Best Places: Portland

Small city. Big sophistication.

Photo by Corey Templeton</5>
Population: 66,214
Median household income: $45,163
Percent of families below poverty level: 13%
Median home sale price: $223,500
Median age: 37
[P]ortland is the largest city in Maine and, some might argue, the only city in Maine that provides a full-on urban experience. It’s not just a matter of size and density that makes Portland Maine’s premier city. “We have all the amenities, infrastructure, and diversity of a large city,” says Portland’s popularly elected mayor Michael Brennan, “in a city that is scalable, community-oriented, and manageable.”

In terms of ethnic diversity alone, 37 percent of the students in Portland’s public schools are people of color and speak more than 60 different languages. This polyglot culture adds to the richness of the port city’s urbanity, as does the fact that it’s home to some of the state’s major educational and cultural institutions, among them the University of Southern Maine, University of New England, Maine College of Art, Portland Museum of Art, Maine Historical Society, and Portland Symphony Orchestra.

“It’s the best of both worlds. It has the wonderful food, entertainment, and nightlife of a city while maintaining that small-town feeling. It’s also only a half-hour to the mountains!” — Mark Fleming, Down East Visuals Editor

Portland is young, smart, and hip. With a median age of 37, its population is six years younger than Maine’s as a whole. A full 45 percent of Portland residents over 18 have earned at least an undergraduate college degree. Big on green space and enjoying an entrepreneurial boom, Portland has lately been piling up accolades from the national press. No less an authority than Forbes magazine has favored it with designations as one of the country’s Most Livable Cities, Hippest Hipster Neighborhoods, and Top Places for Job Prospects. Among other kudos: Healthiest Cities for Women (Women’s Health), America’s Greenest Cities (Travel + Leisure), and Best Places to Raise Children (Parenting). Bon Appetit named Portland the Foodiest Small Town in America in 2009, and in 2013, The Huffington Post listed it among the top 15 cities in the country based on restaurants per capita. With about 230 eateries, Portland has about one restaurant for every 287 residents.

And you’re not a real city unless you have a professional sports team. Portland has three. The Portland Sea Dogs are the Boston Red Sox’s Class B minor league franchise, providing Portlanders with a preview of Sox stars to come. The Portland Pirates play in the American Hockey League and the Maine Red Claws compete in the National Basketball Association Development League.

All this in the country’s fourth “smallest largest city in its state” (behind Burlington, Vermont; Cheyenne, Wyoming; and Charleston, West Virginia). Sometimes small is beautiful.

Next up: South Bristol: Saltwater pastoral.
Previous: Bangor: New urban energy.
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