On a rainy night aboard the No. 15 bus last winter, I got a feeling I hadn't experienced in Portland for more than a decade: I was lost.
It's the most welcome side effect of Portland's construction boom. Glance up from your phone, and you're in a neighborhood you've never seen before. With every new apartment tower comes a new streetscape next to it—with luck, it includes an alleyway and a staircase to a nook and a noodle shop.
It's happening across the city. A hanging garden perches above Sullivan's Gulch. A food cart marketplace is tucked beneath a brewpub in Lents. On Slabtown land that once belonged to trucking titan Con-Way, you can eat soup dumplings in wooden chairs along a three-block promenade reserved for joggers and cyclists.
The criticism applied to this city's wave of new rental buildings is that they are blocky, beige and indistinguishable from each other. That's largely true. But as these towers open and their ground-floor retail spaces fill, it's becoming clear how many new paths and courtyards they have added to the walking environment.
Everybody complains about Yard, the Borg spacecraft hovering above the east end of the Burnside Bridge. Nobody talks about the new stairwell district beneath—a cove under the bridgehead now filling with bars and spas, that looks like the set of Blade Runner 2049.
There's a useful debate to be had about whether so much civic infrastructure should be the domain of developers. But this much is inarguable: Portland is a better place to walk than it was five years ago. And that's because of the new apartments.