We haven’t forgotten about you, Portland. But did you have to mention your functional bridges in a full-page Sunday newspaper advertisement courting tourists? Indeed, Seattle has a frustratingly unresolved infrastructure sore point there. Thanks, at least, for not bringing up your absence of sales tax, or presence of an NBA team.
The ads by Travel Portland that appeared in regional and national newspapers over the weekend caught attention, and mild online jibes. It should help kick-start a necessary conversation.
Nine months after the Trump administration’s Justice Department labeled Portland and Seattle (along with New York) “anarchist jurisdictions” after a wave of violent demonstrations, the great cities of America’s Pacific Northwest need to be clear and convincing about getting back on strong footing.
Doing so will require much more work than launching an ad campaign, but a vibrant city with a future must start somewhere. That’s true for more than one place on the I-5 corridor, as Downtown Seattle Association president and CEO Jon Scholes noted.
“Folks will judge us and Portland, and other cities, not only by what we say, but by what we do,” Scholes said in an interview. “That’s ultimately the test: What do we do to reopen and ensure the streets are clean and safe and welcoming, and there’s lots of small businesses to come back to?”
The depth of the problem should not be glossed over. In Seattle alone, 462 downtown businesses closed during the pandemic months and more than 80 conventions were canceled, by Scholes’ count. But hints of a comeback are emerging — 279 new downtown businesses opened during the same period. This year’s truncated July-to-October cruise season is expected to bring about 175,000 tourists into Seattle — a third of the usual total, roughly, but a welcome boost. Several canceled conventions have rebooked into the city, and hotel occupancy rates crept up near 50% in mid-June.
Seattle must do more to restore the heart of the city. People living in tents along busy sidewalks need help getting into permanent housing, with access to supportive services that can offer help rebuilding lives. Businesses that limped through the pandemic need help rebuilding their customer base — which includes making the sidewalk stroll to get in the door simple, not perilous. Like Portland, Seattle needs to nurture a healthy, not antagonistic, relationship between city police and residents.
Travel Portland’s open letter was offbeat but earnest; Fox News trolled it as “a format resembling a poem,” and reminded its audience of the city’s violent turmoil. But the ad’s underlying message ought to resonate north and south of the Columbia River. The time is right for Portland, Seattle and the region’s other cities to pull the plywood off the windows, help the homeless and rebuild a unique regional vibrancy.