Progressive Dogma Behind Portland’s Self-Destruction
Disagreements over where to shelter and treat homeless addicts undermine confidence in the “smart growth” approach to city planning
Portland used to be all about livability. In his 1993 anti-sprawl polemic Geography of Nowhere, James Howard Kunstler wrote that Portland “embodies the most hopeful and progressive trends in American city life and especially in urban planning.”
The city will forever be associated with the sketch comedy series Portlandia, which depicted a social order centered around craft light bulb makers, zucchini milk, and adults participating in hide-and-seek leagues.
But today, Portland is anything but livable. Crime is so bad that businesses have gone cashless “for the safety of our employees,” hired private security, who are sometimes armed, and locked down products of even modest value to thwart shoplifters.
Most of the region’s 7,500 homeless population lives on the street. Of the 193 homeless deaths recorded in Multnomah County in 2021, about 60% involved substance abuse. Fatal opioid overdoses in Multnomah County are up over 500% in the last five years.
Police estimate that last year, one-third of homicide incidents in Portland involved the homeless population. In 2023, murders are trending down from 2022’s record high but still trending higher than pre-Covid norms, as are rates of reported property crimes.
In downtown, public drug consumption is ubiquitous, having spread far beyond the borders of Old Town, Portland’s historic disorder district. The burnt foil scattered on the streets is a grim marker of the transition from heroin to fentanyl, which is typically smoked.