Portland, Oregon

Urban bliss: Portland's Japanese Gardens     Photo: Corel

POPULATION: 550,000 // MEDIAN AGE: 35.2 // MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $203,600 // AVERAGE COMMUTE: 23.1 min.

For more than three decades, Portland has been so green you could serve it as a side dish. And the unofficial capital of the Pacific Northwest ecotopia is still showing the rest of America what's possible. "What would be total fringe in other cities approaches the mainstream here," says 32-year-old Amy Stork, who moved to Portland nine years ago and has since morphed into a microcosm of the place. Stork pedals three miles daily to her communications job at the city's Office of Sustainable Development. She attends bike-film festivals and bike-in movies, bike-hauls compost to her community-garden plot, and, when she must resort to four wheels, whips out her membership card at Flexcar, the popular car-sharing company. Portland is a magnet for people like Stork: college-educated twenty- and thirty-somethings looking for a progressive urban lifestyle. The city's outdoor playgrounds don't hurt either. Pacific sands, 90 minutes to the west, draw beachcombers and whale watchers; Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge, just an hour to the east, lure anyone who hikes, bikes, paddles, windsurfs, or skis.

PROGRESSIVE CRED // Green space? Check. Portland has 227 parks, including Forest Park, at 5,000-plus acres the nation's largest urban wilderness. Bike-friendly? Emphatically, with almost 270 miles of street lanes and paths, all lovingly marked with nonskid paint. Walkable? Two-hundred-foot blocks, half the length of those in many cities, and narrow streets keep the scale human. Public transit? Yup: 44 miles of metro-area light-rail lines, and the country's first new urban streetcar line in half a century, all free within a 330-square-block downtown grid. Hybrid cars? More per capita than anywhere else. Structures certified, or awaiting certification, by the U.S. Green Building Council? The most—no "per capita" needed. Almost too good to be true, isn't it? But smug Portlanders better watch their backs: Measure 37, a private-property-rights law approved by Oregon voters last fall, makes it harder for government agencies to enforce the tight land-use rules that have so far curtailed sprawl.
LIVABILITY // On average, Portlanders spend more on reading material, watch more indie films, and grow more flowers than their countrymen. Portlanders drink better beer than most, too, with 23 microbreweries within city limits. The arts, performing and otherwise, are booming, and the 11 farmers' markets help locals eat local. The city's job market bottomed out two years ago, taking multiple blows in the key high-tech manufacturing sector, but that hasn't slowed the flow of new arrivals.
YOU'LL LOVE IT IF // Job opportunities and rising home prices matter less to you than keeping it clean and green.

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