I had the awesome opportunity of visiting some of my closest friends in Portland, Oregon last month. Not only did I get to see my awesome friends, but I spent a weekend exploring a new place I’d never been. When I’m traveling I like to pay close attention to the things that are different from Minnesota, and more importantly I like to learn why they are different because the reasons tend to be the most interesting part. So, here are some fascinating things I learned about Portland and the great state of Oregon.
- The Urban Growth Boundary
I’m kind of an “urban planning nerd”, so I’ve read a lot about Portland and its Urban Growth Boundary. If you’re not familiar, an Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) is a set border that a metropolitan area defines to contain sprawl. Development outside the boundary is heavily restricted offering protection to natural resources and agriculture. Portland is not the only example of a UGB, but it is one of the most well-known. Portland’s first established its UGB in 1980 and some might say it has done a lot to shape the metro area’s culture. For example, there is no area within metropolitan Portland that is more than a 15 minute drive from a farm or a forest. As a result, Portland’s “locavore” movement, an emphasis on locally grown food, has been well established – long before it’s become fashionable in other cities. The UGB has its pitfalls, of course – namely the impact on property values. It is estimated that a property within the boundary could be worth up to 10 times that of a property on the other side of a street that lies outside the boundary.
The whole idea of an Urban Growth Boundary fascinates me and it was really interesting to see it in person. The best view I had of it was on our day trip to see Mount Hood. My friends, being the awesome tour guides that they are, wanted to be sure to show me the things in Oregon that I don’t see in Minnesota. We don’t have mountains in Minnesota. We have some hills, but as it turns out – those are nothing compared to mountains. As we made the drive along Route 212 we stopped for lunch at a little restaurant in a strip mall cleverly named “Pub 212”. When we left and continued our journey to the mountain the landscape changed from homes and strip malls to farms and forests.
You can tell by this map that when we were at Pub 212, we were just on the inside the UGB. As we continued along 212, we drove out of the UGB and into an “Urban Reserve” (shaded in blue on the map) and then through the “Rural Reserve”, shaded in green . The Urban Reserve is an area that is slotted for future expansion of the UGB and some development is allowed, while the rural reserve is protected from development. The next couple images (borrowed from Google Earth) give you an idea of just how drastically the landscape changes as you exit the Urban Growth Boundary.
I could probably write a whole blog post about how interesting Urban Growth Boundaries are, but I’ll spare you. Ultimately, though, I don’t think Portland would be the unique place it is without its UGB.
After our drive through farmland, forests and quaint little towns we arrived at Trillium Lake which offered a beautiful view of Mount Hood. The lake, named after the Trillium Flower, is the headwaters for Mud Creek which is a tributary to the Salmon River (see my crude illustration on Google Maps below).
It was the perfect place to take photos of Mount Hood and it seemed to be popular, but not too crowed. Although, there was one small child that felt her place in life was to stand directly next to where I was sunbathing. My discomfort must have been obvious because her mother shooed her away, telling her to get out of my “bubble” (thank you!).
One of the many highlights of my trip was when a large hawk was circling above us as we sat, snacking on combos and drinking Coors light. It landed on an extremely tall tree right by us; I pretty much lost it with excitement while I tried to take pictures. It turned out to be a futile effort as the bird sat on a perch way too far away for my camera to get a good photo. So, as my excitement subsided I went back to writing in my journal, which I (obviously) had to take a picture of me doing, so that I could post it on Instagram (yeah, I’m that girl and I’m ok with it). But as I was trying to get just the right angle on my journal, I heard this huge splash in the water. It sounded like someone had thrown an enormous rock into the lake, when I looked up that same Hawk flew straight out of the water and everyone gasped in amazement. It was probably one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen, and since I was attempting to take a trivial picture of my notebook – I happened to capture the splash.
**I have some better photos of the views of the mountain that I will share once I get them off my camera!
- Self-service gas pumps (or the lack thereof)
One of the first “fun facts” I learned about Oregon is that it is illegal to pump your own gas. Say what? Yep, self-service gas stations do not exist in Oregon. They, along with New Jersey, maintain laws against self-service gas pumps. In fact, if caught pumping your own gas you could face up to a $500 fine. So, naturally, I wanted to know why this is – and it is a pretty interesting debate.
At the first advent of gas stations attendants were commonplace, they were trained to handle the hazardous material and avoid any accidents that could result in an explosion. Over time, however, advancements in technology have made self-service pumps safe and efficient. Many states lifted their laws that required their gas stations to maintain a trained employee for gas-pumping assistance. I couldn’t find a one specific reason as to why Oregon and New Jersey have not lifted their restrictions, but the most popular one seems to be jobs. Some people say that allowing self-service gas stations would mean the loss of thousands of jobs. Whatever the reason, it’s a good thing to keep in mind if you’re ever driving through New Jersey or Oregon. Don’t try and pump your own gas!
As we traveled around Portland, and Oregon, for that matter, one of the things I noticed most was the beautiful bridges. And there was a reason; there are a lot of them! Within the borders of the City of Portland there are eleven bridges that span the Willamette River, and eighteen bridges total. Each is unique and interesting in its own way. The oldest is the Hawthorne Bridge which was constructed in 1910, followed by the Steel Bridge in 1912.
The newest bridge is under construction right now, and it is particularly special in that it will not carry private cars. Tilikum Crossing is being constructed as part of the light rail and street car line and will also have dedicated pedestrian and bike paths.
- Food Trucks
Ok, seriously, the sheer number of food trucks in Portland is borderline ridiculous (read that as awesome). There are a lot of differences between the food trucks in Portland and what we see in the Twin Cities. For starters, they don’t call them food trucks. They are food carts, which is more accurate because most of them aren’t really trucks. Much of their success is due to municipal regulations that allow low barriers to entry for food cart entrepreneurs. The logistical arrangements of the food carts are also more developed in Portland than Minneapolis or St. Paul. While our food trucks usually line around streets and parks, Portland’s food carts make use of vacant lots. This has created a new sector of real estate development, where investors purchase underused or vacant lots and lease out space to the food carts creating a food cart “pod”. Meg and I visited one such pod called Cartlandia which hosts nearly 30 food carts. It was pretty fantastic, I got myself a delicious sandwich from Zeek’s Cheese Grill and, of course, a Voodoo Doughnut. Cartlandia was opened in 2011 by Roger Goldingay in a former used car lot.
One of the things I found most interesting about these food cart pods is that they are often located next to a restaurant and/or bar. Cartlandia is next to Blue Room Bar and a similar pod, the Mississippi Marketplace, is next to Prost!, a German-themed bar that we had the pleasure of visiting. My first thought was that this is weird – aren’t they competing businesses? But quite the contrary, they actually support one-another and the restaurants encourage you to bring your food-cart purchases into their establishments.
We visited Prost! because it was featured by Preservation Nation’s blog series on Historic Bars. It is housed in a beautiful building that was constructed in 1894 as a drugstore. After returning from my trip and researching it, I learned that the same gentleman that owns Cartlandia is also responsible for the rehabilitation of that building as well as the creation of the Mississippi Marketplace. In 2009 Mr. Goldingay set out to create a food truck pod in the lot adjacent to the dilapidated nineteenth century building. He found a tenant for the building and together they rehabilitated it into the popular German restaurant it is today. Just off the patio there are 15 food carts within the Mississippi Marketplace pod, it is such a great concept to have multiple food offerings and the option of bringing them back with you to the bar. Best of both worlds!
Although my love for Minnesota will never waiver, I truly enjoy visiting new places and Oregon was no exception. Spending time laughing until I cried with my friends, walking along the Ocean, exploring a fascinating city and getting my first glimpse of the mountains – I think it was a pretty great trip. Thank you Meg and Phil for having me! I look forward to returning soon!
Until Next time…