is it recognized as having a very vibrant downtown?
I lived in San Jose most of my life, before moving here to Portland six years ago. I’d never thought about it before, but I think you’re right. San Jose is larger than Portland area-wise, and much larger population-wise, yet its downtown is much smaller and not nearly so bustling as Portland. That’s likely because of the proximity of San Francisco, though.
I also spend a few months in Seattle, but I didn’t spend enough time really exploring the downtown area to make an accurate comparison. But my impression was the size and activity of downtown Seattle was about the same as Portland.
Population-wise, San Jose is a huge city, much larger than San Francisco. Culturally, though, it is basically a bedroom community for the South Bay, and they appear to roll up the streets after 9:00 pm.
Seattle is substantially larger than Portland, but in many ways Portland is just kind of a toy version of Seattle, with many of the amenities and fewer of the headaches. It is actually one of my favorite cities, and I’d credit the vibrant downtown to a dedicated and sensible plan of urban renewal, an actually useful public transit system with a free zone that encourages use and reduces congestion, and a disproportionately cultural and restaurant scene. It is also a phenomenally walkable city. It has its bad points as well, including some significant gang and drug activity, but on the whole, one of my favorite cities.
Portland has an Urban Growth Boundary which has helped keep the population dense and limits urban sprawl. It’s also made our mass transit system a lot more efficient since everything’s close. By comparison, Beaverton in the next county over (but still considered part of the Portland metro area) has no such law and there is all kinds of sprawl there.
Portland is also full of pocket neighborhoods that have their own nightclub and restaurant scenes. I’m always amazed by the numbers of people on the streets on weekends, just enjoying everything PDX has to offer. It’s even more fun in the summer, when there are free concerts in the parks.