14 April 2016

[pdx] Portlandness Is The Atlas Portland Needed.

There's a section, near the front of the book Portlandness: A Cultural Atlas, (David Banis and Hunter Shobe, $24.95, Sasquatch Books, www.sasquatchbooks.com) which tries to define just what 'Portlandness' is, and then goes on to illustrate just where that Portlandness is thickest. In it, the book's authors, faculty in the Geography department at Portland State University, surveyed students in one of their courses to find out what qualities define life in Portland. The list of answers were largely what one would expect – things like green energy use, breweries, liberal politics, food carts – and they then related these qualities to things that could be measured via GIS and then, plotted the density of these qualities individually and then combined them all into an infographic that illustrated the combined density of all these statistics. 

The results  come off as one might expect: the more you go toward the center of Portland, the more Portland Portland is. Or maybe the more Portlandia. And the assaying is a valuable thing, because it represents a moment in time for Portland, one which our hometown has gone from adorable regional town to the west-coast's 'It Girl'. 

Latterly, Portland has become painfully fashionable and the subject of a national love affair which, if it may be levelling off, shows little sign of abatement very soon, for better … or for worse. Is there a Portland state-of-mind? Is there a way to objectively look at  that peculiar state of being that seems to be Portland and, here in the 2010's, and lay it all out for you, comprehendably? If there is, Portlandness: A Cultural Atlas  comes as close as anything can at the moment ... a witty, earnest look at what it means to be Portland right here, right now

Portland, for all its reputation and buzz, is still on a cusp of sorts. We're still at a place in the national consciousness where we can get either even more popular or pass the crown of the new cool on to another city (sorry, in advance, new city, if we do). But we weren't always this way. There is a story, a context, to how Portland is now and what that's made up of. Portlandness tries to tell that story, as it is now. If 'Portlandness' is a thing, this atlas does its best to describe it as it finds it. In the first part, as mentioned above, it tries to quantify that. 

Portlandness is divided into seven sections, after the introduction which sets the Rose City into a Cascadian context, which group maps and infographics according to overarcing themes: Urban Landscapes, The Once and Future City, Wildness, Views of the City, Social Relations, Food and Drink, and Popular Culture. Amongst them, there's scarcely a base that hasn't been touched, from historic street names to the hauntedness level of various areas of town; one map that combines all the historic plans of how Portland could have grown into one clear-yet-detailed graphic that makes you think of what may have been; the geography of the invisibility of our city's homeless; the interface between the coyotes of Portland and its chickens; a comic on geek culture and its spatiality; another demonstrating how far one is from the nearest indie coffee shop and plots that against Starbucks; a set of set tables demonstrating how long you're going to be waiting for that food at the Screen Door cafe; Chinatown then, and now; the evolution of the Guilds Lake area; a sorely-needed 2-page spread on how the city's annexations have created its shape (my favorite); soccer culture (would you ever doubt? - there's even a set of diagrams showing the loudness levels of various sections of Providence Park during a Timbers/Sounders match), even the story of Maywood Park. One section relates how children see the city, another composites how a group of students in a PSU course made mental maps of the town, characterizing it with their impressions. There's even a map of downtown that shows you the route you must take if you wish to be surveilled by the fewest cameras. And it even tries to answer the question does Portland have more strip clubs per capita than anyone else, making smart side-stop at the reason why that would be.

The design is a tight, disciplined, visually delightful thing, which herds all these infographic cats into something with a grand sense of order. Typography is beautiful, and the infographics are well-done and diagrams you can get lost in. By starting with a strong introduction (which even compares the Portland of Oregon to the Portland of Maine and finds more similarities than you might think) to give a regional setting and context, this book goes beyond mere interesting (and well-designed) fact presentation via infographics and does what a solid reference atlas should do … behave as a snapshot of a moment in time of an important time in the story of the place that is Portland. 

This is a fine book that I really can't put down for long, and anyone who loves, is intrigued by, aggravated by, or loves from afar Oregon's biggest town really should find a space on their shelf for it. 

The Portland of 2015 is a curious thing. Portlandness: A Cultural Atlas is the atlas Portland needs for this time. I'm kind of hoping that the authors decide to do a 2nd edition sometime down the road. 

The comparison would be epic.

Portlandness: A Cultural Atlas, (David Banis and Hunter Shobe, $24.95, Sasquatch Books) is available via Sasquatch's website (http://www.sasquatchbooks.com/book/?isbn=9781632170002&portlandness-by-david-banis), which also has links to other places you can purchase the work.

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