Some large cities have better images than others. Portland generally has a positive reputation, particularly among urban sociologists and planners who have admired the city’s restrictions on urban sprawl.
So what happens when Portland takes some mocking from a new television show named “Portlandia”?
For years, many residents here have reacted with practiced apathy and amusement toward the national fascination with Portland. Outsiders and media critics have glowed over everything from its restaurants to its ambitious transit system of streetcars and light rail. Yet with “Portlandia,” the flattery has given way to mockery, however gently executed, of this liberal city’s deliberate differentness…
In a popular line from the show, which is on IFC, Mr. Armisen’s character describes Portland as a place “where young people go to retire.” Sure enough, economists have shown that the city in recent years has drawn a disproportionate amount of young people, and that many of them end up being underemployed…
The show has limits as social science. While many parts of Portland feel like one big group hug, the city is a complicated place, struggling with government budget cuts, manufacturing losses and the housing downturn even as demand for office space downtown has risen. The Gilt Club restaurant is just a few blocks from a Salvation Army shelter.
If Portland residents do not like the portrayal of their city, they shouldn’t worry too much: the Independent Film Channel, home to “Portlandia,” is not a very well-known channel.
Of course, how residents see one’s city can differ quite a bit from the view of outsiders. And television is not necessarily a good reflection of reality. It will be interesting to watch how Portland residents continue to respond to this show, particularly if the humor has an edge to it or takes on sacred cows.