This was the year Portland ran out of superlatives.

We also ran out of toilet paper. It was that kind of year. But 2020 was primarily a time when words didn't do justice to the extreme nature of events.

The worst pandemic of our lifetimes was eclipsed by the longest-running protest in Portland history. The nightly marching ended only because of the most devastating week of wildfires Oregon's forests had ever experienced.

In the fall, WW decided to stop using the word "unprecedented." It had lost all meaning in 2020—a year without precedent.

When 2020 began, Portland had a booming economy, largely peaceful streets, and a rising national reputation. That's all gone now. So are many of our favorite restaurants, bars and shops. Worst of all, many of us lost loved ones—either to the virus itself or to the other disasters that followed in its wake.

Our sense of civic self-satisfaction? That's lost too, rendered obsolete by a racial justice movement that showed this progressive paradise was in many ways a shared fiction held by white people.

"All the inequities and all the disparities that we tiptoe around, COVID-19 laid those bare," says Dacia Grayber, a firefighter paramedic elected this year to represent Southwest Portland and Tigard in the Oregon Legislature. "It's kind of a weird silver lining. We can no longer pretend."

THE NEW NORMAL: Plywood, decorated with Black Lives Matter murals, covers boarded-up shops in downtown Portland, as passersby wear masks to guard against the virus.(Alex Wittwer)
THE NEW NORMAL: Plywood, decorated with Black Lives Matter murals, covers boarded-up shops in downtown Portland, as passersby wear masks to guard against the virus.(Alex Wittwer)

So much of the year felt unreal. Its losses were tallied on screens, explained in Zoom calls. It was the most eventful 12 months in our lifetimes, and we watched it alone, from a distance. We stayed home, and some of us stayed safe.

But what did any of it mean? Amid the chaos, what mattered?

We probably won't know the answer to that for a while. But we know the people whose lives changed irrevocably.

As WW's staff discussed the year, that's what we kept returning to: the people and places that won't be the same in 2021. Some of them rose to the moment. Some of them were overwhelmed. A few of them just came down with a bug.

But for all of the people and institutions in the following pages, 2020 won't be just a year of superlatives. It will mark a turning point in their histories.

We've identified people, places and experiences that defined the year. (Twenty, of course.) We caught up with Portlanders who confronted Donald Trump's police, or contracted the coronavirus. We selected four people who exemplify a new wave of leadership for this city. We mourned beloved establishments that closed for good. And we selected four habits we expect to last. (Put on that mask!)

We're thrilled that 2020 is over, and we hope the new year brings better things. But what these stories all show is one stark truth: For Portland, there's no going back to how things were before. Whether that's good news or bad news is up to all of us.