The best view in any city is often the one closest to the ground. In Portland, it seems as if the higher the vantage point, the more the details get lost. Seen from above, the city appears on fire. The streets have turned into a war zone. Masked anarchists gather every weekend to brawl with Nazis, the police never change out of their riot gear, and you risk catching splatter from a milkshake just by stepping off your porch. At least, that’s what it looks like through the telescope of the national media.

But get up close, rather than just flying over, and you’ll find thousands of individual stories, beyond the protests and punch-outs, that don’t all fit together in a way that’s easy, obvious or convenient.

Our annual Best of Portland issue is where we try to do just that.

Every year around this time, we choose to put the big stories on hold and instead spotlight the people, places and projects operating in the background—the little things that tell us what it’s truly like to be a Portlander.

It can be as simple as a killer brownie sundae or as elaborate as the futuristic food lab hidden in the basement of a luxury hotel. It’s everything from the local teenager dominating the niche sport of fly casting to the guys who smuggled a crashed airplane out of Canada to put on display in their new brewery.

Sometimes, the little things aren’t all that little, like the massive piece of chalk created by a group of Reed College students, or the local party promoters who tried to break the record for the world’s largest blanket fort. In other cases, it’s small gestures that make a big difference, like the chef delivering healthy food to sex workers late at night, or the kid who created his own neighborhood recycling service to pick up the stuff the city won’t.

And because you live here, too, we’ve given you a voice as well—the overwhelming response to our Readers’ Poll is perhaps the most definitive proof that, for all the angst and cynicism that seem to be in the air right now, Portlanders will still go to bat for the organizations they love most.

Take it all in, Portland. This is your city, and you’re damn lucky to live here. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.