Sidewalking Portland - The Pearl District and the Alberta Arts District

As I said in my last post, Portland is a city of neighbourhood centres, more than any other city I know. There is a familiar sense coming from Victoria, where on a smaller scale, we have the same thing. I was intrigued at how different each neighbourhood was. In this post, I am looking at the downtown Pearl District and the Alberta Arts District. The last two neighbourhoods I visited. 

The Pearl District 
Old warehouse converted into

The Pearl is located in the northwest part of the city and is directly north of downtown. The comparison I kept hearing before going there, is that this is Portland's Yaletown. I would say that this would be true, if Yaletown was only those few blocks of old warehouse loading docks, but I think in the last twenty years the idea of Yaletown has morphed to include slim tall towers of glass and that is not what the Pearl is about at all. 

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Like Yaletown, the Pearl was also a former rail and warehouse zone that has been turned around, but is has been done in a completely different way. The buildings are a mix of renewed brick warehouses and very modernist blocks. The district is home to numerous breweries, including Deschutes and Rogue, both of which are quite popular and their beer is available extensively. 

The Pearl has numerous little boutique stores and restaurants and it is all centred on the amazing Jamison Square Park, which has a unique waterfall running through the centre of it. When we went through the square, it was packed with people cooling off from the sun.
Road closed for pug racing

Despite the comparisons to Yaletown, I would say that the one thing that struck me as I walked around was that there could be a busy Pug racing competition on one street (Yes really) and the next block could be completely empty. It could be that the stores are more spaced out or that it was just the time that we walked through, but overall I would not have said that it had a vibrant street scene. Hopefully as the area densifies, this will change. Still I would highly recommend a walk around the Pearl, the architecture, the beer and the parks are amazing.

The Alberta Arts District

The Alberta neighbourhood centre is in the north east part of the city. Its scale is similar to SE Division, but it is very clearly in a different cultural and socio-economic place than that. It is working class, more ethnically diverse (though on a whole Portland is less ethnically diverse on its face than even Victoria) and most importantly the home to a large artist community. 

The neighbourhood centre runs for about 12 blocks along Alberta Street. There are food truck lots, coffee shops, pubs and restaurants like all of the other neighbourhood centres in Portland. What makes Alberta different, is the infusion of art in every little corner of it. There is sculpture on the sidewalks, artist studios and art galleries, and on every available building face, a mural. As you walk along the sidewalk you can't help but be looking every which way trying to find the next piece of art. It could be down a dirt alley lined with tall grass or up along the second story of a building. It is important to note that the murals are not all urban graffiti in style, though there certainly is some excellent ones that are. There is a true assortment of styles and purposes; some are political and others just whimsical and beautiful. 

What I appreciated beyond the beauty of the art, is that such a neighbourhood could exist. Outside of the developing world, it seems that neighbourhoods focused on art are a thing of the past, as real estate markets and bylaws too often spread artists out over an entire city. In the past a low rent district could exist and artists would make it thrive. At one time, I believe that Fernwood may have been such a neighbourhood, but with houses there now costing well over 800 thousand and rents as high or higher than the rest of the city it can't be home to someone young just trying to make art. 

Walking down Alberta Street gives you hope that places devoted to the creation of art can still exist, we just need to figure out how to encourage them. 

I am already looking forward to my next trip to Portland. There are still many more places that I haven't seen than I have, and it is really not that far away.