Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fourth Place: Portland, Ore...

The Next Youth-Magnet Cities

Los Angeles native Ryan O'Leary, 23, didn't expect when he graduated from college with a journalism degree last year to be working construction at this point, he says. But he decided about a month ago to give top priority to moving to the place he most wanted to live, and Portland was it—despite its daunting 11.2% unemployment rate.

Mr. O'Leary, who found an apartment downtown, calls his move "the best decision I've made in a long time." He loves the city's nightlife and neighborhoods, and the city's streetcars—one of which stops by his building—are a refreshing change from Los Angeles's car culture. He continues to job-hunt in his field, public relations, on his days off.

A symbol of "West Coast hipness," Ms. Franklin says, Portland has continued to draw migrants through the recession. An urban-growth boundary fosters a strong downtown culture while containing suburban sprawl, easing travel to nearby mountains and forests. Portland has expanded mass transit and boasts sizeable electronics and activewear companies, several wind- and solar-energy firms, and many green-building projects.

Its quirky culture appeals to musicians and artists: The city has more than its share of oddball events, including an adult soap-box derby and an urban Iditarod (wherein costumed revelers pull shopping carts). "Keep Portland Weird" is a popular bumper sticker. Although Austin claimed that motto first in the 1980s, "we live it pretty well here," says a city staffer.

The downside: While regional officials have laid plans to add 10,000 jobs in the next five years, Portland has done better at promoting its quality of life than fostering job growth. "As nice as it may be to live in Portland," says's Dr. Cochrane, "you can only sleep on someone's couch for so long. At some point you have to get a job."

Well, all I can say is after 10 years in Lansing, I am finally going. Later MI. Later...

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