Paul Knauls, aka "the Mayor of Northeast Portland," who just turned 90 years old. IMAGE: Joseph Blake Jr.
By: Matthew Singer | Published February 10 at 5:30 AM Updated February 10 at 5:38 PM
It's hard to love Portland right now. Even as we publish our annual valentine to the city, that fact is not lost on us. Complaining that things were better 20 years ago, five years ago, two months ago is a long-standing local pastime. But after a year trapped inside, grousing has turned to doomsaying, and doomsaying is curdling into anger.
Windows are getting smashed nightly. Businesses are closing left and right. Developers are fleeing, and articles in national magazines are proclaiming the city is in its death throes. Sure, many places in America are dealing with similar issues, as leaders are forced to choose between public health and the economy. But in Portland, tensions are particularly high: When the mayor is out here pepper-spraying constituents, you know we're reaching a boiling point. Consider this, though: If you're reading this right now, something has kept you here.
Maybe it's the half-century-old diner that, so far, has withstood the pandemic and still gives regulars a stool to grumble from. Maybe it's our plentiful greenspaces which, over the past year, have become the only safe places for us to get out and see one another. Or maybe it's because we're constantly unearthing pieces of our history—and, in some cases, bringing them back to life.
Even in relatively brighter times, this issue has served as a reminder of the things that keep us tethered to this place. In a year of incredible loss, it feels even more important to pause and take stock of what remains, like the country's oldest tofu manufacturer, still handcrafting its product after 111 years. Or the honorary mayor of Northeast Portland, who remains a presence in the community at age 90. We haven't yet lost our sense of generosity, nor our weirdness: After all, this is a town that loved a llama so much it's now been stuffed and put on display in perpetuity. None of that, of course, discounts our very real and numerous problems. You're not imagining things: It's rough out there. But as former mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone points out, we have been, in the past, a city of bold solutions. And after a decade of buying into our own hype, the rising chorus of angst is pushing us back toward being that city once again—and that, in itself, is a reason to still love Portland.
—Matthew Singer, Arts & Culture Editor