Close the Gates
That’s the overriding sentiment from residents in response to last week’s pronouncement by Forbes magazine, calling Portland “American’s Most Livable City.”
The rankings compared cities for income growth, cost of living and culture as well as low levels of crime and unemployment. Our neighbors in the top five are Bethesda, MD, Des Moines, IA, Bridgeport/Stamford, CT and Tulsa, OK.
Portland often finds itself receiving high marks from outsiders. However, when we’ve found ourselves at the top before, it’s come from publications such as Bike Town and Organic Gardening magazine, reinforcing what we know about ourselves. More recently though, we’ve garnered the attention of Frommers, National Geographic, Kiplingers and now Forbes. In other words, from publications with large readerships of people NOT LIKE US who might actually move here and (big fear release) change it. And not for the better just to be perfectly clear, thank you.
Hence, close the gates.
If Forbes readers were to storm the city gates, they might find a different city than they one they expected. Forbes used census data which puts the metropolitan statistical area of Portland at over 500,000 people — a bit generous for the city proper. The city itself boasts fewer than 65,000 residents and Greater Portland is 250,000. The Forbes figure, while accurate, encompasses nearly the entire southern half of the state. There’s a saying, “Portland is nice, but it’s not Maine.” I am sure the folks 20 minutes south in Biddeford are none to pleased to be lumped in with our microbreweries and gourmet food shops.
I like to imagine what Portland would be like with double the density. I get a glimmer of it on the nights of First Friday Art Walk. The sidewalks are alive, the streets are hopping, the galleries and the restaurants teeming. So I think we could stand to up our numbers, as long as the newcomers are JUST LIKE US.
My favorite part of all this is to read the online comments on Forbes.com. Folks were convinced there was an error and the crown was meant to go to our West Coast twin sister in Oregon. Once that was cleared up, the astonishment kicked in.
“Portland Maine? You've got to be kidding! I ain't no polar bear, for Pete's sake. Might as well live on an iceberg. Those nights by the fire wear off, all you dreamy-eyed romantics! For all you nature lovers that enjoy sliding on icy roads, scraping your windshields, shivering your timbers, and breaking your limbs falling on ice, please stay put.”
“Portland Maine most liveable??!! Obviously the writer didn't visit during its eight-month winter. Any fashion statement must include a lineman's parka and a snow shovel. I used to go to a hockey game to warm up. Last year, summer was on a Wednesday.
The entire state is nothing but rocks and pine trees. The moose on the flag was Miss Portland 1909 and things have improved little. The Avon lady starved to death.”
Sure, New England winters are not for everyone, but it is not the end of the world. I like to think of winters as Darwinian, where only the strong survive. The others go to Florida. Besides, once we’ve trashed the planet to a point of no return, we will need hardy, resourceful and resilient individuals to lead the charge for a new world order. I’m voting for Portlanders. Top of the list.
Jessica Tomlinson lives in Portland, where she is a mother, wife and director of public relations for the Maine School of Art.