A number of residents in Oregon’s largest city are increasingly experiencing angst and unease about venturing downtown, saying it has become dirty, uninviting, and unsafe amid endless cycles of violence and protests, according to a newly released survey.
The poll, which was commissioned by The Oregonian/OregonLive, found that generally, Portlanders are going downtown less since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. And when asked to give their perception of the downtown area, some of the most common responses included “riots,” “sad,” “trashed,” and “destroyed,” OregonLive reported.
Many of the poll’s 600 respondents also referred to mounting homelessness as a contributing factor as to why they visited less while adding that the city urgently needed to find a housing solution for those who are living on the streets.
“Those results suggest deep pessimism about downtown Portland, the city’s economic, cultural and transportation hub,” OregonLive reported. “They also could pose severe obstacles to the city’s recovery from the pandemic recession. Economists say the city must take action on the significant issues plaguing downtown before they’ll be able to change that perception.”
Noting that all downtown areas in American cities are facing major challenges as the pandemic begins to wane due to offices being emptied, loss of tourists and travelers, and massive increases in layoffs. But Portland’s troubles tend to go much deeper and are more profound, the survey notes.
The homeless problem has become particularly acute thanks to a number of factors including reduced traffic to the downtown area, thanks to COVID, and a federal ruling that prohibited the clearing of squatter sites and placing the homeless into shelters out of concern they could be exposed to the virus.
And, of course, there is the violence.
Last year, Portland became known as the epicenter of violent protests, where BLM and Antifa activists nightly clashed with Portland police. For more than a month, crowds besieged a federal courthouse, leading then-President Donald Trump to order it reinforced with dozens of heavily armed federal agents.
In all, demonstrations and violence continued for more than 100 straight nights, leading to scores of injuries and one fatal shooting of a Trump supporter by an avowed Antifa member. And Portland even began 2021 with a riot.
The ongoing violence has had a negative cumulative effect, not just on potential tourists but also long-time residents.
“I love Portland, generally speaking,” Matthew Forsyth, 65, who lives in the southwest part of the city and participated in the survey, told OregonLive. “It’s just that downtown right now, it feels like it needs to be revitalized and it doesn’t feel safe.”
Others, including resident and poll respondent Myrna Brown, said the same thing. She believes city officials let things get too far out of hand last year, as now, the violence, trash, and graffiti are keeping her and her family from going downtown.
“He’s very afraid to go downtown now,” said Brown, who lives in the outer Southeast Portland neighborhood of Powellhurst-Gilbert, speaking of her 13-year-old son. “He loved to go down just to the waterfront and walk around. He loved to go to Saturday Market. These are things that cannot happen anymore.”
As for the future of downtown Portland, Brown, 59, added: “I don’t think it’s going to improve on its own. I think it’s going to need a lot of help.”