Colin Marshall sits down at Portland State University with Carl Abbott, professor there of urban studies and planning and author of Portland in Three Centuries: The Place and the People. They discuss the debate over Portland’s status as a “small city” or a “big town”; the distinctive ease of making connections in the city; how modern-day Portland enthusiasts would look at the place before 1965 and see Akron, Ohio; the oft-made comparisons between Portland, Seattle, and Austin; the history and continued presence of agriculture and industry around the “cool Portland” of today; Microsoft and Boeing, the “accidental” companies that made Seattle the younger sibling that out-competed Portland, one with better booms but worse busts; Portland’s “conservatively progressive” politics, and how that sensibility shows up in its light rail system and central library (especially as compared to Seattle’s); the relationship between the city’s vaunted “livability” and its patterns of diversity; how he came to Portland and when, exactly, the city turned away from its former stodginess (and when its porno theaters started turning into revival houses); Portland entrepreneurship, which Portlanders prefer to call “D.I.Y.”; how best to engage new immigrants and hip youngsters in “Portlandism,” a civic-minded, participatory approach to incremental problem-solving; science fiction’s visions of cities, which present recurring patterns related to urban theory; and whether Portland counts as a utopian project, if a practical one.
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