Why I Love Living in Portland as a Recent Grad

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The lights are out. Your door is firmly shut. You’ve barricaded yourself in your room. You try your best to breathe silently, and you’ve got your covers pulled over your head. A small headlamp beams a thin stream of light onto the pages of the book you hold in front of you.

Are you experiencing a power outage? Nope. A hurricane or tornado? No and no. Alien attack? Not at all. Then why the doomsday getup? Simple: It’s a Thursday night and you’re hiding from your roommates. If they knew you were home, they would force you to go out, and all you want to do is stay in and read your book.

You love your roommates (most of the time), but sometimes you just want to be alone. Or maybe you want to go out, but you just blew your entire paycheck and now you’re totally broke for the next two weeks. Ah, twentysomething life. It wouldn’t be the same without constantly fretting about your finances… or would it?

Now, we’re not saying that the streets are paved with gold, but Portland, Oregon is a pretty affordable—and fun—city to spend those post-college years. We catch up with Antonia Heffelfinger, a recent grad who lives in Portland, to learn about twentysomething life in Stumptown.

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Recent grad: Antonia Heffelfinger

College, major, graduation date: Reed College, History/Literature, 2012

Current gig: Administrative Assistant at the Portland’5 Centers for the Arts

What brought you to Portland?

I originally came to Portland for college, but I also have family in the area. I stayed for the arts community and the food.

Portland sign

What do you think the pros and cons are of living in this city?

One of the biggest pros of living in Portland is the public transportation. TriMet gets a lot of flak throughout the year (some of it deserved, some of it just old-fashioned complaining), but Portland is light years ahead of many cities on the West Coast in terms of public transit.

I’m originally from the Seattle area, and the lack of early investment in bus and light rail systems is crippling there. Portland made public transit a priority early on, and the systems that we have in addition to the city’s dedication to improving bikeways have meant that I haven’t owned a car in the entire six years I’ve lived here.

Lardo sign

Another big pro is the food culture. I love the commitment to local farmers, dairies, and businesses that you see across our farmers’ markets. Portland’s food scene is so innovative and tight-knit; it’s hard not to feel an affinity for favorite restaurants or chefs. Food is personal in Portland. We know we must be doing something right when the demand for Portland-grown businesses in other cities is high (Stumptown Coffee, Pok Pok, and Salt & Straw all have LA or NY transplants.)

Kenny and Zukes

Some of the biggest detractions, however, are the increasing cost of living and the startling lack of diversity. Compared to other (bigger) cities, the cost of living is so much lower. After all, we’ve become the place where college grads “go to retire.”

Angel's Rest

But the ever-increasing influx of people and the rapid development of central neighborhoods has meant that housing prices have skyrocketed in the past three years. Gentrification is painfully clear across the city, and not just in the central southeastern neighborhoods. Longtime communities of color are being pushed out of neighborhoods they’ve lived in for years, either because of massive development or rising housing costs. While development brings new businesses and increased attention, it also makes it clear that these areas wouldn’t have received literal and figurative “facelifts” without the need to appeal culturally and monetarily to new investors.

Multnomah Falls

This is not to say that Portland is a horrible place to live, or that the developments aren’t needed. But Portland absolutely deserves the lampooning it gets for being one of the whitest cities in America.

What should a recent graduate/twentysomething know about living in your city?

Portland is very much a small city with big neighborhoods. It’s a great place to get your bearings in a city without losing the kindness of a small community.

Ecola Park

All photos courtesy of Antonia Heffelfinger

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