Why Gresham Is Better Than Portland! (nah nah nah)

Okay, okay I actually don’t think that Gresham is better than Portland. I got your attention though, right?

However I do think that in several categories, Gresham CRUSHES its bigger, cooler, neighbor-city.

I lived in Portland on and off for about ten years. Now I live in Gresham, but I didn’t move here by choice; a year and a half ago, I broke up with the boyfriend I was living with, and having no job really, I had to move back in with my parents in Gresham. I went from living in a beautiful old Portland house in the Clinton neighborhood, to living in half of my parent’s duplex off of a busy road out to Happy Valley. I thought my life was over.

But now, after a year or so living here, I have come to appreciate many of the benefits to living in Gresham and am considering making this my permanent home.

Here’s my mostly-complete list of Gresham Awesomeness:

1. Summertime

I love being out in nature and when I moved out to Gresham, I was surprised at how much easier it was to actually get to the nature…

Many people move to Portland from other cities for the natural beauty of our area; they’re drawn in by photos of the city skyline with Mt. Hood in the background. When they move here they think they’ll be going out to the Gorge, or to the Sandy River all the time. They’ll be sampling the Pacific Northwest’s “natural playground,” on a weekly basis.

But sadly, I know that when I lived in Portland, when the days got longer and the city got hotter, I rarely made it out of the city without mucho effort and planning. It’s true, you can easily get out of the city to the beach or Mt. Hood, but how often do you actually make it happen? The temptation of a patio bar and some cold beers were usually enough to keep me inside the city limits.

Last summer was my first summer in Gresham and I made a decision: as long as I was going to be out here in the burbs, I may as well make it work to my advantage. I decided to go out in nature as often as I could. And it was awesome! I had the best summer in years. For three months I went down to the river or on a hike once or twice a week.

Latourell Falls with my friend Leonard last summer

Latourell Falls with my friend Leonard last summer

Well, you might protest, Portland has Forest Park and a ton of other city parks! What about those? All I can say is: SERIOUSLY? Not the same.

When I lived in San Francisco, and would complain about how crowded and urban it was, people would tell me to go to Golden Gate Park for some “nature.” Sometimes I wonder if the people suggesting these kinds of remedies have ever been in a real wilderness environment in their lives. Um, going to a highly-manicured landscape full of tourists, homeless kids, dog-walkers and folks like me, trying to maintain their fragile sanity, is not therapeutic.

This brings me to my second point….

2. It’s Less Crowded in Gresham

Okay, people who’ve lived in huge cities are gonna laugh at this one. I know Portland isn’t crowded, but if you hate waiting for a table in a restaurant, searching endlessly for a parking space, getting stuck in traffic, waiting for a computer at the library, or shopping in crowded grocery stores, maybe you should move to Gresham! It’s never crowded out here. The only time you’ll have to wait in line is at the post office or the DMV.

3. Real Diversity

Portland’s core has only gotten more white in the last ten years. Anecdotally, when I used to work at New Season’s on twentieth and Division street, and was bored at work, I used to pass time by counting non-white people that walked by my cheese counter. Sometimes I would go a solid hour before I saw a non-white customer. That’s how white Portland is.

Furthermore, because of the gentrification of North Portland a lot of African American Portlanders have moved out to East Portland and Gresham. This has only increased Gresham’s diversity. We’ve had a large Hispanic, Russian, and Asian population for years. I’m not saying Black Portlanders should be happy about the dispersal of their historic community, but I have noticed how darn diverse Gresham has become in the last few years, and by golly, I like it!

When people complain about how white Portland is, I feel like telling them to come out to Gresham! It’s plenty diverse out here. When I go to the grocery store I see many cultures and races represented. Besides, when people complain about Portland’s whiteness, it really helps no one, especially if they themselves are recent, white transplants. If you're upset by the lack of racial diversity, i would suggest you help work for affordable housing, send your kids to public schools, and read up on Oregon’s racist past. Then you can complain. (I will allow it.)

Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now….

But that leads me to my fourth point:

4. Gresham has Great “Ethnic Food.”

I hate that phrase…and I just used it…

Seriously, the high immigrant population of Gresham makes our world cuisine as good, or better than anything in Portland.

Two of my favorites: Selma’s, a Mediterranean bakery and deli with fresh homemade dishes and pastries and Asian Thai Bistro, a cute little Thai place in downtown Gresham.

In addition to restaurants we have a ton of bakeries, meat markets, import stores and grocery stores where you can find all kinds of cool, imported foods and novelties.

5. Gresham Has Most of the Stuff That Portland Has.

We have a cool, very vintage, second-run theatre. It's called the Mt. Hood theatre and it's on Powell. We have a natural foods store. We have the best Mcmenamins in the state, (Edgefield) with live music.* We have an awesome public library. We have a great city park with a skate park. The Springwater Trail is out here. The Max runs through downtown.

6. Gresham Has Stuff That Portland Doesn’t Have.

We have way more vintage and second-hand shops, with better, cheaper stuff. We have weird, old restaurants like Tad’s Chicken n Dumplins’, The Trufflehunter, The Tippy Canoe and out in Sandy, Calamity Jane’s.

A rare gem spotted at Foxtrot Vintage in downtown Gresham.

A rare gem spotted at Foxtrot Vintage in downtown Gresham.


We have a cute, walk-able downtown with coffee shops and small businesses. We have the outlets stores, and more shops and galleries in nearby Troutdale.


7. Rockwood!


We also have Rockwood, which deserves it’s own number on the list. Rockwood was annexed by Gresham a few years ago because Portland didn’t want it.


Most people know that the Portland city government seems to ignore the city east of 82nd Ave. As you travel east on Division, Powell, or Stark streets, you can see poverty increase and sidewalks decrease. Many folks moving to Portland don’t realize that when people talk about “Portlandia” they are talking about the Portland west of 82nd Ave. A lot of people so much avoid outer Southeast Portland that they really don’t know where Portland ends and Gresham begins. Rockwood is on the border of Gresham and Portland at the Max stop at 162nd.


And nowhere is this contrast in investment more apparent than in Rockwood. Gresham took over Rockwood many years ago and has actually helped to revitalize the area, putting in new street lights, better crosswalks and traffic lights and new public art.

Many people just know Rockwood because it’s gotten a lot of bad press because of the high crime in the area. However many people don’t know that Gresham has poured a ton of resources into Rockwood. I think with a little more TLC it could be Gresham’s own Mission District. With its high Hispanic population and abundance of public spaces, there’s a lot of potential there… Potential that Portland’s city government failed to see.


8. It’s Cheaper!


This is just so obvious. In every way, from taxes, to food, to gas, to especially housing…Gresham wins. It’s cheeeeeeeap out here.


9. And finally, Gresham is so close to Portland!


Okay, I admit it. There are a lot of things about Portland that I miss. There’s a reason why not a single one of my friends have moved to Gresham, and why my boyfriend, who works in Gresham, wants to move closer to his work, but is planning on finding a place in Montavilla, or at least somewhere that doesn’t feel too “Greshamy.”


The Morals play out at Tad's Chicken n Dumplins' 

The Morals play out at Tad's Chicken n Dumplins' 

There are just not that many cool things do to culturally out here. Aside from Edgefield, there’s not a lot of places to see (good) shows. Besides the first Friday arts-walk in Troutdale, and the Tad’s Storytelling Night that I run, (shameless plug) there’s not much going on out here. The one time I tried to collaborate with the local arts board it was a total disaster. (That’s a story for another blog entry.)


But luckily, Gresham is very close to another, cool, beautiful city. It’s called Portland … have you heard of it? 

*Not actually in Gresham.