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Portlandness: A Cultural Atlas


“Every City Should Have An Atlas” – Rebecca Solnit

Portlandness: A Cultural Atlas is a collection of stories about Portland told primarily through maps. It is an effort to illuminate geographies of Portland that often go unnoticed.

A cultural atlas provides people with a new way of understanding places, a new cartography. It reveals hidden constellations of relationships. A cultural atlas challenges and develops people’s geographic imaginations. Through this book, stories about Portland are told at scales from the personal to the neighborhood to the metro limits to the global. In approaches both serious and humorous, we challenge accepted narratives of the city.

Maps have a strong hold on people’s imaginations. When presented with a map, most people take it as authority—this is what’s in this place. But all cartographers make decisions about what to include and what not to include and how best to represent the world. Maps are representations of how people see places; they’re not the places themselves.

Maps tell stories, and the mapmaker chooses how to tell that story. So many of the maps that people encounter are similar and use the same sets of conventions to symbolize the places that make up the world. To break free of these conventions, this book offers a large variety of map styles in an effort to provide a new look at Portland and a new look at cartography.

This atlas is not intended to be comprehensive in any way. As with any other place, Portland means many different things to different people. Some of those views of Portland are well known and have become stereotypes connected to the city. We examine some of the trendy ideas about Portland but try to show a much broader expanse of how the city is viewed and experienced, including areas and neighborhoods that are often ignored.

What we tried to make was a book that would get people thinking differently about Portland. We hoped that every reader, whether a lifelong Portland resident or someone who has only visited recently, would learn something new about the city and be challenged to see the city from other perspectives. It seems to us that there is inherent value in trying to see the city from new points of view.

Portlandness came about as a collaborative project. Dozens of PSU students, colleagues, and alumni contributed to the book. It is our tribute to Portland. We hope that in reading Portlandess and examining the maps and graphics, you enjoy learning about the city as much as we did putting this book together.