Can you have a progressive city properly so-called with only a disproportionate handful of African Americans in it? In addition, why has no one called these cities on it?Renn describes characterizes Portland as "White Flight writ large", asking
Why move to the suburbs of your stodgy Midwest city to escape African Americans and get criticized for it when you can move to Portland and actually be praised as progressive, urban and hip?Renn contends that density and livability policies like urban growth boundaries (in Portland's case, a state mandate administered by an elected regional government) and restrictions on building materials make housing less affordable for the urban poor and disproportionately affect minorities. He concludes that cities like Portland should not be so self-congratulatory about ostensibly progressive policies enabled by racial homogeneity.
Portland, like virtually all US cities, has a history of racial segregation and other egregious forms of discrimination. However, due to Portland's location and relative lack of industrial muscle there have been few historical motivations for significant black migrations to Portland. Liberty Ship construction during World War II, resulting in the ultimately doomed segregated city of Vanport, was a notable exception.
While policies that encourage density often raise the cost of urban housing, they also stimulate redevelopment and benefit those of modest means by reducing the need for lengthy drives to work and errands. Walkable cities, parks and farmers markets foster health and convenience for all, regardless of race.
Portland is far from a paragon of livability for all of its citizens. Indeed, the poorest areas of the city often have the least access to supermarkets, as shown in this figure from a USDA study published earlier this year. No city should be smug about its accomplishments, but while Renn shows that racism could motivate migration to Portland, he fails to show that a significant number of people have moved to Portland for that reason.
Is Portland's livability and progressive reputation enabled by its racial composition? Cast your vote in the first Digital Millwright poll at the top of this page!