Support Crosscut

Portland vs. ‘The Couv’: volleys across the Columbia

Vancouver, Wash., Mayor Royce Pollard.

Vancouver, Wash., Mayor Royce Pollard. (State of Washington)

“Welcome to the ‘Couv,” Willamette Week‘s March 21 cover story, set out to acquaint its readers with Vancouver, Wash., “that strange land to the north.” A few bleats of protest followed from Vancouverites (I refuse to call them “Vancooters”) and the news staff of The Columbian responded with a tasteful jab on Tuesday, April 3:

Clark County has no topless bars. However, we apparently are the home of a nude slip ‘n’ slide event every August. That information was, well, uncovered by the folks at Willamette Week, who took a break recently from grousing about the shortcomings of The Oregonian‘s editorial board to write a cover story about Vancouver. We thought the Pulitzer Prize-winning publication did OK, although they did get the site of the first Burgerville wrong.

The WWeek editorial staff framed their exploration this way: “Where are those 130,000 vehicles that traverse the Interstate Bridge going each day? What do they do up there? We don’t mean to be snooty, but isn’t Vancouver just where you go to buy better fireworks?” A posse of WWeek reporters trekked north, where they fanned out to all-night restaurants, the mayor’s office, and newspaper archives reporting on local serial killers. “And guess what we found: one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities over the past 20 years. In fact, Vancouver could soon become Washington’s second largest city after Seattle.” The writers’ mock surprise at discovering gay businesses and other signs of higher urban evolution isn’t far off the mark in reflecting the attitude of many Portlanders, who either don’t know squat about Vancouver or dismiss it as a traffic-causing bedroom ‘burb with sales tax. For those folks, WWeek‘s Mike Thelin makes points well worth noting, such as:

What if the region’s success at controlling growth while still maintaining one of the nation’s more robust economies is because of … Vancouver? Or more specifically, because Vancouver has fewer land-use laws and limits on growth? Has Vancouver become a convenient place to handle Portland’s overflow, for those who wanted to live, work and play in the area, but who also wanted a bigger yard, lower taxes and a house on a cul-de-sac? All this so Portland could build its light rail, trams and condo towers.

In other words, has Vancouver become our safety valve? Consider this: While Portland has grown respectably and gradually since the booming 1990s, Vancouver has exploded. Clark County’s population nearly doubled from 238,000 in 1990 to more than 400,000 today.

The must-read section of the ‘Couv coverage, though, is the Q&A with Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard, a quotable maverick who once protested Starbucks selling mugs inscribed with “Portland” in his city by calling a press conference and smashing a few of the offending cups. Pollard told WWeek: “I tell my friends in Portland that Vancouver is the second-largest city in the state of Oregon. Because it is. We’re part of the [Portland ] metropolitan area. People need to get over that.” The string of WWeek readers commenting on the newspaper’s site about the ‘Couv cover is remarkably friendly, compared to responses often generated by the alt-weekly. Several readers wonder why the good Vancouver public schools were neglected in the article; many are smug about their affordable housing just minutes from downtown Portland. But reader “mel” says it best: “I think it’s quite funny how Portland is trying to act like its a big city, by claiming its own New Jersey. I’m just glad to read an article that doesn’t blame people from California.”

Support Crosscut