Friday, September 8, 2023

Portland's Downtown Is Doing Much Better Than You've Been Told


City Observatory blogs this week about a recent story in Portland's Street Roots newspaper by Mary King, professor emerita of economics at Portland State University, which exposes serious flaws in cell phone data used to measure downtown's recovery.

The local and national press have flogged downtown Portland's supposedly tepid recovery from the Covid pandemic based on statistics from the University of Toronto. That study looked at pre- and post-pandemic cell phone data for selected neighborhoods in major US cities and rates Portland second to last for the percentage of activity recovered since 2020.  

The University of Toronto data looks at only a single (and unrepresentative) part of downtown Portland (with only about 1,000 residents) and counts only changes in unique visitors (effectively discounting daily, repeat travelers.  The study uses widely varying geographies for different cities; San Diego's counts reflect both its airport and famous Zoo and naturally show a dramatic rebound in unique visitor counts.  As King reports:

"Counting all visits and using a much bigger definition of downtown, the Portland Metro Chamber reports Portland had nearly two-thirds as many visits in June 2023 as in June 2019. In stark contrast, the Toronto study asserts that there were just 37% as many visitors to “downtown Portland” from March through May 2023 as in 2019."

In short, the University of Toronto data don't offer an apples-to-apples comparison of cities; more robust data suggests that Portland's experience is similar to other US downtowns.

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