By Nancy Tannler, Editor
As a native Oregonian, I have witnessed the inevitable change that has occurred here in the City over the past fifty years. Sometimes it is a psychological struggle to weigh my sentimental recollections of the past with what really was and, the current trends rapidly taking place all around me.
Thanks to the consultation of younger friends and family about how they see the progress in the City, I’ve begun to withhold judgement and become an observer with a wait and see attitude.
Thirty years ago when the increasing demographics of our sleepy little berg began to become noticeable, I made the rationale that we are all immigrants here with the true natives being the Native Americans. Since then, the core municipality of Portland has grown faster than the overall American population. In percentage terms the Portland Metropolitan Statistical Area has been growing faster than San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, New York or Boston.
It’s understandable; who doesn’t want to be part of something that is busy growing instead living in a place that is withering on the vine, like so many economically, geographically and culturally depressed cities throughout our country? We’ve migrated here, even if it means leaving family, friends and our roots behind.
On a pure survival note, one notion that comes to my mind is that people might be called to the Northwest regions by an instinctual desire for water. Some of the meccas people used to choose are drying up – places like Phoenix and Los Angeles have been in a drought for years. The question continues to present itself: how do we water a desert? An article in the March edition of The Atlantic, titled “Liquid Assets” is about the fate of the Colorado River. Sixteen years ago the river stopped reaching its final destination in the Sea of Cortez because of the high demand by population centers, drought and farmers who use it for irrigation.
An abbreviated history of the Colorado River begins in 600 when Pueblo and Hohokam Indians first developed water distribution systems. In 1500, Spanish explorers introduced livestock and ditch systems called acequias. Mormons in Utah began cultivating farmland and figuring out irrigation in 1847 opening up more arid land to farming. After the completion of the Hoover Dam in 1931, water distribution became accessible to Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Mexico and beyond. The recent drought began in the year 2000, and by 2005, water storage locations at Lake Powell and Lake Mead were less that 50 percent filled and people knew there was trouble.
In 2013 the Colorado River Delta Water Trust stepped in and created sustaining base flows made possible by purchasing voluntary leases of water from delta farmers. Unfortunately this has been hard on many farming communities where locals couldn’t afford the cost to stay in business. As a result, it’s created ghost towns along the river.
The good news is that on May 19, 2014 the Colorado River, which flows 1,450 miles from its headwaters in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, made it again to the Sea of Cortez in northwestern Mexico.
We are fortunate to have our magnificent Bull Run Watershed that has been managed under increasing levels of protection since it was established as a Forest Reserve in 1892. In 2001, the protection boundary was extended by federal law, and both the watershed and the protected buffer lands are known as the Bull Run Watershed Management Unit (BRWMU).
One conclusion I have reached is that it is important that we protect our water, i.e. Friends of the Reservoirs, Friends of Bull Run, or Hood River’s Local Water Alliance. A shout out goes to the Water Alliance and Hood County for pushing back on Nestlés Corporation and denying them water rights to Herman Creek. The fifty jobs they were offering doesn’t make sense even if their promotion of Coalition for a Strong Gorge Economy might look good. Look again.
(I took to heart the Dune series by Frank Herbert. I recommend that everyone read at least the original.)
Another dilemma that is relatively new to the northwest is the housing issue. Providing enough housing for our increasing population is proving to be a controversial issue. Our Montavilla house was once the site of a beautiful orchard – I’ve seen the pictures. I wonder if people objected when their pastoral back yards became housing developments.
I do feel nostalgic though when I witness someone’s house being torn down. I always wonder who lived there, are they still around, are they sad it is gone? I think of the people who have lived in this 1937 house or who will live here after I am gone – if it is still standing. I’ve noticed that for the most part, houses being demolished are more often on the shack side rather than the old craftsman or Portland homes – but not all.
Another observation about this infill process is the awkward proportion of some of the neighborhood rebuilds. There’s a sense of being dwarfed, or as one friend put it, “strangled by the place next door”, because every square inch of land and sky is taken up. Although many new homes are sleek and fit right in like they’ve been here forever.
The biggest bummer for me about all this infill is the loss of the secret neglected lots that lent an antiquated charm to our neighborhoods. These little nooks and crannies reminded me of visiting my grandparents in St. Helen’s as a child where residences and vacant lots were the norm – a mini countryside in the City where we spent time catching bugs and snakes, building forts and hanging out with friends.
Increased traffic is real but hopefully, the twenty-minute neighborhoods will continue to evolve and we won’t need to be jumping in our cars to get whatever we need. I do wonder though if online shopping and all the UPS and Fed Ex trucks are good for congestion. Does shopping local mean sitting in your house on your computer? I wonder…
Newcomers to the area will only know what is here now so they won’t have to absorb as many changes. Hopefully they will love and cherish its new identity and protect what they like about Portland just as us old timers have. It is a place worth guarding.