Benedict Roemer Portlandness Reflections


Iconic sign in downtown Portland

  •  * Both books emphasize the study of place. Define the geographic concept of “place”. Illustrate the concept by describing the place where you are this summer:

A place is an area defined by the the context in which it is placed or the way in which is is described. For example, the authors of “Portlandness”, David Banis and Hunter Shobe, begin their introduction by speaking about the many contexts in which they could begin to describe Portland, and how that would give the reader a certain perception of that place. I could describe the place where I am working this summer as a birthplace of American Industrialism, the less beautiful and less prosperous side of Bethlehem, a beautiful example of revitalization, or the home of the nations largest free music festival. These are all ways to describe the same place: the Southside of Bethlehem PA. However it is best to view a place in many ways as possible because “it is through our understanding of places that we make sense f the world.” (Banis and Shobe)

* Before reading this book, think about your preconceived idea of the City of Portland. From this introductory material, describe two things that matched your preconceived notion of Portland. Describe two things that you had not previously associated with Portland:

Before reading Portlandess I shared in a view of Portland that I’m sure many people would agree with. I imagines Portland as a cold and rainy city full of environmentalist liberals. This book confirmed that Portland does receive a fair amount of rain every year, and it does have a very liberal population who do a lot do protect the environment through using public transportation and green energy and eating local food. Two things that I did not know about Portland are the popularity of food carts and the prevalence of micro breweries in the city.

* Why did the authors choose to introduce Portland as a Cascadian City? What does it mean to be a Cascadian City?

Portland is best introduced as a Cascadian city because placing it within any other context would only hold it within stereotypes already associated with Portland. The Authors want to introduce us to Portland in a new way that is also free of stereotypes so that we can view Portland with an open mind. Ultimately, a Cascadian City is city of diversity. Just as Cascadia can be described in so may different ways, Portland can also be seen through a diverse set of windows, as this book illustrates.

* What is the essence of Portlandness? Why are maps a useful way of presenting this idea?

Though the word “Portlandess” sounds like it might come from the Portland based comedy Portlandia, it really means much more than the Portland depicted in that show. The true essence of Portlandness is the amazing diversity of Portland. Portland has seen a fair amount of hipster gentrification, but there are also many areas of poverty an low development remaining. Portland boasts of its environmentalism,  but the Willamette River is still contaminated by an era of industrialism. Only many, many maps can depict the numerous sides and personalities of Portland.

  • Portland 2-4: For three of the main sections of the book (I-VII), choose one of the perspectives presented (e.g., for I. Urban Landscapes, you could choose Bridgetown, Under the Bridges, Where the Sidewalk Ends… or Naked City), and answer the following questions (no more than a short paragraph per answer):

* What is the main concept illustrated in this section (e.g., what is an Urban Landscape)?

1. Urban Landscape: As more and more people live in an urban setting, it is important to expand our understanding of the word “landscape”. Just as wild, nature landscapes can tell the stories of shifting earths, moving glaciers, and wildfires, urban landscapes can tell the story of industrialization and revitalization, urban decay and gentrification, and new cultures coming and going. In this section, the authors describe the landscapes of Portland that contribute to Portlandness.                                                                                                         2. Views of the City: This section utilizes our less often used senses to better understand Portland. In “Views of the City”, the authors show us how the city feels and smells and sounds and is imagined by college students and elementary school students. By viewing, or rather not only viewing, the city in these ways, the authors strive to show how different Portland is from place to place, and how wrong it is to assume that the entire city is one way because your experience of one part of the city was that way.                                                3. Social Relations: A city can’t exist without the people who live in the city and make it what it is. New York would be nothing without the hard core Yankee fans and investment bankers. Boston wouldn’t be what it is without the Irish immigrants  and young and old scholars. Portland would not have Portlandness if it didn’t have the coffee addicted hipsters and all the other people who have made their way to Portland for one reason or another. The true character of the city can be seen in how its inhabitants get along or disagree. Portland is home to many different people, and over the years there

Map of the density of coffee shops in Portland (from "Portlandness", by David Banis and Hunter Shobe)

Map of the density of coffee shops in Portland (from Portlandness by David Banis and Hunter Shobe)

have been some disagreements between them, but I think that many would agree that almost everyone can unite under the flag of the People’s Republic of Portland. While Portlanders still have their disagreements with each other and the authorities, they can still unite behind their soccer teams or the thing that makes them all so special: Portlandness.




*What perspective did you choose to read for this section (e.g., Bridgetown, Under the Bridges, Where the Sidewalk ends… or Naked City)?  Why? How would you describe Portland according to this perspective in a few sentences?

Map of edited stop signs around Portland

Map of edited stop signs around Portland (From Portlandness by David Banis and Hunter Shobe)

  1. Stop! Writing On Stop Signs: The writings on stickers found on stop signs across Portland are a great way to see how Portlanders choose to express themselves, and what they have to say. While some of the additions would be expected in Portland, such as “STOP eating animals” or “Peace STOPs War”, others are more surprising. I found the sign “STOP Make Portland Normal” especially surprising. Apparently not all citizens of Portland appreciate its hipster reputation. Regardless of the content of the signs, the number of vandalized signs describes a Portland in which people feel comfortable expressing themselves. This matches well with the wildly held perception of hipster Portland.
  2.  Sounds of the City: As a musician, I am drawn to how a place sounds, and often even prefer to experience something through sound rather than sight. In a city, the constant humming of traffic and emergency vehicle sirens can become overwhelming if you can’t escape to a nice, quiet park. Portland definitely has the sounds of a big city in the Burnside neighborhood, but, as an environmentally conscious city should, it also has many parks. The parks should be an escape from city sounds, but as the soundscape shows with the note of an airplane cutting through the quiet, Portland is truly a large city.
  3. The Invisibility of Homelessness: I found this section quite surprising, even though in hindsight I can see that it was very naive of me to not expect that Portland would have a homeless population. What I found significantly less surprising, and extremely interesting about Portland was how they approach the problem.  Two of the homeless shelter locations highlighted by the authors were developed through peaceful protest by the homeless and negotiation with authorities. Maybe I’m just not giving other cities enough credit, but I can’t imagine that authorities, and the public, in other cities would be so tolerant as to even negotiate with the homeless population. Also, many cities try to make the homeless as invisible as possible, and Portland is also guilty of this. However, the Right to Dream Too community right in the middle of downtown Portland is a wonderful gesture against that desire to hide the problem of homeless. I think that the prominence of the the community shows how many Portlanders are willing to confront the issued that face society

* What map would you produce for Richmond to represent this concept? Why? What would be the title of the map? What might the map look like? (go ahead and sketch it, if you feel you can. Don’t worry about the technology, if you can’t post the drawing.)

  1. I’m not sure how many stop signs have been written upon in Richmond, but a similar map could show statements written by Richmonders in graffiti. Such a map would also depict what a similar part of Richmond is thinking about the city and the world. The map would be titled “The Writing’s on the Wall”. The map would have to cover almost all of Richmond to include the Church Hill neighborhood and the South side of Richmond, which is where I imagine the highest concentration of graffiti would be found. However, I think it would also be important to find graffiti in areas where it might not be expected in case that graffiti was created by a different demographic and might therefore show a different perspective.
  2. I think a sounds of the city map is a great way of experiencing and understanding any city, so I would try to replicate the map for Richmond. Richmond also has a diverse soundscape with a busy downtown, a heavily trafficked Broad Street, and many quite residential and park areas. It would also be interesting to see what kind of sounds are noticed in areas like Cary Street and Grove Avenue.  I think I would start the map in the West End, near the University of Richmond Campus, then move up to Broad Street and the Willow Grove Area, then through Downtown near the State Capital, then through Shockoe Bottom, then back to the lake area and Maymount Park, then back towards the West End through Cary Street and then finally to the River by Pony Pastures. As I write all of this I realize just how many areas I want to explore through sound because I believe that would really give me a different perspective of the city.
  3. I know that a large homeless population exists in Richmond, so I would map that population as well. However, rather than mapping the density of the homeless population, I think it might be interesting to map the race of each homeless person because of the difficult history that Richmond has with race relations. A title for this map could be “They Have No Home in Richmond”, reflecting that maybe Richmond still needs to do more to be welcoming to all people, and make up for the injuries done to African Americans for hundreds of years.
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