The return of the displaced to the Pearl District

The Pearl Portland NORTH
The original warehouse district, pre-Pearl, 1988 in center right of picture

From Wikipedia: According to the Pearl District Business Association, Thomas Augustine, a local gallery owner, coined the name Pearl District more than 10 years ago to suggest that its industrial buildings were like crusty oysters, and that the galleries and artists' lofts within were like pearls. As local business people were looking to label the growing area—the "warehouse district" or the "brewery district" were two suggestions—a writer for Alaska Airlines borrowed and popularized Augustine's phrase.

I had no idea the area's name was only a decade old. It demeans it, scrubs the history from it.

As with any gentrification project Portland's Pearl District is no exception. Developers arrived, threw out or co-opted the artists who lived cheaply and worked in the grimy lofts, displaced anyone who couldn't stand up to them, renamed the area along the lines of something that entices people to settle in suburbia - Rolling Hills for e.g., or in this case oysters and pearls - bought low with incentives and tax breaks, then sold high.

The Pearl developers' earnest requirements, presented in pitches to attract a new breed - quasi-urbanites - who they hoped would buy the freshly-minted condos, required a faux grittiness just this side of wholesome - red brick, worn and buckled unused railroad tracks, new buildings with garage door frontispieces, old industrial shops and warehouses turned, as if on a lathe, into new "creative spaces" as if they weren't that before.

Gleaming, towering, high-rise condominiums now lord over this vista of the resuscitated. Street Cars ply their way through the towers of this faux bohemia; old cobblestones were actually removed recently from NW Marshall St to smooth the way for cyclists. At least the brewery still leaches its sour mash stink every day.

And once it was a community; unsavory yes - of artists, hookers, drug dealers, transients, muggers et al, but a community that Jean Genet could once have immortalized had he lived here, by the sound of it.

Yet cities always have a way of slyly returning to balance. A few blocks to the west, the disenfranchised and the homeless find parity making camps under the I-405 overpass, with their bikes, shopping carts and trailers and pitbulls waiting silently in the shadows. The Safeway supermarket on Lovejoy and 14th attracts these vagrants to its recycling center in the early hours, where they redeem their cans, bottles and plastics; chips being cashed in, a small part of the areas shadow economy.

And in the early light the tiny fragments of shattered safety glass in the gutter mark the site of another missing handbag, backpack or laptop.

Ironically, as the real estate slump and the ongoing recession sink their teeth into, and puncture, the soft cozy padding of faux urban living that the Pearl's residents have come to expect, those very residents will now have to make nice with their new, yet original neighbors.

The ones who were pushed aside just over a decade or so ago.

More thoughts on cities.