While in the popular Portlandia-inspired imagination, Portland, Oregon, may be nothing but an endless array of organic food shops, “fair-trade” coffee roasters, and “subaltern”-themed, not-for-profit bookstores, Portland is still a midsized American city with the typical problems that midsized cities tend to face. Swaths of northeast Portland, for example, where the lion’s share of Portland’s black population lives, have for decades been beset by high crime, joblessness, and out-and-out blight. Fred Armisen probably frantically locks his car doors if he ever (accidently) ends up driving through the neighborhood.
So it came as good news to the residents of the long-deprived area when it was announced several months ago that a lot which had sat vacant for 20 years would be developed into a shopping center featuring a Trader Joe’s grocery store and up to 10 other smaller retailers. But then the racial agitators struck.
First, the Portland African American Leadership Forum (PAALF) announced its opposition to the development on the grounds that it would raise local rents. Then the NAACP got in on the act; in late January, Dedrick Muhammad, the senior director of economic programs for the NAACP, wrote a piece in the Huffington Post opposing the project on the grounds that it could lead to “the displacement of low and moderate-income long-time residents.”
By the PAALF and NAACP’s standards, any economic development—or indeed, prosperity itself—would be bad, because it would undoubtedly push rents up. Do the activists prefer the neighborhood to deteriorate, so that rents would fall further? Muhammad failed to note that Trader Joe’s is famous for its high-quality, low-cost groceries, which would be a boon to the area’s poor residents, not to mention the fact that the contractor that was awarded the project is a black-owned business.
Well, the PAALF and NAACP got their way. Last week, Trader Joe’s announced it would withdraw from the project, citing “negative reactions” from the local community. The company must have heard from different “locals” than the Oregonian newspaper did. When the paper interviewed area residents following Trader Joe’s withdrawal, it found near-universal disappointment. “This is not what the neighborhood people want. This is terrible,” said Kymberly Jeka, echoing a common sentiment. As the locals pointed out, Trader Joe’s would have spurred economic development, provided much-needed jobs to the local community, and offered high-quality groceries at a good price. What part of “advancement” does the NAACP not understand?