The real hipsters of Portland have had it.
With the cost of living in Rose City steadily rising, some Portlanders are packing up and heading to Detroit in pursuit of the music and art scene Portland was known for in the 1990s.
An abandoned house in Detroit, MI overlooks the city's downtown. Photo: Harvard.edu
Realtor Larry Else of Realty Flo, who famously represented a Detroit man selling his house for an iPhone in 2014, said he has helped at least five Portlanders buy homes in Detroit in the last year. He said he is in the process of helping a handful more, all connected through word of mouth.
“They’ve been buying houses in decent neighborhoods, move-in ready, for 20 grand,” Else said. “It started with a band member, and then he moved out the rest of his band, then they all got their own homes.”
'Portland isn't the same'
Multiple venues that once formed the backbone of Portland's music scene have now closed--Satyricon, Slabtown, The Blue Monk, Laughing Horse Books, Backspace, East End, Berbati’s, Langano, to name a few--and neighborhoods in Southeast where bands like Sleater-Kinney once practiced at full volume are now home to middle-class families.
"Whenever I talk to people from Portland, it's 'Portland isn’t the same anymore," Else said. According to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, which measures the value of residential real estate, and calculates the average change in value of real estate year over year, Portland’s index rose 70 percent between 2000 and 2014.
Each artist has purchased a home in the range of $20,000, he said, and that although there is red tape involved in making modifications and additions, such as studio garages, it's rarely enforced.
One woman, a Portland musician who Else helped to close a deal in a central Detroit neighborhood, talked about painting her house a "crazy color."
"It's totally acceptable out here to do that, the neighbors are going to be happy they’re occupying the place," Else said. "A band can practice and no one is going to compain."
Detroit is still battling urban blight and a significant population loss: in 1990, Detroit had just over one million people, and its population currently hovers between 600,000 and 700,000 people. Still, Detroit's emerging business and artist community is a supportive, friendly one, Else said. The city boasts a growing arts scene, urban farms, and eco-projects started by "urban pioneers" who move to the city because of its affordable cost of living and opportunity to build community.
One of the definitions of "urban pioneer" offered up by UrbanDictionary specifies someone "who buys a run-down house in an older sometimes depressed neighborhood of a city, remodels it, then sells it for a profit." While widely accepted as the first wave of gentrification, in the broader sense, an urban pioneer moves to an undeveloped and low-market area, bringing a wave of new business, art, and innovation that leads to urban renewal.
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