10 July 2009

Portland Street Mnemonics Make The New York Times

2140.Okay, well, the comments of a regular feature anyway.

One of the residents of the sidebar is a couple of Portland street name mnemonics. It'd be fantastic if I could take the credit for them, but while I, amazingly enough, inspired them, they aren't my composition. But they are nifty. Today, via the miracle of Google alerts, I saw that this humble place of woolgathering was namechecked by a commenter to the "Schott's Vocab" column, identifying himself as one Matthew G. Miller:

And Samuel John Klein has posted three more–covering more streets and helping us remember the order of which M and which C streets come first–on his blog The ZehnKatzen Times in a posting January 14, 2009:

The colon there at the end was as in the original; presumably the commenter ran out of room. The 14 Jan 09 post which mentions this is at the end of this rabbit hole, but if you don't feel like clicking yet another link that has a target="_blank" attribute, I'll save you a step.

The streets, in order from north to south starting from SW Ankeny Street (1 short block south of West Burnside, which should need no introduction) and continuing through the PSU district, run as follows:

Ankeny, Ash, Pine, Oak, Stark, Washington, Alder, Morrison, Yamhill, Taylor, Salmon, Main, Madison, Jefferson, Columbia, Clay, Market, Mill, Montgomery, Harrison, Hall, College, Jackson.

The first submitted one, from a commenter identifying himself as JD, went as such:
All Across Portland Our Streets Wind Around Mossy Yards. Traffic Snarls May Mean Jammed Cars, Cranky Motorists Making Minimal Headway. Harried Commuters Just Love Going Slow.
Nice, simple, sweet, poetic, and topical. Mnemonic WIN. But another commenter, Dave DiNucci, pointed out that since some initials duplicate (Main-Madison, Market-Mill-Montgomery, Harrison-Hall), and gave us two alternatives that included more letters. The first one plays off the tendency of names in the Alphabet District to be named for historic Portland figures and alludes to the curious geography of the south end of the grid, where all lines pivot, and offers a sort of gently gibing editorial commentary of the fairly fashion-oriented names of the streets:

ANcestors ASsociated Portland Oregon STreets With ALphabetic MORtals, Yet Toward SAlem, MAInly MADe JEjune, COLUmnar, CLiche MARked MIxtures. MONotones HARmonize HALfway, COLLiding JAuntily.  Lines Gently SHim.

Another mnemonic WIN. But Dave wasn't finished. Knowing that Portland has its share of left-brain/right-brain thinkers, he offered another, more lyrical version which goes so far as including the whole of the name Columbia:
AN AScending Path Of STone
Wends ALong MORning Yellow Trilliums.
SAnity MAIntenance.
MADe JEalous,
COLUmbia CLeaves MARvelous MIsty MONuments,
HARsh HALcyon COLLages.
JAcob's Ladders Gorge-ously SHine.
Note also that Dave's mnemonics include streets athward the I-405/South Portland interface, which is even more nifty.

From the comment at the NYT's column comes the phrase that started it all with me. The original questor of a memorable PDX downtown mnemonic was none other than The Oregonian's quondam quotidian quipster, Jonathan Nicholas (who was in his time sort of PDX's version of Herb Caen) who, after an appeal in his column sometime back in the 80s, eventually produced a little gem of his own:

Any Portland, Oregon Sunny Weather Always Makes You Think Some More Magic Just Came Calling.

Which at least gets you through to Columbia and Clay.

We have an embarrassment of riches, each suited to a particular way of thinking, each equally memorable, so that you may never be lost amongst Portland's downtown street again. I wish I could have said that I came up with them, but I am honored to have been thought highly enough by some that they'd share them with you all here.

And thanks to Matthew G. Miller who though enough of my blog to have made a mention of it in the New York Times.

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vespabelle said...

I've lived off Alberta for nearly 15 years and only recently learned "Prescott's Going Why can't (Wygant) Alberta?" to remember which one was Wygant and which one was Going.

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

It's a cute little mnemonic even if it only covers a palmful of NE streets. It becomes useful if you remember that Prescott is the 4500 block (45th street north of Burnside) and Alberta is the 5000 block.

There really are far too many streets on the grid to come up with an practical mnemonic to take them all in; memorizing the mnemonic would be just as tough as memorizing the streets! But there is a middle ground.

We are lucky in that most important east-west named streets on the east side (both NE and SE) are on even 500s. For instance, for the NE, we have:

500 = NE Glisan Street
1500 = NE Halsey Street
2500 = NE Knott Street
3500 = NE Fremont Street
4500 = NE Prescott Street
5500 = NE Killingsworth Street
6500 = NE Ainsworth Street
7500 = NE Lombard Street

I was able to do that from memory. So all you really have to do to get the big picture is knowing those streets, and you can 'drill down' as necessary. Eventually, if you get practiced enough, you'll have a feel for what's near what. If you have a good enough memory, you might actually get things memorized down.

The SE streets run thusly:

500 = SE Stark Street
1500 = SE Hawthorne Blvd
2500 = SE Division Street
3500 = SE Powell Blvd (notably)
4500 = SE Holgate Blvd
5500 = SE Steele Street
6500 = SE Woodstock Blvd
7500 = SE Flavel Street
8500 = SE Clatsop Street/County Line

There are places where it's not quite consistent (NE Lombard is only the 7500 block out to about NE 15th Avenue, then it becomes diagonal; SE Powell Blvd is only exactly the 3500 block along the stretch between SE 52nd and 92nd Avenues). It breaks down on the North Portland peninsula, and there's little of a solid 500-block grid pattern on the west side, of course. No system is complete or perfect, but this one helps you nail down fully 2/3rds of the city, and it has logic and rhythym to it, and is thus nifty.

Oh, my favorite thing? NE HOLman Street = 6300 north, SE TOLman Street = 6300 south. It just worked out that way.