Forbes has a long story on Portland, Oregon, probing whether the city has shot itself in the foot by all those protests, poor political leadership, high costs of living. One point has pertinence for Seattle: “Reputation may be Portland’s greatest damage. Coverage by newspapers, television and current affairs podcasts has been extensive, both across the country and worldwide. This is critical given that the area’s growth comes from in-migrants, mostly from other states in the U.S.” Same here.
That pairing of Seattle and Portland has long defined a complicated sibling rivalry. Portland, positioned where the Willamette and Columbia Rivers meet, resides across the toll-gates of Northwest commerce. The danger is falling asleep at the toll-booth. The Rose City faces inland, like a typical river-mouth city, supplying city goods and services to a hinterland.
By contrast, Seattle had to wait for the railroad and bestrode no significant river to the resource-rich hinterland, and so had to look outward to trade and to nurture disruptive newcomers who could start companies like Boeing, Microsoft, and Starbucks. Seattle and Washington don’t like to admit it, but we have also done much better on defense industries, including Boeing and the University of Washington. Our Sen. Henry Jackson, a hawk, brought back more bases and contracts than the Oregon doves Wayne Morse and Mark Hatfield. Seattle bet on airplanes in World War II, while Portland bet on shipbuilding, which mostly faded away.
The origin stories also differ. Portland came within a coin-flip of naming itself Boston, and it imitates Beantown with its first families and propriety and suspicion of newcomers. Seattle first called itself (or the Alki part of the city) New York, and we are rooted in change and trade and unions and creative destruction. A harbor town, a Port — not a sleepy river town. The question now: Which one will have more resilience and be better able to invent a post-pandemic city? Seattle’s clotted politics suggest a new winner in this long rivalry.