What No One Says About the New Portlandias: They are Also Very White

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By Arun Gupta (April 24, 2018)

“Pittsburgh is the New Portland” has become a cliche. The meaning is it’s a medium-sized environmentally friendly city hospitable to young people who are creative, have an unorthodox lifestyle, or politics, and the city is low cost and close to nature, at least compared to cities like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

What is usually left unsaid about très cool Portlandias is their whiteness. The culture, politics, and ideology of Portland is saturated with whiteness, but you never really notice it if you are white. Histories of violent ethnic cleansing, police brutality, disparity in housing, education, and employment are erased. Portlandias become blank spaces for play by the same homogenized social group.

Portland is often described as “the whitest big city in America.” Turns out that may not be true. Pittsburgh is the least diverse among the top 100 metropolitan areas: It’s 87% White, 8% Black, 2% Asian, and 1% Hispanic. I found this surprising given the city of Pittsburgh has had a significant African-American population for nearly a century. The numbers though are for the metropolitan area, which include much of Allegheny County.

There are a lot of complexities to this. As Pittsburgh deindustrialized in the seventies and eighties, the Black population increased and became poorer as whites and middle class Blacks moved to the suburbs. But as Pittsburgh started to acquire the cachet of a creative city, starting in the 2000s, it appears the Black population started to decline faster than the overall population decline in the city and surrounding Allegheny County.

I suspect what is going on is also extreme segregation. Austin, Texas is often lumped together with Portland. This article says it may be “the most segregated city in Texas,” which would be astonishing given the racial divisions there.

I have my own thoughts as to what is going on and what it all means. But I am interested in hearing yours.

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