Who lives in Portland Maine?
December 30, 2005 8:41 PM   Subscribe

Portland, Maine: My wife and I are thinking about moving out of NYC to somewhere, well, more relaxing. (First kid due in a couple days.) Do any Mefi's live there and have any opinions on the matter?

Would be interested in what neighborhoods are good, what the work situation is like (I'm currently a highly overpaid strategy consultant with an MBA), and whether you like living there or not.
posted by mtstover to Work & Money (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you're looking to stay in the northeast, even the suburbs of Boston will probably suit you well, and gives you the benefit of being close to a city and in excellent school districts.
posted by VulcanMike at 8:45 PM on December 30, 2005

If you aren't tied to a job, move out west. Maybe even to Corvallis.
posted by devilsbrigade at 1:22 AM on December 31, 2005

> If you aren't tied to a job…
But if you are, stay closer. Pellham Manor in Westchester County, just north of the city, is pretty nice.

We recently moved away from NYC for pretty much the same reason, to Arizona. A huge factor being the we have extended family here, and yes, we find it much more relaxing.
posted by tremendo at 2:04 AM on December 31, 2005

Me, I am from the Portland area. There's a number of reasons I didn't stay:

1 - The employment situation sucks. I'm a designer. Work is easy to come by in Boston, almost impossible in Portland. Doctors, lawyers, etc have an easier time there. I'm not clear on what you do, but line up a job BEFORE you go if you decide to move there.

2 - No matter what anyone says, the place is full of hicks. Portland, being the largest city in the state, is a magnet for provincials with a pretentious streak. And Maine is largely rural and nasty, so Portland is flooded with everyone who's too cool for Rumford (sorry, Rumford. I think you're cool, too.) It's also got lots of educated, bright, worldly people. But Chirst Jesus, Bro! It's got some wicked thick folks.

3 - Portland thinks it's an undiscovered gem. There's nothing worse than a small city that loves itself too much and thinks you're ignorant if you don't share the sentiment. Guess what, Portland? Your arts scene is exactly on par with any other community your size in a larger area the size of southern Maine. Utica has some nice museums too, and they have Matisse even if they don't have a Winslow Homer.

4 - Public transportation is basically non-existant. The buses are for poor people, period. They're too unreliable to use if you have any other alternative.

Reasons I wish I could live there:

1 - It can be a truly beautiful city. Specifically along the eastern prom. Sometimes when we're in town, my wife and I will get italian sandwiches and just sit and look at Fort Gorges.

2 - There are a lot of nice restaurants. At least very good for most of the major types of cuisine. Much better than that in many instances. (People talk about the Old Port bar scene, but that's really full of the aforementioned hicks. It's an easy pull if you're a well-employed single guy with a full set of teeth, but you're not single.)

3 - It's very affordable (assuming you can find a decent job). There are some awesome old houses that are within a normal person's reach.

4 - It's a pleasant, liberal city with plenty of character. If only the residents of it would stop reminding you of that and reminding you that they live there by choice-- I get it, you're definitely electing to live there, not stuck there.

(There are a number of Mainers and people born in Maine active here, as well as people From Away who live in the Portland area now. I don't wish to offend them, because I have as much affection for them as you can possibly have for Internet personalities. Mainers are, for lack of a better word, my homies-- despite being in my thirties and having left the state at 18, my answer to "where are you from" is an unhesitating "Maine." But I can't in good conscience offer up the positives without being blunt about the negatives. briank is another Portland-area expat and I hope that he weighs in here with his perceived positives and negatives, as well as anastasiav who lives in Portland and is very positive on the place for a lot of good reasons.)
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:23 AM on December 31, 2005

I grew up right outside Portland, moved away at 17, and recently moved back age 30. My husband and I met and lived in NYC together, and decided to move away in 2003-- making the terrible mistake of moving to Milford, PA (about 75 miles from NYC in the NE corner of PA). Talk about hicks! But in some ways it was a good choice because we learned we're city people, albeit small city people, not small town/country people.

So we moved up here to Portland 2 years ago. It's great. We own a multi-unit in the West End, I walk to my job, we've made some great, smart, interesting friends and renewed friendships with some of my old highschool peeps.

I'm in advertising (Mayor, you want a job? We're hiring!) and doing quite well...my husband is a cabinetmaker/furnituremaker and doing dandy as well. I do agree that you'd want to secure a job prior to moving. You'll have to take a pay cut but housing is much cheaper, obviously, and there's currently a glut of condos on the market if that's your style.

All in all I barely come in contact with Maine hicks, there's a ton of kick-ass retaurants including great sushi, and life is pretty darned nice. Oh yeah, and day care is cheap too. (One of my girlfriends from the city takes her baby to a place in lower manhattan and I think it's 1300 bucks a month).

Anyway, I just got up so I am babbling a bit. Email me off list for more info if you'd like!
posted by miss tea at 5:45 AM on December 31, 2005

(Mayor, you want a job? We're hiring!)

I'm really, really content. But I would be lying if I said that I didn't give it a "what if." I think I could live in Cumberland County and be happy (even if Greater Boston, warts and all, makes me happier).

And that clarifies what I listed earlier: Portland isn't bad. Portland is quite good. I think that Portland's positives outweigh its negatives. But it still has negatives.

Also, I neglected to mention that Maine hicks are an odd cross between rednecks and hippies. Seriously. It's fucked up. And I'm sure that Miss Tea is being sincere, but she's not looking very hard if she can't find them because I spent 45 minutes in Portland over Christmas and heard enough of them to fill a van. I write "heard" because they're best identified by their speech as well as their appearance.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:24 AM on December 31, 2005

briank is another Portland-area expat and I hope that he weighs in here with his perceived positives and negatives

Actually, I think Da Mayor's precis hits the mark on all counts, positive and negative.

It is a great place to live for a couple of years, but eventually everything Mayor Curley says will become so painfully apparent to you that you won't want to stay.

If you are already fairly well-to-do and do not need to be concerned with how you will make money and just want to enrobe yourself in the pretentions of "escaping it all", you could do a lot worse than Portland. I don't regret having lived there, but I would never go back.
posted by briank at 7:08 AM on December 31, 2005

Well, since MC has called me out I might as well chime in....

I live and work in Portland, Maine (I grew up in another part of the State) and, having lived a number of places (including in England and NYC) I wouldn't live anywhere else.

I have to confess, however, that I don't know what an "overpaid strategy consultant" does, but it seems to me that if you're a consultant who travels all over, then Maine might be a good place to come home to.

However, The Mayor is right about a couple of things:
1) No public transport. You've gotta have a car. (Although, interestingly, I do work with a number of people who live car-free in Portland ... but you need to live in an apartment and be childless to do it).

2) The white collar employment situation is fairly dicey. There is a decent amount of other types of work (Portland actually has one of the lowest unemployment rates in New England), but its much easier to find retail work, or work as a Nurse (Hey! You! Are you a Nurse? Come to Portland! Please!) than it is to find real white collar work. jobsinme.com is the standard place to start most job searches.

Also the pay will be lower than you're used to, but that is, in part, because the cost of living is lower than you're used to.

I also think he's wrong about a couple of things:

1) Hicks. Yeah, Maine has rednecks. So does everywhere else. However, Portland is an expensive place to live by Maine standards, so (having been both places) I'd have to say that Maine has a much lower proportion of truly ignorant idiots than NYC does. Most of the ignorant idiots live in Lewiston. :-) (that's a joke)

To actually answer your question:

Portland has a number of great neighborhoods, and you can't really go heavily wrong in any part of the city, especially since you can often get a nice old turn-of-the-century five bedroom house for what you'd probably pay for a one bedroom condo in NYC area. However, the house lots in the city are very small, and your nice old house might need some work. If you want a newer house, or more land, you'd need to go outside the city -- Standish, Cumberland, Durham, Freeport, Gorham -- and then you'll really need a car.

Portland is a great, reasonably safe place to live with kids. There are lots of parks and kid-oriented things to do. Kids in my neighborhood ride bikes all around and play outdoors summer and winter, in big packs. Maine has one of the highest High School graduation rates in the country (around 94%), and there is a state sponsored program to provide laptops for use by all l 7th and 8th graders, because the State is focused on making sure all Maine students are technology literate by the time the graduate from High School. Portland has a decent public school system, and a variety of well-regarded public and alternative schools as well. Because Portland is a resettlement target city, many of the public schools are very ethnically diverse (moreso than the city as a whole, actually). At King Middle School, for example, they have a student population off 500 students, and those students come from 17 different countries and have 28 different "first languages".

Portland is rarely boring (or is just as boring as you make it). You could eat out every night for a year and never eat at the same place twice. You can do any outdoorsy thing you can imagine -- hike, bike, ski, swim, kayak, rock-climb, sightsee -- and never go the same place twice (although you will, because some places you'll want to see again and again). Or, you can take the train (or drive) to Boston or drive to Quebec in a reasonable period of time for a change of scene.

I will admit that the club scene is fairly lame -- if sweaty dancing bodies and heavy beats are your thing, we don't have much of that. But the pub scene is good -- Maine is a microbrew haven.

People who leave Maine do so for a reason -- mostly because they're looking for something that Maine can't provide. We don't have the hustle and bustle of a truly big city. While we do have a decent art scene, it is, by nature, limited in size and scope. The car-dependent thing really irks me.

But its clean here. And even in the midst of this city I can go out on my front porch and see the stars at night. I know my neighbors, and I know they'd watch out for me. As a woman, I feel safe walking alone anywhere in the city. I have a snappy internet connection. My local bookstore has a bookstore dog. I live in a 5-bedroom victorian house we paid $125,000 for (you can't do that anymore, FYI).

If you have very specific questions, my email is in my profile. I respect briank and The Mayor, but I also disagree with them. I can't honestly imagine what living in Boston offers that Portland doesn't, besides traffic and crime.

You should ask rusty what he thinks.
posted by anastasiav at 7:35 AM on December 31, 2005

I'm also a Mainer living in New York City.

There are two main reasons I'm here and not there: I love it here, and this is where the jobs are for my industry.

Maine is having job issues right now. That doesn't necessarily mean that you won't be able to find one--a good one. But for me, as a young person, there was just no way I'd find the right thing for me. I go back too often to find my old friends working at ice cream parlors.

On the other hand, if I were in your position, a big part of me would really want to move back. Almost everything is so much cheaper. And it really is a beautiful state, with good public schools. A great place to raise a kid. Excellent seafood. Mainers are just about the strangest people in the country, and I mean that in the best possible way. Yes, there are hicks--I come from a long line of them--but hey. There's plenty of people in New York who are harder to deal with than hicks.

Some other downsides: extreme lack of diversity (not as much in Portland proper, but even the closest suburb and everywhere else), no public transportation, hard winters, annoying tourists in the summer. Mayor's right about there being a weird sort of pretense about the arts in Portland. The young population of Portland that has moved there from small towns around New England rivals the New York hipster scene in its own perception of how cool it is.

I agree with everything anastasiav says. Especially about Boston. In general, I highly recommend both moving to Maine and staying in New York over moving to Boston. You'll increase the number of hicks in your life without really increasing the amount of relaxation. No offense, Bostonions. But there isn't a place on earth where I feel less relaxed.

I'd say start browsing for job opportunities, and maybe take a trip up this spring to see if you like it. I wouldn't make the move without at least some major job prospects. If I were on the verge of having a kid, I would probably do my damnedest to find a job in Maine and move there.
posted by lampoil at 8:13 AM on December 31, 2005

I can't really attest to knowing Portland very well, since I live about an hour north in Augusta, but I will say that I moved to Maine 12 years ago from a large metropolitan area (DC) and thought then and still think now that it's absolutely wonderful. The job market is definitely tricky though -- it took me a number of years to get permanent full-time work here, but I'm an editing/proofreading type, which is hard in any nonmetro area. What I like is the smaller scale and the ability to get to beautiful scenery by driving about 20 minutes in any direction.

And I agree with those who note that you will find "people you culturally don't like" no matter where you live. (I refuse to use the R word in this context because many of my nearest and dearest fit that category, and they are warm wonderful people even when I disagree with them.)
posted by JanetLand at 8:24 AM on December 31, 2005

and maybe take a trip up this spring to see if you like it

On the other hand, I might also suggest a trip up in, say Feburary. If you like Maine in February, you'll like it any time of the year. :-)
posted by anastasiav at 8:34 AM on December 31, 2005

I can't honestly imagine what living in Boston offers that Portland doesn't, besides traffic and crime.

In general, I highly recommend both moving to Maine and staying in New York over moving to Boston.

Don't start that shit. Seriously. Here's why Boston is better than Maine:

Employment that doesn't involve a name tag or the smell of gasoline

More than three towns with decent education systems

I can buy a newspaper without standing behind asscracks in hunter orange buying skoal.

It takes more than having a franco and an irishman to make a group "diverse."

and most importantly no Susan Fucking Collins (the fact that Susan Collins still gets elected is testament to the fact that Maine is full of braindead assholes. Seriously. And while I like the governor, the rest of the national delegation sucks too. Especially do-nothing-but-get-reelected Olympia and that anti-choice alleged democrat from district 2.)

Why do you want a pissing match?
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:46 AM on December 31, 2005

Regarding Maine hicks...nope, I didn't say there weren't any. But honestly, in my day to day life, the people I come into contact with are amazing. Lots of nonprofit folks, artists, engineers, craftspeople, entrepreneurs. Yeah, the guy who shovels our driveway for us is a Maine hick. but you know what? he's a sweetheart despite the fact that he shovels while smoking and has a teensy head. I don't want to get involved in the Boston-related pissing match but I don't notice an appreciable difference in the number of idiots I encountered while living down there in the 90s.

That said, it's sure changed a lot here since I grew up. Diversity now means black people and asian people and muslim people, with overlap between the groups- in my childhood MC's joke about the franco and the irishman was disturbingly true.

And regarding jobs, I think that it's easier for mid-career transitions...people right out of college do often end up in service jobs, although that may be true anywhere. But if you have a really rocking resume in your field with 5-15 years experience you should be just fine.
posted by miss tea at 9:30 AM on December 31, 2005

My wife and I moved to Maine from the midwest almost 10 years ago, and we're happy to be here. Though we don't live in Portland, I work in the city and commute from what passes as the suburbs up here. We came here looking for elbow room, which there is plenty of outside of Portland.

To your first point, mtstover, yes it is MUCH more relaxing than what we were used to. In fact we are still amazed at the laid back attitude in the area. If you're in a hurry you learn to get past that feeling and just go with the flow. We've also found the folks up here to be very friendly, but more in a New England quiet (some say guarded) way.

Maine is also a great place to be if you long to do things in the outdoors. Our idea of outdoor fun is to canoe, ride our mountain bikes, or hike. If you like winter sports, there's plenty of downhill and cross country skiing nearby. The other side of that coin is there's plenty of winter here as well.

Culturally, Portland doesn't have as much to offer as NYC or even Boston, but there are classical and popular concerts regularly, and an okay kid's and art museum. Thanks to the tourists, you'll never have a problem finding a good restaurant nearby.

As for the job market, I guess it just depends. We didn't move here until I had a job lined up, and it took a while to find what I wanted. The job market seems to have moved upscale since I've been here, though you sacrifice a bit in pay for a slightly lower cost of living.

I'd have to agree with what was said above. If you think you might like to move here, spend some time in the area. You'll know soon enough if it's for you.
posted by SteveInMaine at 9:31 AM on December 31, 2005

It's all Red Sox Nation. BTW, the original poster said nothing about living downtown or using public transportation.

Smaller cities have less diversity and worse public transportation. It's a sociogeographic fact, so the Boston vs. Maine grudgefest is completely meaningless.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 9:44 AM on December 31, 2005

Yikes, Mayor. It sounds like you're the one looking for a pissing match. I wasn't the one who brought up Boston. I was simply disagreeing with the suggestion of moving there. I really don't think it sounds like what the OPer is looking for in a place to live. I didn't say Maine was better than Boston, and I didn't get personal about the people who live there (other than acknowledging that there are hicks there--you want to dispute that? No one there buys Skoal?) I honestly don't feel relaxed or comfortable in Boston or its suburbs. I was trying to say so respectfully.

In fact, I was desperately trying to express my opinion without making this thread into some STUPID Maine/Boston/New York flame war...I guess you're determined otherwise.
posted by lampoil at 10:22 AM on December 31, 2005

Would be interested in what neighborhoods are good

I just realized that I didn't really answer this part of your question. There are a lot of 'named' neighborhood areas in Portland (I live in the Woodfords neighboorhood, for example) -- this map (warning! gigantic .jpg file) shows most of them (except the Islands, which are whole different issue). The "best neighborhoods" depend on what you're looking for: Downtown is basically 95% apartments and has a small city feel, The East End and the West End are full of older houses (in a good way) on very small lots -- the nicest are million dollar victorian showplaces with ocean views, most others are small, nice woodframed houses with great period details on tiny tiny tiny lots. Many of the larger homes in these areas have been converted to multi-family units.

"Oakdale" (a name I've never heard used) is near USM, and is smaller houses on better lots, mixed with multi-family homes full of students. I would probably classify Parkside and "Valley Street" as lower income areas, with many immigrants living in multi-unit buildings.

Rosemont, Deering, North Deering, East Deering, "Ocean Avenue" (aka Woodfords) are pretty much all single family homes on tree lined streets with slightly larger lots. You'll also find a few small businesses and larger houses converted to apartments in these areas.

As I said above, however, you'll find a nice house in any of these places. There really isn't "good block bad block" like you'd see in NYC or any larger city.

More interesting maps of the city here.

Here are 20 Reasons to Choose Portland, all of which are true, but you can also see the "Hey look at us, we're so great" attitude that MC refers to above.

More resources for research here
posted by anastasiav at 10:40 AM on December 31, 2005

2 cents: I live 45 minutes from Portland in Portsmouth, NH. I have also lived in Philadelphia, Mystic, CT, metro/outlying NYC, the Worcester, MA area, and central New Jersey. As a place to live in, this region has by far offered me the best combination of quality of life factors: interesting and educated populace, lively arts and music scene, outdoor opportunities, lack of congestion/overdevelopment. I love Portland, though I don't live there (Portsmouth is quite a bit smaller, but might offer some of the things you're looking for, as well. Check it out).

It's true that the rural kids flock there because it's the hippest thing in 200 miles -- but that lends a wonderfully positive energy to the place that a more blase population doesn't bring.

I do miss cultural diversity -- there is some, but not much.

And as to the hicks -- this may sound crazy, but I actually prefer living in a population that contains a larger working-class presence. That stems from having lived in far too many glossy, wealth-obsessed, semi-urban environments where everyone is uniformly well-heeled and bourgeois. So if the guy in front of me is buying Skoal, to me it is a welcome slice of local color and economic diversity as opposed to an annoyance. At least in Portland, it's in balance. In slicker metro areas, the wealthy can far too easily enjoy the idea that they are a ruling elite.
posted by Miko at 11:52 AM on December 31, 2005

Response by poster: Hey all, thanks so much for the good and well reasoned advice. Understand a lot of the concern about hicks, but it's not that big of an issue for us. (I'm originally from rural Nebraska, and my wife is from upstate New York, so we're a little bit used to it.)

I guess every place has its ups and downs. We're looking for a place that has great access to the outdoors, as well as enough choice in restaurants / culture that we don't feel like we're truly in the middle of nowhere. Good schools are a draw as well. I'm not going to say anything about Boston...but we're not really looking to move to another BIG city; definitely looking to downsize, just don't know how small.

Owning a car is not a problem, but would like to live in a neighborhood where I can walk to at least something (post office, coffee shop, bookstore, grocery store.) We don't want to have to drive absolutely everywhere, as I think that would kill us after 6 years of not having a car.

We've only spent one weekend in Portland, in between several trips up north to Bar Harbor, where we like to retreat for a week in the summer. Had a fairly good first impression, so have always had it on our list of "potentials" for when we got older and had to move.

Well, judging from the size of my wife's belly, that time will be here with in a year or so.

We're drawn to the northeastern attitude and weather (ie, it has seasons), although Raleigh, NC is on our list as well. (We both lived there right after college.)

As for the people who don't know what I do, well, I can't explain it to my mother either. Think of it as being a doctor for companies - I work for a firm which advises CEOs on how to better run their businesses. The upshot is that I'm underqualified for any specific job (as I've never done it before), but marginally qualified for all of them (as I can figure it out fast.) As advised, I'll certainly have a gig lined up before uprooting the family.
posted by mtstover at 2:01 PM on December 31, 2005

I was going to suggest Portsmouth, NH (I live nearby), and Miko beat me to it. A very walkable city, with loads of good shops and restaurants (not to mention history). Housing prices seem to be fairly high, probably due to displaced Bostonians moving in. No income or sales tax, though. And if you get restless, it's an hour to Portland, an hour to Boston, and a very short jaunt to the beaches of NH or southern Maine.

Portland's very nice, it just always seems too far up the coast for my liking. Once you're there you're pretty much there unless you're willing to take a looong boring drive down I-95.
posted by schoolgirl report at 3:09 PM on December 31, 2005

Someone staying home to look after Newborn for the next five years? Eventually you may want to know if the city provides pre-school or whether kindergarten is full day or half day. (Friend of a friend moved to Portsmouth and got burned on this issue when the relo expert told her she didn't want to live in Newburyport, MA.)

Just one more damn thing to think about.....
posted by IndigoJones at 7:01 PM on December 31, 2005

Maine and Portland have come a ways in terms of jobs and pay, but the economy here is still not very robust. I find it expensive to live here - high taxes, heating costs due to cold weather, food costs due to everything having to be shipped in, expensive real estate in greater Portland. Heating season generally starts sometime in October and ends sometime in May. The University of Southern Maine has come a long way, but is underfunded. Most air travel requires stopovers, but the airport's 10 minutes from my house. The local newspaper was sold to a company on the other coast and has gotten pretty useless.

I grew up in a town in Ohio the same size as Portland, and Portland is much more vibrant and feels a bit more cosmopolitan. It's the largest city in Maine so it has some amenities, but it's still pretty small, so real sophistication is kind of impossible. There is a lively arts community. It's geographically beautiful, and as AnastasiaV says, it's safe. Maine is a Blue State and proud of it. Equal rights for gays are protected by law. My son is 18 and having just visited my hometown in Ohio, quite happy to have been raised here.

Portland is a small town; there's some provincialism, naivete and small town boosterism. But I love it here, and am happy to call it home. Email's in my profile if you have specific questions.
posted by theora55 at 8:16 PM on December 31, 2005

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