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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
United Shades of America: Is It Cool to Be Hip? Aired 10-11p ET
Aired May 29, 2016 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
W. KAMAU BELL, CNN HOST: Portland, Oregon. A city I hate to love!
Portland is an interesting town. It is widely regard as America's widest major city. You could have a NASCAR race at a tuna noodle casserole convention, at a khaki pants festival and you would only have something wide in Portland is all I'm saying.
And Portland has always been that way. Portland used to have a thriving black community. But that's changed over the years. And the question is why is that change? And who has replaced those people? And the answer is, as you all know, hipsters.
That's right. When you walk the streets of Portland, you feel like you are in a Munford and some look-alike contest.
Hipsters are everywhere in America. We know the case. We know it's true. But no place is as hip as Portland. And I'm just wondering, is it a coincidence that America's widest major city is also America's hippest major city, and it's also not home to black people?
Is that a coincidence? Come on, man.
My name is W. Kamau Bell. As a comedian, I've made a living finding humor in the parts of America I don't understand. And now I'm challenging myself to dig deeper. I'm on a mission to reach out and experience all the cultures and beliefs that add color to this crazy country. This is the UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA.
This is Portland, Oregon, a city so hip and cool that it has its own TV show about how hip and cool it is. And that TV show is also hip and cool.
Portland has a reputation for being a place that is open and accepting to anything. As long as that thing is happening near somebody with a beard.
They even have an expression. Keep Portland weird.
And trust me, this dog in a sweater is not the weirdest thing you'll see during this episode.
Portland is known for its hipsters, a group of individuals who love to talk about how different they are from everyone else while dressing exactly the same as each other.
Obviously, Portland didn't invent the idea of hip. But if hipsters across America are MySpace, then Portland is Facebook.
And just like how we all left MySpace, hipsters everywhere are flocking to Portland. And where will you find hipsters, you will find lots of gentrification and lots of weird looking dudes on bikes.
Like this weird-looking dude on a bike. My mission here, to explore the two stories of Portland. The people moving in and the people being pushed out.
First on my list, a place to get your bike fixed, have a beer and get beer on your beard.
Now I haven't been in Portland that long, but I feel like this might be one of the most Portland things I'll see while I'm in Portland.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. We make --
BELL: OK, you all make beer bikes? Or you make different kind of bikes?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. We make cargo bikes for families who want to transport their kids or people to have like a goat farm and then to get their goats from A to B.
BELL: Bikes to transport kids and bikes to transport goats.
What do you love about Portland.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The people are cool. It's just a nice place to live.
BELL: Is there any place better that you've lived than here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think so, maybe North Korea.
BELL: Hmm. Hmm.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel like you probably should Google North Korea before you make that move.
BELL: In Portland, you blend in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
BELL: But in North Korea, you're going to stick out.
Is there any down side to Portland? Everybody is saying how awesome it is. Is there a down side to all this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ooh, man, that's tough. Like they say, upper northwest is best.
BELL: Oh, is that what they say.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
BELL: I've never heard that before.
Hipsters are known to gravitate to the eccentric, so I thought I'd be able to find some at this place, where animals go to die after they're dead.
What kind of person shops here? What is --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All kinds of people. No, totally.
We've got skulls and bones. Things preserved. Freeze dried bats.
BELL: Freeze dried bats. That's the stone age you see the way you wanted to so yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, no, not at all.
BELL: Does this feel like a Portland-type of business? You know what I mean like --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, most definitely. Yes, this is very Portland.
BELL: So I look at you, I go, OK, so there's like an asymmetrical haircut, which is beautiful. It's beautiful. It's beautiful. It's well done.
A color that is worked in through some products. This is again beautiful. No judgement. No judgement.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
BELL: There's some piercings and there's two lip rings.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Woah! I know one was not enough.
BELL: Would you describe yourself as a hipster?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ooh, ooh, no. No.
BELL: Well, is there anybody here who is a hipster. Can you point at a hipster?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. I'm not saying that.
BELL: She sure wasn't excited about the word hipster.
How am I going to talk to one if I can't even find one.
Time to hit up a fancy coffee shop.
[22:05:00] Fancy coffee shops are to hipsters what my (INAUDIBLE) with a fist on it is to me. Something I never want to be without. There's got to be a hipster here.
This coffee serves two functions. One, it's delicious, and two, it will be another annoying food pic for my Instagram page.
And I bump into Alex Bernson, who writes for Sprudge.com, a blog about, you guessed it, coffee.
That seems very Portland.
ALEX BERNSON, BLOGGER, SPRUDGE.COM: It's embarrassingly Portland, actually, yes.
BELL: When you say embarrassingly Portland, what does that mean?
BERNSON: I mean, the fact that I'm sitting in a really fancy coffee shop, Portland fancy coffee shops and like with a beard and a hat and the whole thing.
BELL: So the beard.
BELL: That's a thing.
BERNSON: It's a thing.
BELL: That's a thing Portland's known for.
BERNSON: It is.
BELL: The bearded. This is about as much beard as I can grow. So does that mean I would not fit in?
BERNSON: No. No. I mean, it's not like the nice rugged thing going on, and you got like a bit of a plaid and stuff.
BELL: There's a thing about Portland, about the hipster.
BELL: Now is that a dirty word here? Is that -- how do you feel about that?
BERNSON: I guess it's kind of a dirty word. It's just like a silly word like --
BELL: Would you -- would you use that word to describe yourself?
BERNSON: Isn't that the whole point? No one does. I mean --
BELL: Yes. Isn't that the problem, though? Nobody --
BERNSON: Well, everyone knows what you mean when you say it.
BERNSON: It's just like, I don't know. I think it's kind of like a convenient slur for like Millennials and people who work in coffee shops. I don't know. I think it's just very useless word.
BELL: So am I putting it too much by saying hipster is the N-bomb of Portland?
Oops! I think I just broke a hipster.
The funny thing about hipsters is that no one here will even admit to being one.
Wait a minute. Is that another person of color? I got to talk to her.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The biggest thing I've noticed lately and that we've talked about a lot is that there are not visible communities of colors.
BELL: We can talk. We can talk.
Let me hang out. Let me hang out.
Code word, I'm one of those, too. So it's fine. It's fine. We can let it all hang out. So say it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I feel like Portland is a place full of really liberal, accepting people, but it's very much like a bubble. Like people who are all similar, you know?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And people who are all -- they're all white and they're all hipsters and they're all like doing their own thing. Everyone is like just being themselves like who -- like, who are who?
BELL: Who is right? Who is the city for? What is going on? And seriously, where are all the damn black people?
Well, it's time to talk to an expert in black Portlanders.
INTISAR ABIOTO, PHOTOGRAPHER: Excuse me. I'm a photographer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
ABIOTO: And I was wondering if I could take your portrait, if you might be interested.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure, why not.
ABIOTO: OK. BELL: This is photographer Intisar Abioto.
ABIOTO: How are you? It's nice to meet you.
BELL: Nice to meet you.
BELL: So Intisar, sounds like you've got one of those African names.
ABIOTO: It's Arabic and then my last name is Nigerian.
BELL: Nigerian, yes, yes. Well, I've got one of those African names, too.
ABIOTO: I could feel.
BELL: So we have that in common.
BELL: So you have this blog, Black Portlanders. What's that about?
ABIOTO: Well, it's just documenting people of African descent here in the city through photography.
BELL: Apparently, there are so few black people in Portland, you can make an art project out of them.
What made you decide to do a blog.
ABIOTO: I guess coming from Memphis, which is where I'm from originally, is like the flip side.
BELL: That's space. Compared to this, that's like the mother land.
ABIOTO: Right. It's just a way to connect with people. Even beyond the photograph itself, just saying hello.
BELL: All right. So, wait a minute, Intisar, I see a black person.
ABIOTO: Yes, I --
BELL: I don't want to go. I don't want to stop you. I don't want to stop you.
ABIOTO: Excuse me, I was wondering if I could take your portrait.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want me to smile or --
ABIOTO: You can do whatever you want.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. OK. All right.
ABIOTO: Actually, if you could stand right here.
One, two, three.
How are you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm good.
BELL: This isn't a subpoena or you're not being rolled up on by TMZ, just pretend none of this is happening. This is just three black people talking in Portland.
What is the black experience in Portland that you are having?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is the black experience in Portland that I am having?
Well, as you noticed, there is not a lot of black people here.
BELL: What? What? Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I guess it's not necessarily about the black experience. It's just about my experience. I'm kind of making it my own.
ABIOTO: Can I take your picture just right here?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sure.
ABIOTO: Just stand right there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sure.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, it looks like you just came from the "Vogue" shoot.
[22:10:10] ABIOTO: Right. I mean, she was already ready, to be honest.
I think with photography or art or inspiration, it's a way to jump over what people are saying is going on and make something else happen.
BELL: With that speech, I'm going to have to do this.
BELL: Like it's the '60s, and we're in a coffee shop and I've got a black beret on. That's some truth.
BELL: So I like Portland. Portland's got food trucks. I love food trucks in Portland. They have some of the best food trucks ever.
Yes, I would love a kimchi taco with a side of colored greens. Absolutely. Bring it on.
With barbecue sauce? Sure, why not, Portland. Mix it up.
But the problem is when you see the food trucks and all that amazing food, but you don't see the people who make the food in the city. You know what I mean.
Portland needs a food truck where you can order up a conversation with a black dude.
Yes, I would like to talk to a black person. It's been about three weeks.
Oh, sure, how about a Latino?
Yes, throw that in there, too.
When you see the food, but you don't see the people, that's called gentrification.
There we go. Some black people, mmm-hmm. Gentrification affects every major city. And it's a constant wave of people getting pushed out and new people coming in. And the people who are living there, not allowed to live there anymore are getting invited to leave.
You know, it's a touchy subject. And, you know, gentrification is bad in America because in a lot of cities now, white people are excited about gentrification.
[22:15:13] There's while people going, hey, I have lived in this neighborhood for two years! I remember when that coffee shop was a different coffee shop!
Gentrification is squeezing people of color out of Portland. And the idea of squeezing people out is part of the American tradition.
America, in fact, wrote racism into our constitution stating among other nasty things, that people who were not free -- slave -- were counted as three-fifths a person.
In response, Oregon apparently thought we see your racism, and we're going to raise you with some extra racist racism. Drawn up in 1859, the Oregon constitution stated that no free Negro or Mulato not already here could move here or by real estate. Damn.
Now that part of the constitution was repealed in 1927. And for some reason, black people still said, fine, we'll move there.
Although things in modern-day Portland are nowhere near as extreme as they were in the past, there are real people being affected by the hipster explosion and the gentrification that followed.
So I'm meeting up with Pastor Don Frazier of the Genesis Community Fellowship who has more than a few concerns about his disappearing neighborhood.
DON FRAZIER, PASTOR, GENESIS COMMUNITY FELLOWSHIP: When you see a community just overrun, and you grew up in it and it changes so fast that you just about get whiplash from it, it does impact you. There hasn't been a conversation. There's just been more of an invasion.
BELL: And when you say overrun, how do you mean by overrun?
FRAZIER: Well, the highest value in our community is relationship. And we used to sit on one another's porches and talk, watch one another's kids. And all of a sudden you have developers coming in with big money, who are buying all this property up and changing us. So the whole community is uprooted and dispersed and displaced without any conversation.
BELL: So they don't sit down with the community and say this is what we're thinking about doing. This is what we're about to do. Or how would you feel about this?
FRAZIER: Right. And this is a community that I said is family homes as well. And we're having soul food, collard greens and grown gribblings (ph). And I go to the same neighborhood who I see some folks in a coffee shop with a collard green scone.
BELL: A collard green scone.
FRAZIER: Hold on. Hold on. It's just a change, where people, they look at me like I'm in the wrong place.
BELL: OK. Well, I mean, but is it hard to hang in?
FRAZIER: Being displaced, feeling like you're invisible, you don't matter, you don't count, it's just a struggle.
BELL: It did. I understand. I understand.
FRAZIER: But there are still some families, they are still hanging in there pretty tight.
And the people, the pioneers, really, they don't talk. They don't even speak to you.
BELL: And when you say pioneers, would you describe what an average Portland pioneer is? What kind of person it is, or they look like? What they --
FRAZIER: Young, white, entrepreneur, up and coming, looking for a happening, artsy scene. (LAUGHTER)
BELL: Looking for a happening, artsy scene.
FRAZIER: Oh, men, it's just a strange place to be sometimes.
BELL: Now there's a phrase that people say here, called "Keep Portland Weird."
FRAZIER: Oh, yes.
BELL: Now how do you feel about that expression?
FRAZIER: I can say they really nailed it.
BELL: No fear of being weird.
FRAZIER: No, no. This is a city that has a naked bike ride.
BELL: Come on.
The pastor wasn't exaggerating about how fast things are changing.
Check out this Portland Housing Bureau map from 25 years ago. Through an awesome bit of color coding, it shows how many of us, darker- skinned people lived there back then and how few of us live there in 2010. Wow.
It's like the demographic equivalent of Michael Jackson's face. Rest in peace.
Portland has a reputation as the coolest city in America. But shouldn't it be cool for everybody?
Next, the pastor wants me to hear from members of his church who are dealing directly with the affects of gentrification.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Black people that tried to buy businesses in Alberta and Mississippi, they were turned down. And then the next thing you know there's a buffet, a boutique.
So those same people that I know who tried to get loans, to get those businesses were denied. But now these are all-white owned.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And to appease everyone, we'll just put a picture of what the black neighborhood used to look like in the coffee shop. You know, we've become artefacts.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, you have cold calls where people just literally knock on your door and ask you are you willing to sell your house?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I live right in the heart of where a lot of this rebuilding is going on. We had a bar, a little grocery store, a meat market, dry cleaners. It was just very bustling, and it was everything that you needed was right there. So if I'm sounding like I'm a little angry at times, I am.
[22:20:16] BELL: You sound focussed.
BELL: You could sound, you could sound a lot angrier and I'd understand.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, thank you.
BELL: You know, sounds like you've had a neighborhood and now you have a house.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we don't anymore.
BELL: Yes, in the middle of a construction site.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It has redefined who we are becoming as a people. And that troubles me.
My work is to keep telling the stories of our elders. Sorry.
I saw them saving their quarters and scrubbing floors and doing all they could to buy their homes, and it just feels like a disgrace.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I remember the echoing of laughter and beautiful big women talking on porches. And now that's all gone. So in the meantime, I feel like all we have is our stories. That's all we have is our stories.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
BELL: I'm not from Portland, but I feel the same way about my community. That feels that way about our stories. And as I feel like so goes Portland, so goes the rest of the country. So thank you for coming.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
BELL: And, you know, there's something going on in this room that I've noticed that I don't see a lot. It's a white guy who hasn't said anything.
I feel like I thought I need to highlight that. We've been talking for a while here. He hasn't said a word.
The story of America is the story of gentrification. You guys know that. The Europeans landed. Oh, this land is so great that we discovered. We discovered this land.
Could you guys just move a little bit? We have discovered this land. This land is so great that we discovered. Just keep it moving. This land is so amazing that we discovered. Keep it moving. This is our great land. Just a little bit more.
This is a great land. This is going to be perfect for gluten-free cupcake shops.
[22:00:45] BELL: It isn't only communities of color in Portland who know that something's wrong. Someone else in town has recognized that people here are in crisis, and she's doing something to address their pain -- well, sort of.
This is "Cuddle Up to Me." A store that sells cuddles to Portland's cuddlist. And I'm going to snuggle with Samantha Hess, the cuddler- in-chief, you know, in the name of journalism.
From here, I'm all tense and afraid and scared and alone, and feel like my place in the universe has been lost. I need a cuddle.
SAMANTHA HESS, CUDDLE UP TO ME: Cuddle up to me.
BELL: So before we start, there's got to be rules. What are the rules?
HESS: Absolutely. So there's no touching in swimsuit areas.
BELL: All right.
HESS: No kissing or touching of the lips.
BELL: OK. All right. Fair enough.
HESS: Touch must be given in a platonic way.
BELL: Ooh, that's a big one.
HESS: That is a big one. I know.
BELL: OK. All right.
HESS: And if either of us becomes uncomfortable, all it takes is two taps to make any action stop.
BELL: So we pick a room?
HESS: Perfect. Let's do it.
BELL: All right, let's do this.
HESS: It's only offered for the first like, ten minutes. BELL: All right then.
HESS: So you're just going to move straight back.
HESS: And come and rest on me.
BELL: All right.
HESS: A little further back.
BELL: A little further back.
BELL: OK, all right.
HESS: Even more.
BELL: Oh, OK, all right, all right.
HESS: There we go. Just relax. Feeling a little bit nervous.
BELL: Can you tell? It's a -- I'm relaxed. It feels very nice, but it's also like, this is a new thing for lots of people.
Oh, this is nice.
HESS: Can I play with your hair?
HESS: Why don't you tell me about yourself?
BELL: My name is Kamau. I'm an Aquarius. How long is an average session?
HESS: Probably an hour would be most average.
BELL: Hmm. That's amazing.
HESS: Yes. It goes by so quick.
When did you last see your wife?
BELL: Let's see, like four days ago.
HESS: Oh. You must miss her.
BELL: Yes. Wow, this is like the full-on 96.
HESS: So yes, I went to the cuddle shop. And it was -- the weirdest part of all the cuddle shop wasn't the cuddling, it was the fact that a stranger touched my hair.
Yes. And all the black people know that's rule number 15 on the list of black don'ts. You know what I'm saying.
I called my mom. I apologized.
I testified to the black people. Black people, I'm sorry, a white person touched my hair. CNN made me do it!
Now I'm headed to a neighborhood formerly known as Albino. One of the few historically black areas in Portland.
After World War II, African-Americans moved here for affordable housing and were forced to stay because of segregation. But in the early 2000s, they started to disappear from the neighborhood.
To find out more, I'm going to see Ural Thomas, a local music legend and one of the last black homeowners living in this rapidly changing part of town.
URAL THOMAS, LOCAL MUSIC LEGEND: Hey, how are you?
BELL: How are you doing, sir. Kamau Bell.
THOMAS: Kamau, nice to meet you. I'm Ural.
BELL: Ural, nice to meet you.
THOMAS: OK, real pleasure.
BELL: Thanks for having me over.
THOMAS: Thanks for coming.
BELL: Some beautiful guitar you're playing.
THOMAS: Oh, thank you. Yes, I just finished putting some strings on this thing.
BELL: So have you always played music professionally? Have you always been a --
THOMAS: No, I haven't always. No, I still don't consider myself a professional.
BELL: You're being real modest. Who are some of the big name musicians you've played with?
THOMAS: I opened up for Stevie. Stevie Wonder.
THOMAS: Yes. I opened up for Mick Jagger a couple of times.
BELL: Mick Jagger.
BELL: You might be a little bit of a professional musician if you worked with Stevie Wonder and Mick Jagger.
THOMAS: I guess so.
BELL: OK. Thank you for letting me pull that out of you, sir. I appreciate that.
So you've created a lot of music in this room throughout the years.
THOMAS: That's true.
BELL: And you're out here today. You're one of four black-owned houses left in this neighborhood.
THOMAS: That's -- that's true.
BELL: And how many did they used to be?
BELL: Oh, two-thirds.
THOMAS: In this area.
BELL: And now it's down to four houses.
THOMAS: It's down to four houses. They had no choice because none of us qualified for loans even if we own that property.
[22:30:00 BELL: Wow.
THOMAS: Yes, it was kind of crazy.
BELL: And why do you think you didn't qualify for loans?
THOMAS: They had a plan already that didn't include us.
BELL: Oh so they decided that you didn't qualify for loans before you even asked for a loan.
BELL: OK. Eurell's talking about a practice called redlining. What was redlining? Check out this official government map of Portland from 1938. It's so pretty and colorful. See these red areas? Those are the neighborhoods that banks refused to give mortgages and loans too, and guess who lived there. Black people. That's right. Black people were redlined after getting mortgages and business loans for decades.
And now that this whole neighborhood was bought by developers and - - new home owners. UNKNOWN: And we can't even look at the houses anymore. We can't even afford it at all.
BELL: How do you feel knowing that there's forces in this neighborhood and the city that wants you to get out of this house that is your house? That you own.
UNKNOWN: Well you know what I always felt that they don't know any different. Because, you know, they're actually going to need us. You having a pie and you ain't got no sugar to put in it.
BELL: I like that analogy. So black people are the sugar for the pie.
BELL: Al right. Eurell is taking me for a stroll through the neighborhood, kind of a walking tour of what used to be.
UNKNOWN: There were homes here. All up and down you know.
BELL: So this is now a business district but it used to be a residential district.
UNKNOWN: It was all residential. People lived, you know, like a little country town, actually you know. Something very special.
BELL: And so I'm guessing when you were a kid you didn't come to Samari Blue and get some sushi. You weren't - -
UNKNOWN: No, because sushi was the last thing in the world that were out here. No sushi.
BELL: Not a lot of sushi choice.
UNKNOWN: No it wasn't.
BELL: So wait, you're trying to tell me that when you were a kid, they weren't selling Kombucha on tap?
BELL: That's what you're trying to tell me?
UNKNOWN: You didn't have no Kombucha in the neighborhood. Places like, where this building is across the street here. Was a little place called the Wing Shop.
BELL: Wing Shop?
UNKNOWN: Yes, they sold, you get three chicken wings and a couple of slices of toast and it was $1.50.
BELL: A $1.50?
UNKNOWN: Yes, man. BELL: How can you twist that business out of the neighborhood?
UNKNOWN: I'm telling you man, it was crazy.
BELL: But that building there - -
UNKNOWN: That's all brand new buildings.
BELL: That's all new.
UNKNOWN: Everything is all brand new.
BELL: And a lot of it that is brand new was within the last five years?
UKNOWN: Yes, and the buildings that are still remaining, none of the same people.
BELL: So the village that had been here, it's all new tenants?
UNKNOWN: It's all new tenants. I don't think there's one person that had a business here, back in the day, that is still in business now.
BELL: That's a damn shame.
BELL: That's a damn shame.
UNKNOWN: Yes. You wouldn't even know that you're in the same neighborhood. I mean, it is that different.
BELL: Continuing my journey through the two sides of Portland, I'm headed to the ADX workshop, where I'm going to try my hand at not cutting off my hand. I'm going to talk to owner Kelly Roy and marketing director Matt Preston, to see what this place is all about. So this is your place?
ROY: Yep, I am the - -
BELL: So what is the joint?
ROY: This is basically playground for people to like make things. You know, it's like a gym, instead of personal trainers, we have really talented craftsmen that help you make things.
BELL: People come here to make stuff.
PRESTON: Yes, you make whatever you want.
BELL: I happen to be a guy who buys things that are already pre-made.
PRESTON: OK. Sure.
BELL: This isn't actually my area of expertise.
PRESTON: Oh sure.
BELL: But I want to submit to the process and make something, what should I make?
PRESTON: Myself, I make lamps. That's kind of my deal.
BELL: Then I'm a lamp guy, let's do some lamps.
PRESTON: So you're a lamp guy.
BELL: Lamp it up.
PRESTON: OK. Yes.
BELL: I don't even know what this machine does.
PRESTON: This is a drill press here.
BELL: OK. So it presses and drills.
PRESTON: It presses and drills, that's correct. Yes sir. You go slowly, as you go through just - -
BELL: I feel like I need to back up right now. (MULITPLE SPEAKERS)
PRESTON: Try not to hurt yourself al right?
BELL: Yes, I'm going to try real hard. Whoa, is this machine called the finger loser? Is that what this is called?
PRESTON: Lefty Lucy my friend, lefty Lucy.
BELL: Ah...What? Ah, look at that. I sort of, kind of, helped to make a lamp. That's what happened. You have lived here for 20 years.
BELL: How have you seen this city change?
ROY: Just a lot more development. Yes, especially with the amount of growth that's happening now. It's a concern but Portland is going to kind of lose it's soul and lose what makes it so charming and livable right now.
BELL: And you've been here for seven months?
PRESTON: Yes. I'm part of the problem.
BELL: Well I'm glad you said so sir. I didn't want to say anything. Yes, people love to move in to Portland and build stuff, sometimes it's lamps and other times it's giant high rises and formally black neighborhoods. I'm going to talk to Beverly from the church meeting yesterday. She's living at gentrification ground zero.
First of all, this is a beautiful set up you got here. UNKNOWN: Well thank you.
BELL: Sitting on the porch on a sunny day.
UNKNOWN: How about that?
BELL: This is nice. The view's not exactly what I would have picked.
UNKNOWN: Neither would I. I mean it's a whole lot different from what it was. There planning on building a eight to nine story building across the street from us.
BELL: There's going to be an apartment building across the street. UNKNOWN: Then what little view we have left out here, there won't be.
BELL: It's going to every block, the sky is going to blocked out.
UKNOWN: We won't even get any sun.
BELL: We won't be sitting here on a nice sunny day.
BELL: It will always be cloudy.
BELL: How do you feel about the developers? How do you feel that they are treating you?
UNKNOWN: They never said anything to me. They have never come over and talked to me. It's like they don't care. They just move in and they do what they want to do, when they want to do it, how they want to do it. Irregardless to whoever else is involved or it might affect, they don't really care. If the guy cared, he wouldn't be talking about putting a eight or nine story building up here. That's the way I look at it.
BELL: If they want to put an eight or nine story building there, obviously you know they have the freedom if they buy the property, if they get the zoning rights.
UNKNOWN: Exactly. Exactly.
BELL: Is there a way that they can do that that would be better for you? If I was one of those developers and I sat here right now what would you tell them?
UNKNOWN: It's not too late to talk to some of the people here in the neighborhood and also when you go to the next neighborhood that you're going to be building in, let the people know.
BELL: So everything that's happening in this neighborhood, with all the changes that are taking place. How long are you planning to stay?
UNKNOWN: As long as I can. You know, they have ways of forcing you out but I have no intentions of moving anytime soon.
BELL: Well thank you Beverly. Thank you very much.
UNKNOWN: You're welcome.
BELL: Obviously, Beverly and folks like her are more than aware of the affects of gentrification. But do the gentrifies realize the affect their having? You know what? I'm going to go check in with my friend Alex from the coffee shop and maybe I can also get some hipster fashion tips.
UNKNOWN: Here we go. Now we've got something a little heavier, it's a little more rugged. Something to just sit in the coffee shop or go play in the rain. Well this is what I would get but this isn't like as forounderous - -
BELL: This is, I'm not ready for this. That's a level up sir.
UNKNOWN: That's fine.
BELL: OK. Let's be honest, this shopping trip was just so I could trick Alex into a conversation about uncomfortable societal issues. Here goes. Since I've last saw you, I have liked to talk to people who, like, are natives of Portland. One of them was even crying about the fact they feel like this Portland is replacing their Portland. You're a cool dude, I'm not blaming you. But I'm just saying, like, what do we do?
UNKNOWN: Dude, I really, really wish I knew. I feel super responsible because I write about fancy coffee shops everyday. Those are like frontline agents of gentrification.
BELL: And I appreciate you saying that, like, you're the frontline agent of gentrification, I've never heard that word before.
UNKNOWN: Absolutely. It's true though, like, cafes move in, you know, and bars move in and music venues move in. And more and more and more white people - -
BELL: And then every shop has the word artisanal in it title.
BELL: Yes. And here's what you can do for me? When you see an older black person in the streets of Portland, just say hello.
BELL: Now that we've solved that problem, let's go get one of those crafty beers you were talking about. I'm heading to Tid BIt's a popular lunch spot to look for some Portland locals and to ask them about how they feel about the lack of diversity in their city. But something catches my eye, and I have to check this out. It looks like you're setting up shop here.
UNKNOWN: Yes, I am. This project is called Your Dog Needs a Bowtie. BELL: Of course, of course. I should have guessed that. I really
should have guessed that. I feel stupid for not having guessed that's what's this was.
UNKNOWN: Al right. So I make bowties for dogs and it's out of recycled materials so these are salvaged fabrics and then on the inside you can feel it. It's milk jug. I chop up milk jugs and that's what give them their body and their stiffness.
BELL: Oh, because a dog with a regular bowtie is not going to do that well with it, you have to give it a little bit - -
BELL: If I wore a bowtie, it would be one like this to because I'm pretty hard on clothes. I think you have, you could actually sell these to humans too.
UNKNOWN: I could.
BELL: I bought five. And I don't even have a dog. But we all know that's not what I came here for. Lovely jacket.
UNKNOWN: Thank you.
BELL: From the Matrix, Keanu Reeves collection. So back to the point. Have these guys noticed Portland changing?
UNKNOWN: Seems like every group that I talk to at every economic level is telling the same story, which is if they can't afford to live where they used to live. So then they're going to this new neighborhood and then the people there are feeling tread on - -
UNKNOWN: And they can't afford to live and I'm just watching this wave happen all the way from the areas of the city that are traditionally associated with white people and money and all the way out to the areas of the city that are way, way out in the suburbs. That people say, well wait a minute, this used to be the country. What's happened that all these city people are coming in?
BELL: And eventually there's like 70 year old black people in the Pacific Ocean just trying to tread water - - welcome to our new neighborhood.
UNKNOWN: OK. Wait a minute.
BELL: There's no doubt is a city in transition. And I want to meet someone at the vanguard of this transformation and here he is, local developer Ben Kiser. Here's Ben posing triumphantly at the site of his latest project. Notice anything familiar? Yes, that's Beverly's house, right there. Ben's been kind enough to invite me on a tour of one of his new buildings under construction. Feels like I just walked into the belly of the beast. Hello.
BELL: Hi. My name's Kamau.
KISER: Ben Kiser, how are you?
BELL: I'm good. Thanks for letting us crash your construction site.
KISER: Yes. Welcome. Welcome to Portland as well.
BELL: Ben certainly seems like a friendly guy but after a bit of small talk, it was time to get down to business. You basically represent the man.
BELL: You're the guy who comes in, who changes the neighborhood and if you're like I like my neighborhood I want to stay, it doesn't feel like everyone values long term ownership.
KISER: Yes. I agree when you say I'm the man, but I think people talk about development and just see an extreme amount of wealth, making all these decisions. When really in fact, it's just people like any of us, who have chosen as a profession, improving parts of a city.
BELL: When you say improve, I think that everybody has a different definition of what improve means.
KISER: 100 percent. But Portland really is, in my opinion, turning from a town into a city right now. It's exciting to watch. But it has it's growing pains of course.
BELL: And how do those growing pains affect the people who have lived here all their lives? Like I've talked to an older black woman, in this neighborhood, and every so often knocks on her door, or calls her and is offering to buy her home. Even though she's made it clear she wants to keep her home. And somebody's telling them to make that phone call.
KISER: We always thinks a somebody. And in my opinion, it's an economic force. There's no one orchestrating this outcome. That woman, get her out. It has nothing to do with that woman.
BELL: Sure. There are some economic forces out of our control, but don't be modest Ben. All three of the developments are yours, including the one blocking out the damn sun to Beverly's house.
KISER: What's happened historically, they're offered a tremendous amount of money, and they're kind of nuts not to take it. At some point, she'll, her kids, or she'll say I am nuts not to take this offer.
BELL: Money is great. You know, money pays for a lot of things, and it can help you out of a tight situation, but also some people just love their house. You know, and she feels like she's being bombarded and sort of really, how do you communicate with the neighborhood about like, we're here, what's happening.
KISER: I'm not used to people not trusting me. And so coming into a neighborhood, it takes a long time to get to that point. Where that woman would even speak with me. You know, and honestly. Otherwise, she'd open the door, what do you want and I'd say, I just want to talk to you. She'd probably just shut the door on me. Why would I even talk to you?
BELL: It's hard to build a trust on their side we're saying, we've been screwed six ways from Sunday and also we don't even know who to talk to. Somebody needs to talk to us and help us understand. Some big thing has to happen that is outside of the box to sort of start that conversation. Fish fry, that generally helps to get black people out or some sort of big community building thing that feels like it's for the people who have lived here.
KISER: Do you know if I suggested a fish fry, I would be fried.
BELL: When all these businesses move into neighborhoods that are historically communities of color and they move in without regard to the neighborhood and they push out the old places. That's nonsense. Come on. I'm not allowed to say bullshit, you know what I mean? That's tomfoolery, you know what I'm saying? Some of these communities don't need $12 juice bars, they don't need high end vegan barbeque. You know what I mean.
They need places they can buy groceries. You know, they don't need all this other stuff, and nobody can drink that much damn Kombucha anyway, you know what I'm saying. Portland is a hip and cool place. But my definition of hip and cool, for a place to be hip and cool it's got to have people of color there.
And if a place wants to be hip and cool it's got to be friendly to everybody, you know what I'm saying? For example, the Black Eyed Peas, why are the Black Eyed Peas so popular, they had one of everybody. People never heard the music, they were like yay, I'm represented. Yay. You want to buy the CD? Not really, yay. And it's clear that the hipsters of Portland get it. They know that their handcrafted lives are affecting the black community of Portland. And the black people of Portland knows they have a right to be upset about how their lives are being affected.
And the weird thing is, the entire time I was there, I only met one person that felt like it was all going to work out fine, and that was a black dude.
That's right my friend Eurell is headlining a show in Portland.
UNKNOWN: "Now don't you feel silly acting like a child"
BELL: I would imagine their in their room tonight. There will be some of those people that have moved into your neighborhood. If you saw them on the street they may not even notice you.
UNKNOWN: Yes. That's very true.
BELL: But here tonight, you're the star.
UNKNOWN: Al right. Yes. I never thought about it that way.
BELL: And you are from the city - -
BELL: This is your city - -
UNKNOWN: Yes, it's really a wonderful place and I've enjoying the struggle I'd say.
BELL: Enjoying the struggle.
BELL: - - a darker completcted, we've got to figure out what to do.
UNKNOWN: I just think that the future looks bright. I'm hoping that people will come together more. Not just myself, the whole city, because there are so many wonderful people here. And there's so many real opportunities when people work together. It's what you bring, you know, what you give in life, is what you get back they say.
"Stay strong, stay strong, I'm not ready to let you, I'm not ready to let you go. Stay strong, stay strong,"
BELL: I've met a lot of awesome people in Portland. And they might not all be hip but they're all cool. And they're all part of what makes Portland great. But in a city that's known for its bridges, it's clear that a bridge needs to be built between the people moving in, and people feeling the pressure to move out. But maybe the developers aren't the ones to build that bridge. We need to build communities that makes space for everyone and allow all our voices to be heard.
It just been really stressful week. (inaudible) Thanks.