Pearl District Neighborhood in Portland, Oregon
The art, food, urban renewal, meshing together of the old and the new, locals and other Portlanders occupying sidewalks, porches and patios all set the scene of the Pearl District vibe. On a day like today when the high is 87 degrees and the week is coming to a close, families swarm the charming parks, where children splash in the water, cool off, and run to their mothers on blankets in the grass. As for those who work in the area, on lunch breaks they sit on the many benches that provide an urban yet green scenery, eating their lunches and relaxing before heading back. The Pearl is a neighborhood that attracts Portlanders from all areas of the city, because there is so much going on and it's a fun place to be.
The Pearl District vs. Funky Portland
I talked to Nancy for a bit, who works in the area but lives in Sellwood. She had a lot of great things to say about the Pearl District, as all her favorite places to go are within the neighborhood. Nancy lived in a studio in the Pearl about ten years ago when she first moved to Portland, and after a little while moved to SE Portland. While Nancy said she loves living in SE Portland, there is a cohesiveness in the Pearl that she says “isn’t found in the funky neighborhoods of SE.” In other words, the elegance and feel create a kind of consistency that isn’t found in the funkier parts of Portland. Another reason Nancy enjoys coming to the Pearl District is because wandering around the streets can be such an adventure. “The design and recent development of the Pearl make it fun to just walk around,” she said. I think one thing Nancy said, that gets at the heart of the Pearl, is that she “lives in a funky neighborhood, works for a non-profit, and sometimes [she] just likes to come to the Pearl to play pretend,” whether that is dressing up and going to an uppity restaurant, or walking along the streets on a typical day.
The Possibilities in the Pearl
The Pearl District neighborhood is located near Old Town/Chinatown, Northwest, Goose Hollow and Downtown neighborhoods. Located in NW Portland and a short walk to downtown, all of the people that work and live in the neighborhood that I spoke to love the accessibility. On foot, by bike, by streetcar, you name it. This neighborhood offers all modes of Portland transportation in a conveniently accessible way. And while downtown is fun and has a lot to offer, residents of the Pearl District pretty much have everything they need from the Whole Foods Market to restaurants, coffee shops, brewpubs, banks, day cares, spas, pet goods & services, parks, health services, gyms and art galleries. The list goes on.
Parks in the Pearl
Jamison Square Park swarms with children for its fountain. The park also includes grassy areas to lay beneath the trees, and public art statues to accentuate the urban-artsy feel. The neighborhood is, after all, home to two of Portland’s art schools: Portland Northwest College of the Arts and the Art Institute of Portland. Aligning the northern side of the park is a paved sidewalk aligned with quaintly planted trees that illuminate during the night with twinkly lights, and benches that are spotted with Portlanders reading and chatting. And along the sidewalk are a couple of cafes with outdoor seating and great atmosphere. One of the cafes is Cloud Nine Cafe where Austin works, who lives in the Pearl and is a student at PNCA. Austin says that he enjoys living in the Pearl because of its convenience to everything else, but it is a little too “cookie cutter” for him. This is no surprise to me, since he is a student at an art school, and probably is attracted to more abstract settings. And the Pearl definitely has a sense of upper-class life that is not appealing to some. But to others, it is a sort of urban Elysium.
Another park in the neighborhood is Tanner Springs Park which was built based on the plans of the community maintaining public spaces and reusing the old for the new. There was once a lake, that was eventually filled for residencies and businesses, where Tanner Springs now sits, and the design team wanted to bring back the natural springs that once occupied the land. With a modern and urban twist to green space, Tanner Springs Park was created thanks to volunteers.
While there are plenty of apartments, condos, boutiques and restaurants that are within newer buildings, many of the spaces in the neighborhood have been renovated into “pearls” if you will. The neighborhood is said to have taken its name from the pearls of art galleries and fine dining experiences, found within old warehouses or drab “shells.” But the renovation of many of the neighborhood’s old warehouses are what make the buildings so interesting and unique. One space, the Natural Capital Center owned by Ecotrust, is home to several different businesses and firms that are working together not to “get ahead” but to “create a better world,” says Lauren who works at Citizen Coffee within the Ecotrust building. Citizen Coffee uses 100% fair trade beans and is the only coffee venue that features “Sustainable Harvest Coffee Importers direct-relationship coffee beans.” Lauren seemed very ardent about the goals and mission of the shared space she works in, and talked to me about the Pearl District in a short video interview.
For students that live in the Pearl, the schools nearby are Chapman Elementary, West Sylvan Middle and Lincoln High.
Taking a stroll down 10th
The neighborhood is busy with dog walkers, running partners, mothers and fathers with children, elderly couples sitting on benches and 20 somethings drinking coffee at nearby coffee shops. There is a diverse age group of people that live in the neighborhood during the day time, but as for locals there are mostly young families with either one or no children, singles, and retired couples. There are tons of high rise apartments, lofts and condos that are practical for small families, say locals.
The Pearl District Neighborhood is a fun place to go to for a day, to go out for dinner, and (I can only imagine) to live in. In this neighborhood I don’t see how anyone could get bored as there are exciting things to see and do around every street corner.