I’m usually not impressed by any city’s downtown. I usually have a “once you’ve seen one downtown, you’ve seen them all” type of attitude. In most downtowns in the U.S.A., you’re sure to find towering business districts, lots of people hustling and bustling about their busy lives, traffic, litter, and the like.
So while I kept hearing that Portland is a great city, I wasn’t expecting to really be impressed by its downtown area. During our trip to the city last December, we had the chance to really explore it during Portland Walking Tours ‘Best of Portland’ tour which revealed several reasons why downtown Portland lives up to the hype…
It’s Artsy & Quirky
At Pioneer Courthouse Square, also known as “Portland’s living room”, you’ll walk on bricks – over 72,000 of which have people’s names inscribed in them. Funds earned from Portlanders’ purchase of these bricks were used to construct the square and funds from current purchases are used for its maintainenance.
During our visit to the square, “elves” from the department store, JC Penney, were giving out 1,000 free poinsettias as part of a marketing campaign. If we hadn’t been traveling, we definitely would’ve accepted one.
Downtown Portland is unique in that there is a lot of art on display throughout, including a statue in Pioneer Courthouse Square called Allow Me, better known as Umbrella Man. Crafted by artist John Seward Johnson II, Umbrella Man is the most photographed man in Portland.
Another cool feature found in the square is this tiny amphitheater echo chamber. When you stand on the center stone and speak towards the wall, your voice will be amplified as if you’re on a microphone. Pretty cool!
Near the square and throughout downtown, we also saw several bronze sculptures of animals native to the Pacific Northwest. These sculptures were designed by Georgia Gerber.
Portlandia, a sculpture by Raymond Kaskey, was installed above The Portland Building in 1985 and it’s the second largest repoussé made of copper in the U.S. following the Statue of Liberty. Portlandia, whose design is based on Portland’s seal, extends her right hand to greet visitors to the building.
Around downtown Portland, you’ll find these four-bowl water fountains known as Benson Bubblers. The Bubblers serve fresh, non-recycled drinking water from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. every single day. The water comes from the Bull Run watershed, a reservoir located 26 miles from downtown Portland that collects rainwater and snowmelt.
It’s Clean, Green, & Tech Savvy
Portland prides itself on being an environmentally friendly city. During our walk with the eco-friendly Portland Walking Tours, our guide pointed out these nifty recycling bins which are placed next to public trash cans. These bins instruct people which slots they should discard their newspapers, plastic, and glasses in. They’re also designed with magnetic swinging doors which make it easy for trash foragers to collect glasses and bottles.
While out and about in downtown Portland, if you need to use the restroom, feel free to do so in the Portland Loo. These public restrooms are open all day everyday and are cleaned twice daily.
Also, if you’re nowhere near home and you need to charge your environmentally friendly electric vehicle, no need to worry – Portland to the rescue! Simply stop at one of the city’s charging stations and get to charging! Note that while it’s free to charge, you still have to pay $1.60 per hour for your parking space.
If you don’t have a car or you opt to take public transportation, another cool thing about Portland are the digital displays that provide real-time TransitTracker arrival information and details about service delays, disruptions, and emergencies so you never have to wonder when (or if) your bus or train is coming.
It Has a Pioneering History
While indigenous populations have lived in present-day Oregon for thousands of years, the first Europeans to visit the area were from Spain followed by the British. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, President Jefferson commissioned the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore and map the western region of the country and to establish an American presence in the area before the Europeans got a chance to do so. Sacagawea was a Shoshone Indian woman who served as an interpreter and diplomat during the expedition.
A mural on the Oregon Historical Society’s building depicts the explorers and Sacagawea.
In Chapman Square, you’ll find The Promised Land, a sculpture by David Manuel depicting a family who arrived to the area via the Oregon Trail, a 2,000-mile wagon route that connected the Missouri River to Oregon’s valleys. The statue which features a Bible-toting son, has received flack because it doesn’t accurately depict or represent Oregon’s settlers and because it’s not inclusive of the other ethnic groups and religions that actually lived in and settled the area.
It’s Full of Foodies
Last but not least, Oregon’s awesomeness stems from its foodie culture. At SW 10th Ave. and SW Alder St., you’ll find a lineup of several food carts selling affordable cuisine from around the world. Whether you’re in the mood for Cuban, Thai, or Polish food, in Portland, you can find a food cart that has just what you’re craving. On this particular day, we chose Touch Down’s which offers excellent and reasonably priced BBQ fare. Yum!
When in Portland, I’d definitely recommend taking a tour with Portland Walking Tours so that you can see for yourself why Portland is one of America’s great cities!