More reasons why Portland may be the best city

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on August 30, 2013

From The News Desk

It's a beautiful afternoon in Brooklyn on the eve of Labor Day weekend and I'm sitting in my kitchen working on my computer. This can only mean that I'm pining for what I can't have. Today it is the land where rent is cheap and beer even cheaper: Portland.

Not really, of course, because everyone knows that Portland is the poor man's Brooklyn. But recent news reminded me that Portland may be one of the best cities to live in – and it has to do with a transportation app, and I say that without irony.

Next week, app maker GlobeSherpa, in conjunction with Portland's public transit system TriMet, will launch a new mobile ticketing app. I wrote about the beta version earlier this summer. I guess the trial went well enough to release it to the public.

This will be the first public transportation app that does mobile ticketing for all forms of public transportation. GlobeSherpa CEO Nat Parker called it a "multi-modal" system. So with this app I can buy tickets on my smartphone for Portland busses, trains, and light rails, then show the ticket when I board whatever cabin/compartment.

Contrast this convenience with New York, where you need a Metrocard for the subway or a ticket for the PATH to New Jersey. Then there are separate tickets for trains out of Grand Central and Penn Station. Trains to upstate New York take one type of ticket. Long Island requires another; trains to Jersey a third. Plus Penn Station smells like old food, but I digress.

I hope cities like New York take Portland's cue and find a way to implement a solid mobile ticket app for public transit. Would such a system be as successful in New York? That's questionable due to vast difference in population and general accessibility of the two cityscapes.

New York, with more than 8.2 million residents (all of whom seem to descend on Grand Central right before every holiday) and five boroughs, is a behemoth compared to Portland and its 593,000 residents who live in perfect little quadrants divided by a quaint river.

OK, a more seamless transportation system (and lots of dogs) isn't the only thing Portland has going for it. The city's tech scene is on the rise. Portland Business Journal reported that Silicon Valley-based Founder Institute is looking into launching a new incubator program there. Already there are nearly a dozen accelerator-like programs operating in the city.

Of course the city isn't without its faults. I lived in Portland for almost five years and always felt like the pace was just a little too slow. And you can't go there without hearing the word "funemployment," a one-word saying for a city with high unemployment and a low cost of living. That may be changing, though, as earlier this summer unemployment in Portland decreased on a level on par with the country's growing economy.

In the end, TriMet's news seems to sum up the city's ultimate motivation: convenience. Now more Portlanders can lazily quaff beer or take a bong hit, buy a bus ticket home, meander to the bus stop, then barbecue some corn in their backyard (while drinking more beer. Another reason to like Portland: microbreweries and wineries.).

Of course, I don't think the lackadaisical PDX lifestyle for which I yearn is necessarily congruous with the bustling life of a reporter. But a man can dream, can't he?

[Image courtesy David Berkowitz]