I promised myself that after living in Portland, Oregon for a year that I would reflect back on my decision to move here and evaluate the pros and cons of doing so. I'm sure that 95% of you might find this blog post a little boring, but for me, it is an opportunity to look inward and to focus on the future in my life and career. I also think it might be helpful for anyone else looking to make a huge change - whether it be a move to a new city or something else - may this post offer perspective and help you on your journey... or you can just look at the pretty pictures.
Matt Payne Photography Blog: Moving From Colorado Springs To Portland, Oregon - A Year Later - Was It Worth It?
I am a 5th generation native to Colorado Springs, a city within a short drive of some of my all-time favorite things to do - camping, mountain climbing, snowboarding, backpacking, hiking - an absolute perfect place to be a landscape photographer. Having lived there most of my life (my whole life except my 4-years of college spent in Grand Junction, Colorado), I had some deep roots there - I was on two non-profit boards, I had an amazing set of extraordinary friends, and both my parents were close-by - a truly wonderful commodity indeed. I had grown a nice following for my photography business as well, and even made a name for myself in the Colorado mountaineering circles for the work on my other website. Unfortunately, all of these positive factors could not compensate for how we were starting to feel. My wife and I had grown more and more disenchanted with the state of our city and its lack of progress towards being a more vibrant city that is able to attract and retain young professionals. We served on non-profit committees and leadership groups aimed towards improving these issues, but the needle barely moved. In fact, I had grown so frustrated with living there, that I wrote a letter to city council and posted it on Facebook. Lastly, the divide between our political beliefs and those of the general population that lived there had grown to a point where I could barely stand it any longer.
The Siren Call of Portland, Oregon
Rewind back to December, 2013. My wife and I had returned from an incredible Thanksgiving holiday where we spent a week exploring the city of Portland, Oregon. We had stayed at great VRBO rental in the Alberta Arts District of Portland, just a couple minutes walk from shops, vegan restaurants, bars, boutiques, galleries, and more. Everything we had dreamed of living within walking distance to was right there, easily accessible, with lots of quirky attitude. You see, my wife is a vegan and my son and I are a vegetarians - a lifestyle not easily accomplished in every city in America, especially not Colorado Springs, where most restaurants don't even know what vegan means. It was amazing being in a more contemporary city with a vibrant downtown and countless attractions for young people. The city also seemed to be well-planned, with clusters of small neighborhoods that had everything you needed within a 10-minute walk, a stark contrast to Colorado Springs, where it is not uncommon to spend the better part of 30 minutes to an hour a day in the car just to run errands because the city's design is so poor and everything is spread out into a giant collection of suburbias.
In Portland, everywhere we went the people were incredibly friendly and the opportunities for exploration and adventure seemed endless to us. To top it all off, everything was green and alive! The weather was much warmer and the rain did not bother us.
On our plane trip back to Colorado, we could not help but notice the vast sprawl of Colorado Springs and the ugly brown land below as we approached the runway. It was somewhat of an epiphany for us - Portland was just better.
The hard decision to move
Let me start off by saying that this was not an easy decision to make, not at all. My wife and I are hardly the type to just do things on a whim, we are both planners at our cores. We had no plans to move away and had never really even considered it before; however, before I knew it, we had already ordered a Portland relocation book and started researching neighborhoods heavily. We had long talks about the pros and cons of moving away from Colorado Springs, about what it would take to pull it off, and what scenarios would be acceptable to make the move become a reality. We crunched numbers. We built spreadsheets. We researched. We talked with friends. We thought about it night and day. Luckily, our house we owned was already for sale, as we were hoping to upgrade to a better home in a better neighborhood, so that was already set in motion. Finally, we decided to see how far we could get in the process. I committed to begin applying for jobs. We knew that we wanted to keep our dual income status for financial reasons, so the decision to move would entirely rest on two factors:
1. If I could find a job making roughly the same amount of money, and,
2. If my wife could keep her current job and work from home via Portland
So the search was on. I applied for two jobs in total, one that was at another Community Health Center similar to the one I was working at in Colorado Springs, and one that I still have today. I interviewed and got the job by the end of December, much to our disbelief. We had no idea it would happen so quickly. Angela confirmed she could work remotely and the decision was done. We even were able to secure a buyer for our house in the nick of time, thanks to our awesome realtor and amazing friend, Jariah Walker. We announced our decision to friends and family and were met with both excitement and disappointment - especially from my parents. They were understandably upset that we were leaving, but it was something we just had to do. The idea of moving to Portland had me absolutely elated for weeks and weeks. The search for an apartment began and again, I lucked out - finding an awesome loft in the Belmont District, surrounded by shops, restaurants, bars, and more - all within biking distance to my new job downtown.
If you too are looking to move to Portland, I recommend this City Guide to Living in Portland and Its Neighborhoods!
Was the grass really greener on the other side?
Quite simply - YES.
Portland, Oregon is truly a wonderful place to live if you have the means to do so and can find employment to sustain the lifestyle that makes it a great place to be.
I literally live on top of a grocery store that has over 500 beers for sale - probably more than any liquor store in Colorado Springs. I can walk or ride my bike to world class taprooms, some of the country's best, including Apex and Belmont Station. There are over 50 breweries in Portland and many others across Oregon. I've still not even visited them all after a year of living here.
I drive my car no more than 10 miles a week unless I'm travelling to the coast (did I mention the Oregon Coast is an hours drive from Portland) or the Columbia River Gorge. I can ride my bike to work every day, even in the winter if I choose to - a lifestyle that both supports improved health and reduced carbon emission. To top it off, there's actually good public transportation here - including a very robust bus system (with some critics that find it difficult to use on the outskirts of town), and a fabulous light-rail train.
My wife and I also no longer worry about eating out or finding food that we can eat - there are dozens upon dozens of restaurants here that cater to the meat-free lifestyle as well, and most normal restaurants have lots of meat-free options on their menus. Just within a block of my apartment exists over 10 awesome restaurants, and about 30-40 more within 10 blocks. I've not tried half of them yet. I'm also sure you've heard about the food carts - there are a ton of food cart pods around town, clustered together like outdoor mini food malls with huge variety and flavors. Near my office downtown, there are probably 100 food carts for me to choose from during lunch. It is quite insane.
The Pacific Northwest is arguably one of the best places to live if you're a landscape photographer. The subject matter is diverse and plentiful. There are coasts, beaches, waterfalls, rainforests, mountains, cities, deserts and more. My only two complaints here are that there are not more mountains in Oregon to see and the rain does interfere with your plans quite a bit.
Portland really is one of the most liberal places I've ever been. Most people I've met are even more liberal, on average, than me. It is quite refreshing to not be on the extreme opposite end of the spectrum than everyone around me where I live. To make matters more interesting, I'm sure you've heard the phrase, "Keep Portland Weird"? It is no joke - this place is a riot. I've seen some strange things while living here, and it makes life all that more rich, including public nudity, a naked bike ride with thousands of people, a unicyclist wearing a darth vader mask that blows fire out of a bagpipe, and much much more.
So, I've spent some time here touting all of the wonderful things about Portland, and there are many; however, I think it is also good for me to highlight some of things I miss about Colorado and some of the things that irk me about Portland, in case anyone is still reading.
1. I really, really miss the Colorado mountains.
They are just a part of who I am, and those mountains run deep. I even went as far as to get a tattoo of my favorite Colorado mountain (Vestal Peak) on my arm to remind myself of that part of me every single day (not sure if that was such a good decision since it serves the purpose of making me homesick every time I look in the mirror). I've made it a point to go back to Colorado to continue working towards my goal of climbing the highest 100 mountains there (I'm at 84 in case you're wondering).
2. Making new friends.
This has been one of the hardest parts of the move. I've found that in general, Portlanders are a cliquey group, with some exceptions of course. It has been tough making really meaningful connections, with the exception of a few people. Also, the school our son goes to has an overwhelming amount of parents that don't quite seem to be the same types of people as us (not worse, just different). It kind of reminds me of that Portlandia episode... or perhaps we have just not been very approachable ourselves, hard to say.
3. Cost of living.
So, we knew it would be tough, but is really a lot tougher than I thought. Portland just made the list of the 10 least affordable cities in the country. The home prices here are absolutely absurd. There's a $410,000 condo down the street that has zero appeal, and I bet it will sell in a matter of days. The market is just crazy. Our rent keeps going up. Food is expensive. But we manage. It's worth it. Will we ever own a home? I can't say for certain, but I sure do love it here.
One of the most difficult parts of leaving Colorado was leaving my mom and dad behind. As an only child, I have a wonderful relationship with my parents and hope to keep it that way for the rest of our lives. I'm sure that they miss my wife and son a great deal as well (probably more than they miss me, hah), and of course, having a babysitter 15 minutes away was a huge help!
5. That "homeless problem."
So, I actually have nothing against homeless people - in fact, I work for an organization that assists clinics that serve this population on a daily basis. I used to be on the board of directors for a youth homeless shelter. I want to help. Here's the deal, the problem in Portland is pretty extreme. We don't just have your "run of the mill" homeless folks - the mentally-ill, the disenfranchised veterans, the kids on hard times. We have migratory homeless, affectionately referred to here as "road warriors" that steal bikes and set-up bike chop shops. It is a fascinating and troublesome conundrum obfuscated by a myriad of factors. In fact, the local paper is doing a pretty extensive bit on it this month that is actually quite a good read that helps explain it all much better than I can here. The signs of homelessness are all around us, all of the time. It is not uncommon for me to interact with homeless people several times a day. Again - I have no issues with the people... I have issues with the problem and the factors that contribute to it.
I don't regret my decision to leave Colorado Springs and move to Portland Oregon. It was one of the best things I think I've ever done in my life. It challenged me to expand my horizons and to make a better place for myself and my family somewhere where we are a better fit. I'm grateful for all of the relationships I made back in Colorado and try hard to stay connected to those people whenever I can; however, I'm also excited for what the future holds here in Portland. Check back in with me in another year, and I hope I'll still feel the same way. Until then, enjoy the view!
Update - October 30, 2015: I'm moving back to Colorado, this time to Durango. I love Portland a lot; however, I found an awesome job opportunity in a location I've been dying to be at for a long time - right at the base of my favorite mountains. Portland is certainly not for everyone - the cost of living is exploding like crazy.
Update - December 13, 2018: We still live in Durango and love it here. I sometimes miss the big city amenities, but its awesome being in a smaller town so close to recreation.