Since then, the bursting of the housing bubble has altered the economic landscape while having little effect on Oregon’s special ability to inspire polarizing hyperbole. And nowhere are the possible outcomes of the “Oregon experiment” debated more heatedly than in our own community, where the competing viewpoints embodied by Kotkin and Florida inform decisions ranging from when to expand the urban growth boundary to how to escape this recession alive. So it bears noting how Kotkin and Florida, while peering up at the falling sky, have softened their language.
Florida still heralds the rise of the creative class. But perhaps he’s aware that advising mayors to build more art galleries, much less to look to flailing places like Portland as models, doesn’t strike quite the right note for these times. So he’s toned down the go-go optimism. His rhapsodies on the bobo lifestyle are gone, replaced with a scattershot array of long-understood truisms about the might of urban powerhouses like Seattle and New York.
Similarly, Kotkin still chastises Oregon for promoting urban density at the cost of inflating land prices (sending major high-tech manufacturing companies like Vestas scurrying off to Texas). But, like Florida, he has modulated his tone. Recognizing it’s bad form to be a total naysayer in the face of tragedy, he concludes his column by conjecturing that our region’s tradition of small entrepreneurship might help us rebound—then offers the pitiable evidence of a single, unnamed marketing start-up in Bend.
At last Kotkin and Florida have agreed on something: the importance of adapting your rhetoric, while clinging to your blindered ideology, when disaster strikes. As citizens, given the challenges ahead—like replacing dried-up inflows of fool’s gold from the California housing bubble with stable, wealth-generating industries, while continuing to press for sustainable urban growth—we might consider reaching higher. Trading knee-jerk reactions for honest analysis and innovative thinking is a daunting feat. But with so many creative Oregonians sitting idle, and unemployment figures still rising, there’s never been a better time to try.