The other Portland.
January 31, 2013 4:47 PM   Subscribe

How is living in Portland, Maine?

For some reason I am enamored with the idea of someday living in Portland, Maine. I don't know why! I have no basis for this, I've never visited, but feel drawn to it. The internet suggests that Portland is good for biking, has a community sailing organization, and a good food scene. And other fun stuff.

Do you live there? Do you like it? Do you hate it? Tell me all about Portland, Maine!
posted by aaanastasia to Travel & Transportation around Portland, ME (13 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
What aspects do you want to hear about? Is there anything you like or dislike about places you've lived, that would be useful to hear about?

Have you lived in a place with real winter?
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:55 PM on January 31, 2013

Hi, I live in Portland, Maine.

Here are the things I love: beautiful city, great walking and biking trails, super great arts scene, thriving Buy Local and Local/slow food movement, great restaurants, right on the ocean, thriving local music scene, a good variety of immigrant communities provides a burgeoning diversity that wasn't here even five years ago, winter (and four seasons generally), a great place to live and raise kids.

Here are the things that frustrate me: public transit is substandard, at best; you really do need a car to live and work here (unless you're one of the very small number of people who can both live and work in the "city proper" on the peninsula), high cost to buy or rent right in the city, winter, can be hard to find a job.

Also, FYI: The place in WA is "the other Portland" - we were first and they were named after us.

Here's a couple of links, it would really be helpful to know more about you (kids/no kids, interests, etc.) to answer your question, tho.

America's Most Livable Cities 2009

Best Places to Retire: Portland Maine Oct 2012

Portland excels at making the list 2012
posted by anastasiav at 5:21 PM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I have lived in a place with a real winter! I like bike commuting, awesome food, independent music, and generally attending cultural events and being active. I am single, have no kids, in my mid-20s. Right now I live in DC.
posted by aaanastasia at 5:41 PM on January 31, 2013

Odd trivia... Portland, Oregon was named after Portland, Maine on a best of three coin toss. If the coin would have landed with the other side up, it would have been named after Boston, MA.
posted by Leenie at 5:45 PM on January 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I live in the area and lived on the peninsula (in the East End) for years. It's a wonderful small city, one of the nicest and most distinctive I've been to in America.

Here are some things to be aware of (since I have a feeling there will be mostly positivity in this thread)

-It gets quite cold in the winter, there is a lot of snow, and the wind is truly epic at times. On the peninsula you want to try to get off-street parking if possible or your car will be stuck/robbed/towed/hit by plows/all four (in the case of my old Civic). Parking is very limited, though. The salt they slather on the roads also rots cars.

-Property taxes are high. Property is not exorbitantly expensive, but average wages are not what you are going to see in a larger city, like Boston. Chances are you could make more money in whatever field you are in elsewhere.

-Speaking of wages, there are not a lot of employers for any given field. My mother moved up here years ago to be closer to me, but had to move away again because there was only one employer in her field and she couldn't stand working there. She's now retired and living up here again (and having a grand time) but it's something to be aware of.

-The weather means that heating costs are high, and you may experience additional home maintenance costs related to cold weather (if you buy). If you rent, just be aware there are a lot of really crappy apartments/landlords and depending on how lucky you are you may need to exercise patience before you find the right one.

-The public transit is... ok. The buses run on time and if they go where you want to go, great, but the radial coverage may or may not be helpful to you.

The above said, here are my favorite things about Portland:

-The peninsula is truly one of the most walkable places I've ever lived. It's really a wonderful treat to take a beautiful summer day and walk around from the Eastern Promenade to the Western Prom and back.

-Did I mention the summers? Summer is Maine is REALLY nice. Brief, but nice.

-As is perpetually mentioned in articles about Portland, there are a LOT of restaurants. Most of them are quite good! I am more into dives than fancy places, but there are some GREAT dives in the area.

-Portland Trails does an amazing job of creating wonderful little peaceful walking spaces in the city. If you like biking, there's a great road loop in the summer out in Cape Elizabeth, as well as some chill biking paths in South Portland and up near Windham, so there's really a lot to do.

-There's a lot of entertainment options given the size of the city. Several good local music venues that are either new or recently renovated. A minor league baseball, hockey AND basketball team. A nice arts scene and a nice art museum.

-The wilds of Maine are right there! I mean, sure, it takes an hour or more to get ANYWHERE in Maine, but you will discover so many great places, from really cool hikes to sleepy towns with unique attractions, like the enormous theater hall in Monmouth.

-More than anything, Portland has kind of a shabby, non sterile vibe that I really like. I hope I never have to move out of the area.

Let me know if you have any more specific questions.
posted by selfnoise at 5:47 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do you have or want kids? Portland has a really good children's museum!
posted by mkb at 7:07 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

What type of career do you want?

I grew up in Portland and left as soon as I went to college and never looked back. Well, short of visiting my family that all still lives there.

Jobs are hard right now. It took my sister four years to get out of a crappy job and into a decent job. My brother couldn't find anything to apply to, let alone get.If you don't mind working retail or other such things, then you're fine. If you're independently wealthy, then you're fine. If you want even the most basic of office jobs? It's really hard --- so unless you have some specific skill that no one could possibly turn away, I recommend you avoid Portland and look to larger job markets that may be similar.

I love Portland now --- far more than when I was a teenager --- but I love it because I don't have to stay there.
posted by zizzle at 7:34 PM on January 31, 2013

Best answer: I moved from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, just over a year ago. We moved for many of the reasons you've cited above, and we actually did visit a couple times before making the jump. We dislike it greatly and we're moving back home to PDX here in a few weeks.

First off I'll hit some of the things I love about the area. Living close to the ocean and everything that entails is awesome. I will miss taking the pooch to the dog beach. I will also miss access to incredible fishmongers and other coastal-specific things. These things are truly awesome, and make Portland a great place (to visit). It is a very visually romantic place to be.

The thrift stores are fairly amazing, if you're into that kind of thing.

My butcher is the best, and I wish I could take him with me.

There are some good breweries in the area. But there are just as many terrible ones. Look out.

Jobs are nigh impossible to find, and I say this as someone who came here from the underemployment capital of the west coast. It's fucking bananas here. I've had four part time jobs since being here, all of which ended up cutting my hours over time. The official statistics say that the unemployment rate is lower than other states in the region, but that's because everyone just goes to New Hampshire or Mass when they lose their job. Most work here, even in the city, is seasonal and low paying. The region on a whole is incredibly economically depressed with lots of poverty. Compared to a lot of other states, the safety net is basically nonexistent, so lots of general wellbeing issues arise from that.

The food scene is very much overhyped. That's not to say there aren't some superb gems to be found for sure, but Portland is not the foodie paradise it wants to be. We've had some really, really good meals, but that's been the exception and not the rule. Maine is the end of the line for all shipping things, so food gets very expensive up here, and restaurants have to (think 20-30% more than you may be used to). Also, beer and cocktails are very expensive, to the point that we don't drink beer when we go out anymore.

The city also has some really weird ideas around urban development and how to attract people to live there...there was recently a huge hullabaloo around food carts. The restaurant owners in the city vehemently opposed food carts saying that it would detract away from their businesses (really guys?), and basically got to write the regulations for the city. The laws are now so strict that only one food cart has been able to open since. We were looking at starting a small coffee-truck, but the regulations are just so insane, we wouldn't be able to operate anywhere there would be business. It's very strange. The city government and the 'old guard' that live here seem very adverse to change in any way. It's very hard to get things done with an unconventional DIY spirit around here.

And, the internet is full of horseshit on this one; this is a terrible place for biking. The winters are impossible to bike in because of the ice and snow and tons of debris (salt, gravel, leaves, etc) in the streets. those winters last a long time, and the debris lasts even longer, because Portland apparently doesn't use street sweepers until July or something. The roads are poorly maintained, and drivers don't even glance at you. I've only ridden a couple weeks here this past spring, because I had so many close calls (with my kid in the trailer no less) that I couldn't do it anymore.

It's a great place to visit, full of some really nice people, but unless you have an amazing job lined up on the peninsula proper, and can afford a place on said peninsula proper, we've found it to be a very sad place to live. This is anecdotal, but about half the people we know here are moving away, because of the economic realities here. It's really rough.
posted by furnace.heart at 5:07 AM on February 1, 2013

Best answer: Hello! I have lived (just outside) Portland, Maine for about ten years. Feel free to email me with any specific questions. I'm mostly going to focus on the biking aspect.

I started bike commuting here in 2006, and I just want to say that it is quite possible (and not even terribly difficult) to bike commute all year if you like. I commuted from the next town over into Portland (about seven miles each way). At first I switched between using my bike and taking the bus since I was new to bike commuting in cold climates, but eventually I became an everyday bike commuter.

I'll start with winter concerns. It can be cold. Last week it was about zero degrees each morning, give or take a few degrees. You'll want proper clothing. But as you know once you get going you are generating your own warmth. My first year commuting I did not bike through the winter. But by the next year I just kept going and adjusting until the next thing I knew winter was halfway through! My personal low for biking was -10F. If I was going to do that often I'd have to get goggle because my eyeballs were cold. On the other hand it was 50 yesterday morning. For the heart of the winter, your average morning temperatures are going to be around 12 - 20F. There are quite a lot of people who bike through the winter.

Snow: we can get a fair amount of this. The good news is that the plowing here is very good. Streets are kept clear much more efficiently compared to other cities where I live. As a result, you are not really "biking through snow" as much as "biking on snowy streets" while it is snowing, and pretty clear streets afterwards. After my first year biking through winter I invested in studded tires for my bike because really your biggest concern is ice on the clear streets afterwards (either black ice or ice from snowmelt during the day). You don't need studded tires - there are plenty of people who ride without them - but I find it takes anxiety/worry out of my rides and opens up more route options. I survived my first winter without them, but I did sit out a few days that I wouldn't have worried about with them.

Sand/Salt/Debris: Last year Portland reduced by half the amount of salt it used on the roads. That said, there is a lot of salt/sand buildup - mostly in the shoulders. Fortunately, Maine's bike laws making dealing with this pretty easy.

Bike Laws/Driver behavior: In Maine, biking in the shoulders is optional and avoiding debris in the roads it fully supported. In other words, you can stay out of the sand and salt legally by using as much of the lane as you need. Cars are required to give three feet when passing, and are allowed to go over the yellow line to pass when safe to do so. Do they always give three feet? No, but usually they don't buzz you either. I love biking in downtown Portland proper because speed is usually slower and there are enough stop signs/lights that cars overtaking me is usually not a problem :)

On to non-winter! Lots of people bike all over Portland. There has been quite the increase over the past few years. If you are in Portland proper, it is easy to get anywhere else in town and a lot faster than driving, especially when you factor in parking (doubly so during tourist season)). The buses have bike racks if you want to do a hybrid trip. More bike racks are being installed around town and some of the parking garages have free bike parking as well. There are several bike shops in town. There's a bike trail that you can pick up right in town. Several beaches/parks are a short hop away. A great benefit to bike commuting in the summer is that it is still relatively cool in the morning even if it gets to 80 degrees during the day.

We don't have quite the bike "scene" that the other Portland has, but over the past few years there have been solid communities developing. There are a number of family group rides per year, bike clubs with regular weekend rides, and even a group of "slow riders" who dress up themselves and their bikes and go around downtown during the art walk each month. In November there is a food drive/race called Cranksgiving. If you like organized rides, The Trek Across Maine goes from the ski resorts to the coast over three days, there are a number or rides that tour lighthouses for a day, a "lobster roll" etc.

Links for more info:

Portland Slow Riders: video, article (self-link)
Portland Maine Bike Commuters Meetup (lots on the discussion board)
posted by mikepop at 6:12 AM on February 1, 2013

I'd be happy to provide more info, but a request for specific details would help. I grew up here, moved away at 17, and moved back almost a decade ago, so I have a lot of info! (Except I know nothing about bicycling.)
posted by miss tea at 8:53 AM on February 1, 2013

I grew up predominantly in the Portland area and have moved away.

There are plenty of great things about Maine. It's one of the best places I have found on the coast for fresh seafood. It's fabulous if you enjoy winter sports like skiing, snowboarding, or tubing. It's also a relatively doable drive to Quebec.

That said there are some factors that people moving to Maine should think about.

1. Winter is long.
It's not just that the winter is a real one, but it extends for many many months. The joke is that Maine's four seasons are cold, cold, cold, and mud/black fly. The DC winter temperatures arrive in Portland around October and get progressively colder until March (which occasionally doesn't go out like a lamb). Snow hangs around, and though the main roads will be clear, some of the neighborhoods are poorly plowed. There's also black ice, which is fairly common. Snow days off work are infrequent, so expect to bundle up twenty minutes before you have to go in order to warm up the car. You'll also have to leave earlier to get to where you are going on time. Heating and gas costs are high. Days are shorter. The sun can set as early as 4pm in the winter.

2. People have lived there forever.
Maine is welcoming, but it's a very insular community. People grow up there and tend to stay there, hanging out with friends they have known since elementary school. It can be hard to create a real group of friends if you are not a Mainer. Everyone knows the counties song.

That said, if you are into winter sports, nature, a slightly quieter lifestyle, and avoiding poisonous snakes (Maine has none), Portland is a great place to move. The beaches are pretty in the summer and the lobster is wicked good. Just make sure you find a job there before you head up. Good luck!
posted by donut_princess at 10:33 AM on February 1, 2013

I lived in Portland for 30 years, and now live near Portland. I moved because I got tired of the traffic and noise near my house, too much light to see the stars, and because I found a house at a small lake. I miss living in Portland, and still think of it as home.

Maine has real winters - some years there's lots of snow, some years lots of horrible ice storms, some years lots of very cold temps, or maybe some wind, or any combination thereof. It can be gray for a long time. It's more fun if you like to ski, snowboard, skate, snowshoe, ice fish, whatever. I can't do many winter sports due to arthritis, so I spend a fair amount of time by the wood stove. Winter is pretty, so it's fine until the end of March, when I crave warmth and sun. Summer has long days, but can also have rain and fog, but as long as I can go out with just a fleece, I'm happy.

It's beautiful. Ocean, crashing waves, rivers, lakes, hills, pine trees, granite, more trees. Skies are dark enough to see the stars in parts of Portland, and a short drive from town, you can see beautiful skies. It's far enough north that I've seen the Northern Lights a number of times. Pine trees smell good. I associate Maine with the childhood experience of coming to visit, and getting out of the car and it smelling like pine, wood smoke and ocean.

I have a kayak and canoe and there are many places to take them in and near Portland. Lots of walking trails and beaches are available via public transportation. My drive home is a popular biking road, and cyclists and cars seem to be able to share the road. Downhill skiing requires a car and lots of cash. Sailors are always looking for crew. Portland harbor is full of islands reachable by ferry, with lots of cycling, walking, restaurants, etc. I disagree with furnace.heart about the food. Lots of diversity in restaurants, and lots of really good restaurants.

The economy in Maine used to be wretched, and is now about average. Wages are about average for the country, and jobs aren't always easy to find. Work on developing a network (MeFi meetup?) and be persistent. Many things are more expensive here, and heating season lasts quite a while, though air conditioning isn't so necessary. Just go to the beach, wade in the icy Atlantic, and you'll be plenty cool.

It takes longer to make friends, but the friendships are strong. 30 years ago, there was a lot more prejudice against outsiders, but I think that's over. Portland is the biggest city in Maine, and it's pretty small. Sometimes people move here from big cities, and miss the amenities. You can get food delivered, but not at any hour of the day or night. Portland politics are pretty liberal, there's a lot of project housing, some homelessness, and diversity may not be what you expect. There's a thriving arts culture. People here are not necessarily sophisticated, but are really honest and will help you out of a jam.
posted by Mom at 11:23 AM on February 1, 2013

Best answer: I live downtown and I love it. I have a car, but only to get to work (6 miles out to a suburb). I walk everywhere, otherwise.

I think some of the comments above about high prices seem exaggerated to me, but since specifics weren't mentioned, I can't argue it.. I happen to be gainfully employed and compensated quite well, so I can't speak to the job economy that well, either, but I do know that a lot of folks I know are people who work in the restaurant and services industry and while they aren't getting rich they aren't starving at all, either. These folks tend to be the ones without cars and (usually) without family to support, so bare that in mind. I will note that the above statement "Most work here, even in the city, is seasonal and low paying." is a ludicrous statement, at best.

You can certainly eat some great food here, see, smell, and touch the ocean, take part in outdoor activities, visit many beaches within a bike-ride away, and get to a ski hill in pretty short order (~1hr). Real mountain hiking is a bit farther away but still relatively close. The local music scene is pretty stellar, in my opinion, from small local dives to a good sized theatre. The arts scene is pretty vibrant.

But, for me, after all that is said, one of the best parts of the city is that it is small - limited traffic, walkable, better than concrete-and-skyscrapers views of the city, etc - but still has lots of attractions and events that make it feel much bigger.
posted by mbatch at 12:17 PM on February 1, 2013

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