Two recent surveys have sparked debate over the future of downtown Portland. A national study first released June 6 found that Portland had only recovered 41% of its prepandemic traffic, the third worst recovery of 62 major cities.
But a local study released Aug. 22 found that downtown visits have increased dramatically over the past two years, with most trips happening in the evenings and on weekends.
The first study was conducted by the University of California Berkeley using GPS data. The second survey used physical pedestrian counts at key downtown intersections by Downtown Portland Clean and Safe, supplemented with GPS data. Clean and Safe is affiliated with the Portland Business Alliance.
But an even earlier survey commissioned by the city of Portland suggests the focus on downtown may be missing a larger point. Conducted by DHM Research, it found 59% of Portlanders have a negative impression of downtown and the central city because of issues that include homelessness, trash, graffiti, vandalism, property crime and violent crime against people.
But the survey also found that a high percentage of Portlanders have similar concerns in their own neighborhoods. A majority of resident from all demographic groups report people living in tents, cars and RVs in their neighborhoods.
Nearly half — 48% — do not feel safe walking alone at night. Of those who feel unsafe, 78% fear being physically assaulted, 71% fear being confronted by people with mental health and drug issues, and 62% fear gun violence.
"Measuring the extent of the concerns is important for public policy decisions. The percent of people who do not feel safe in their own neighborhoods is significant," said DHM Research political director John Horvick.
The concerns are not equally distributed, however. Younger, higher-income people living on the west side are more willing to visit downtown and feel more comfortable in their own neighborhoods.
Concerns increase among older, lower-income people living on the east side of town, especially east of I-205. They also are the least likely people to be willing to visit downtown.
The survey was commissioned by Mayor Ted Wheeler for help crafting the budget that took effect July 1. It was conducted between May 2 and 16 and included questions about city services.
They revealed that although an overwhelming majority of Portlanders are willing to call the police if they witness a crime, they do not expect a prompt response. That is also especially true among people living on the east side, who are more likely to believe services are not evenly distributed across the city.
The survey also found that just 1 in 5 Portlanders feel the city is unaffordable, considering their household incomes. Eastside and lower-income residents are more likely to think Portland is too expensive.
Large majorities favor preserving affordable housing (80%), building new affordable housing (75%), direct assistance to pay rents and mortgages (75%). Fifty-eight percent even favor the City Council creating urban renewal districts to fund redevelopment.
And despite the continuing emphasis on downtown, Portlanders overwhelming agree that both it and their own neighborhood business districts are important to the city's overall economy. Eighty-eight percent said downtown and the central city is important, while a nearly identical 84% said the same about their neighborhood business districts.
A previous Portland Tribune story on the issue can be found here.
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