Portland's downtown is quite small compared to other cities; blink and you'll miss it if you are driving through. The ad hoc definition of "Downtown" is the area west of the Willamette River, south of Burnside Street, and east of the I-405 (Stadium) freeway. Sometimes Old Town/Chinatown and the Pearl just north of Burnside are called "downtown" too (but the Pearl has its own page in this section).
As in most cities, Portland's downtown contains most of the civic functions of any city - the major courthouses, some skyscraper office buidlings, etc. Portland State University (PSU), largely an urban commuter campus (but a huge unversity), is at the south part of Downtown. You won't find much university culture here, though - you would hardly know you're even driving through a college campus unless you read the signs.
Downtown you'll also find the Portland Art Museum and a few concert halls (Arlene Schnizter Concert Hall, Keller Auditorium). The Portland Trailblazers play basketball on the east side of the Willamette River in the Rose Quarter, in the Rose Garden Arena. There are some chain movie theaters but no more cool ones - they've all long since torn down or closed. There are some neat movie houses outside of downtown, however.
There's something kinda cool downtown called Pioneer Courthouse Square, which is supposed to be Portland's "living room." It was built on an old parking lot about 30 years ago. It's a red brick square with old Roman (or are those Greek?) columns. Sometimes there are little events on the square, but largely it's a place where downtown workers eat lunch on a sunny day or homeless kids hang out and ask for money. There's a major MAX train stop here and a TriMet ticket office.
The east end of downtown is the Tom McCall Waterfront Park, which was a freeway until the 1970s. Now it's a narrow greenway, a park along the river where summer events are held - a Waterfront Blue's Festival, a Rose Festival (June) week-long carnival event, and a brewer's festival.
As far as living downtown, there are a number of high rise apartment and condo buildings especially at the south part of downtown, closer to PSU. But the area isn't all that exciting at night (as mentioned, not much university culture) and no real neighborhood feel like you find elsewhere in Portland. The Portland Streetcar (not even ten years old) connects many of these condos and high rises with the Art Museum, Powell's Books, and the Pearl District (which is much hipper and popular). Downtown by PSU is really sleepy at night. There are a few bars but most of the nightlife is elsewhere, especially near W. Burnside (north part of downtown) by 3rd Avenue.
Living downtown can be convenient to walk to cultural events, however, and the streetcar, buses, and MAX train all go through (all free in the downtown Fareless Square, too).
Downtown Portland - Broadway
Portland State University Urban Center
Downtown Portland, Streetcar, SW 10th Avenue at Eliot Towers Condos
Downtown at Fred Meyer Plaza, Portland Art Museum
Park Blocks, Downtown Portland, at Art Museum
Pioneer Courthouse Square, Christmas Tree
Pictures are all copyrighted by Andrew Hall and may not be used or copied without permission.