I have always been a city person; I love the access to and wide breadth of culture and the convenience of having everything I could ever need within walking distance that come with living in a city. Having grown up my entire life surrounded by the fast pace of New York City, I am used to cars honking at all hours of the night and have come to lovingly associate city life with hordes of commuters at rush-hour, sweaty, un-air conditioned trains in the summer and dirt covered snow in the winter. I was under the impression that all cities fit this criterion. Portland, however, does not.
Prior to arriving here for Duke Engage, not only had a never been to Portland, I had never been to the west coast at all. I had been told, or more accurately warned, by friends and family that Portland, as with the west coast at large, would be far from the vision of the city in which I had grown up and was comfortable. Still, I came into the experience with a very open mind, excited to learn the ins-and-outs of an entirely new city. Aside from my interest in urban sustainability, the overarching theme of DukeEngage Portland, the prospect of living in a big city long enough to become completely acclimated, not needing to pull out a map to get myself to and from the grocery store, is one of the things that drew me into this program. Other than hiking trips and summer camps (and of course attending Duke), I had never spent more than a few days away from home and was excited to learn how to live independently in a new city.
Portland is definitely not New York. However, the two cities are not as different as I was initially led to believe. There is an intricate public transportation city, tall corporate buildings, and a restaurant, convenience store and Starbucks on every corner. One thing, however, that has struck me as starkly different from my experience in other cities is the pace of life in Portland; if New York is the city that never sleeps, Portland is the city that does. This is not to say that Portland is in any way lazy, rather I have noticed that, in general, the city seems much less rushed than New York. People seem more much content to enjoy where they are, rather than constantly rushing onto the next thing. One thing that has stood out to me in particular and has taken some getting used to is that there are few crosswalks or stop signs. Instead, cars will stop on their own when they see you waiting to cross the street. I’m not entirely sure why this particular detail has stood out so prominently to me, but I think that it is somewhat indicative of the way in which the city as a whole operates; people working together and on their own time to make the city operate efficiently.
Although I have only been here a short time and have only experienced a fraction of what the city has to offer, the few days I have had to explore have only made me more eager to discover all that Portland has in store. Whether it be the Saturday farmers market, thrifting for clothes and room decor or briefly experiencing Powell’s City of Books, every part of Portland as left me wanting more and excited for the eight weeks that are to come. Arriving to this program I believed that I knew all there was to know about city life, however, the more time that I spend here, the more I am coming to understand that Portland is entirely unique, with each person and neighborhood carrying their own stories and experiences.