Vancouver Is Not Portland, and That’s Just Right

Vancouver and Portland have a relationship that is, well, complicated. For some they are too close, and Vancouver seems bland and uninteresting, lost in the glare reflected from its more glamorous neighbor. For others, they are too far apart, separated by an iconic river, an aging bridge and an eternal traffic nightmare.

But things change. Helping this trend considerably is the gradual makeover of Vancouver's dull image. Researching this post, I learned for the first time about "Vantucky," a nickname for Vancouver certainly not meant as a compliment. But today, scared off by sky-high land costs in Portland, developments and businesses attractive to millennials are finding a more affordable home in Vancouver. Even that most iconic of Portland amenities – the food cart pod – is trying to show its face in town.

The key to the whole thing, however, is the remake of the Vancouver waterfront. Boise Cascade operated a paper plant downtown from the 1920s until 2005, chasing off residents and businesses and stymying investment and growth for nearly a century. Now the plant is gone and respected developer Gramor Development leads a group of private investors working to redevelop the property.

The 35-acre site is poised to reenergize downtown with new residences, businesses, shops, a hotel and a 7-acre park along the river. The food options will be particularly mouth-watering: the Port of Vancouver opened a pub-style restaurant nearby in July 2016, and plenty of other hip eateries are on the way.  

On June 20, the Vancouver City Council also approved a river-oriented master plan for the remake of the Port of Vancouver's Terminal 1, a 10-acre site just north of the Interstate Bridge. The site will include office, retail, a public market, hotel, apartments and restaurant. The project is expected to create 800 new jobs and $93 million in new tax revenue.

Housing costs are making Vancouver more attractive also. As of March 2017, the median home price in Vancouver was 25% to 33% less than prices for equivalent homes in Portland. For a city with a population one-fifth that of Portland, this represents a significant slice of the housing pie for the region.

Vancouver is no doubt a city on the rise, but will it fall victim to its own success? I think Vancouver's success will have staying power if it takes advantage of its proximity to Portland but still retains its own identity. If Vancouver can develop a 21st century economy and job base while still remaining comparatively affordable, then it will attract growth on its own and not have to rely on a commuter culture. Nobody wants to drive between Portland and Vancouver five times a week if they can avoid it, but the lure of an occasional cross-river trip in either direction can only help in drawing good jobs and businesses to both cities. The two cities' relationship will not be too close, nor too far, but rather just right. As Goldilocks knows, that's just where you want to be.