Portland – delayed observations II

Portland has done a fantastic job of revitalizing what used to be an industrial area – The Pearl District. They’ve done a fair bit of infill – no towering high rises, though – and they’ve retained the architectural integrity of existing heritage structures. A lot of ground floor commercial with apartments above. Makes perfect sense.

And the street food trucks! Toronto is just cluing in to the fact that they need more street-level attractions downtown. We saw food trucks parked around the perimeters of several lots (they pay a fee annually, they get health inspections and have to be licenced). You name the country or style of food and you’d find it in Portland. Clever names, great food. We had a Belgian (Liege) waffle and yes, it reminded us of the street food we had in Brussels, too.

Of course we spent more time in Powell's Books. It was overwhelming to be in the presence of so many words! Of course, I assisted the local economy by purchasing as many knitting books as I thought I could carry. What was really nice – there were lots of seats and benches for folks to peruse books from the shelves. A great public washroom and a cafe on the ground floor. Best of all, there was no hassling of the many street people who, it seems, spend their days inside, reading and not bothering anyone. Progressive. Plus, they get to enjoy the magic of words and worlds they may not get to see.

The next best thing, though, is Portland's public transit. Light rail runs quietly on a system of one-way streets, with the tracks closer to the sidewalks. There's an extensive bus system, too. Toronto is so behind the times. Instead of fighting, just get on with it – what a big difference a high quality rapid transit system makes to the livability of an urban area. Have seen few traffic jams, no horn honking – for a city centre, it just feels so civilized. In fact, I'm reminded of Amsterdam, and the square at Rembrandtsplat, and the cafe where we had coffee and pastry.

I feel so discouraged that TO is dragging so far behind, and losing ground. Approaching 'world class' will take more creativity and willingness to trust that I think Council is capable of. Seems like every new initiative is fair game for partisanship without considering the greater good.

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