Drawing inspiration for Cairns from hip city Portland
Travel is about more than just seeing the sights, for me at least.
I revel in the opportunity to observe and experience the public spaces and explore the local neighborhoods as if they were my very own.
That’s why my travel bucket list is characterised by towns or cities that are magnets for the millennial generation or rank highly on livability lists.
On my most recent trip to the United States I spent a few days exploring the city of Portland, Oregon for those very reasons.
This beautiful city has been recognised by top tier think tanks and international media for its culture of innovation, the ability to retain talent and general livability. The place’s appeal has also been boosted by Netflix show Portlandia, a sketch comedy poking fun at the city’s hipster population.
The list of things to do and see in Portland were endless, but here are six things I loved most about Portland that I think Cairns could learn from or adopt to grow our own livability rating.
1. Power of the precinct
Whilst I acknowledge Portland is a far more sizeable city than the city of Cairns (it’s population of 627k towers over our 160k), the power of the precinct was evident. Portland city’s various neighborhoods are brilliantly promoted and visitors are encouraged to find the city’s multiple personalities in each of the 15 unique precincts or districts. It reminded me that Cairns has more than just a great CBD. We have a number of unique neighborhoods, each with their own individual charm and character. It would be great to see these further developed and better promoted for both residents and visitors to explore.
2. Celebrating public art
Located in Northeast Portland, the Alberta Arts District felt like a comfortable, well-worn piece of clothing. It was like an old wardrobe favorite with a relaxed fit, a few loose threads and not much shine. While the arts district is a bit hipster-ish, it is well known for its many boutiques, galleries and indie shops – which is probably why some Melbourne coffee entrepreneurs chose to open their Proud Mary café in this neighborhood. But that’s not even the best part.
A leisurely stroll down the main street provides an epic sensory overload, with every street corner crossed, alleyway passed or spare piece of wall strolled by providing a glimpse of an interesting mural. Needless to say, I was compelled to stop every five steps to appreciate the beauty of almost every frieze.
Cairns has some great carefully curated public art works in its well-manicured public spaces, but there is something truly special about the freedom of an artist’s expression which is only found in Cairns in a few spots such as the Grafton St alleyway where Caffiend was previously located. More alleyway murals and artistic expression would go a long way to enhance the vibrancy of our streetscape and make our laneways more enticing.
3. Careful and considered curation
I was compelled to check out Division Street as it has been lauded as a case-study of how cities can foster bright new scenes in tired and old urban neighborhoods - thus boasting a rather different feel to Alberta.
The ‘DStreet Village’ development is a great example of how mixed-use developments and carefully curated tenancies can transform a neighborhood and act as a catalyst to economic development by attracting startup “mom-and-pop” shops and new residents.
Division Street is a prime example of how a concerted and collaborative effort to revitalise an established neighborhood or street can result in an emerging scene with a flamboyant mix of the old and the new, including restaurants and bars, retail spaces large and small and residential living options. There is certainly a bountiful opportunity all around Cairns - Sheridan Street springs to mind which, in its current state, looks more like an un-brushed, toothless smile in parts.
4. Eat, drink, repeat
One of the best things I discovered when visiting Portland was that the rumors about its craft beer, coffee and food scenes were all true. Boasting more than 500 food carts, 1000 coffee shops and 130 breweries, the city of Portland has achieved a certain status as one of America’s best for food and beverages. Mobile eateries, diverse cuisine, beer gardens, boutique shopping and party vibes all co-exist and create a vibrant scene.
If you’ve flicked through any edition of Tropic Magazine you’ll know a number of local restaurateurs are killing it. And as our “regional coffee capital” article in edition 5 showed, Cairns undeniably has a strong coffee game comparable to any in Australia on a per capita basis. Our brewery scene is emerging and the establishment of foodie event Meet, Eat, Repeat has started to drive and lead a competitive culinary trade aimed at millennials. More permanent food-truck parks would be a great use of open spaces where residents and visitors could congregate on a sunny day to break bread and chew the fat.
5. Soak up the sun
A visit to Portland in the summer was magic but on average there are only 144 sunny days per year in Portland. Locals described the weather as glorious for three months of the year and then wet and gloomy for the rest. No. Thank. You.
I’ll take our tropical weather any day of the week. The Cairns climate (well, mostly the humidity) is often said to be a deterrent for would be sea-changers – but our 230+ days of sun are surely something to be celebrated and owned with greater pride. Especially as it’s conducive to our extensive recreational offerings – which leads me to my final point…
6. Oh, the things to see and do
Free (or low cost) recreational activities are abundant in Portland and local residents do a great job promoting them to visitors. Biketown (sponsored by Nike, which is headquartered in Portland) is an affordable and convenient way to get around the city – perfect for checking out the Saturday Markets, the famous Rose Garden or getting between the districts. There are some great hikes just outside of the city which are easily accessible by car or through public transport.
Cairns has an abundance of things to see and do, whether it be the Botanic Gardens or Tanks Markets, or fishing and snorkeling, or even rainforest hiking, creek exploring or mountain biking… the list goes on and on!
I’m sure I’m not alone when I coyly admit I haven’t done half the local hikes or seen half the sights in my own backyard. We have a great untapped opportunity to embrace, celebrate and promote all that is good to see and do in our own backyard – for visitors and residents alike. Greater accessibility around the inner-city suburbs would help enable this and it would be interesting to see if a public bike system would work in Cairns.
With that, I challenge you to visit someplace new next weekend and share your experience with us via #tropicnow #exploreTNQ #showusyourCNS – if you need some inspiration, find me on Facebook @accidentalcollisions and drop me a line!