Portland, Maine

Atlantic Star: Portland's Head Light     Photo: courtesy, Maine Tourism

POPULATION: 64,000 // MEDIAN AGE: 36 // MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $215,000 // AVERAGE COMMUTE: 19 min.

Portland's centuries-old maritime heritage isn't just a brewpub decorating motif. Thanks to a 1987 referendum that tightened restrictions on waterfront development, it's a workaday reality. Yachts, catamarans, and cruise ships ply Casco Bay's natural harbor alongside fishing fleets and tugboats hauling in oil tankers. And the pedestrian traffic in the adjacent Old Port district, a bustling brick-and-cobblestone mix of locally owned restaurants, offices, and upper-story apartments, suggests that different worlds can overlap: landscapers, lawyers, and lobstermen all coexisting. As far as after-work diversions go, few towns of this size could even dream of rivaling Portland's options. A well-used network of paths and greenways, many right along the shoreline, continues to expand, and 486 restaurants within city limits feed the oft repeated rumor that only San Francisco can claim more per capita. Crime remains low; the number of sea kayaks strapped to car roofs, reassuringly high.

PROGRESSIVE CRED // This summer, Portland Trails will complete a 30-mile network of foot- and bike paths that's been years in the making; waterfront sections along the Eastern Promenade and Back Cove will become part of an envisioned 3,000-mile urban path stretching from Calais, Maine, to Key West, Florida. Infill development is poised to take off, with downtown's progressive Bayside neighborhood soon to trade in its warehouses for $60 million in offices, shops, homes (including affordable units), and walkable streets—a model of urban density. Meanwhile, the city's zeal for nurturing small businesses dovetails with an influx of newcomers. You might not expect a Somalian grocery or a Cambodian market in Maine, but they're here. Other accolades: an aggressive recycling program, low-emissions power plant, and sustainable school.
LIVABILITY // Portland's job market is sunnier than its coastal New England climate. Health care, banking, insurance companies, shipping, biotech, tourism, L.L. Bean (15 minutes up the coast), and semiconductors keep unemployment low. Startups are a Portland staple, with all manner of city-leveraged loans, tax-increment financing, and walking success stories to egg on transplants. Athletes go inland for climbing and skiing in the White Mountains and to the Atlantic for sailing, sea kayaking, and chilly surfing. "Hypothermia is a real danger," cautions the local Surfline report, "as is severe shrinkage." Noted.
YOU'LL LOVE IT IF // You prefer a smaller, cheaper, and somewhat sleepier alternative to Boston.

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