August 13, 2012

Portland excels at making the list

Talk about a model city! Portland corners the market as magazines and websites rank locations for livability. What does it all mean? That may be the No. 1 question.

By Ray Routhier
Staff Writer

Read the lists, and you'll see how great Portland is.

Today's poll: Best-city lists

Do you think Portland's appearance on best-city lists makes a difference in attracting people to the city?



View Results

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Commercial Street reflects some of Portland’s strengths that land it on best-of lists: friendly to the arts, entrepreneurs, business and families.

2011 Staff File Photo/Jill Brady

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Staff Photo Illustration/Michael Fisher and Brian Robitaille


SOME "BEST PLACE" LISTS to which Portland has been named since 1999:

Kiplinger's Personal Finance -- Best City in the U.S. for Second Acts, 2012

Parenting Magazine -- Third Best City in the U.S. for Families, 2012

Travel + Leisure -- Seventh-Greenest City, 2012

GoLocal -- Top 10 for New England's Best Cities, 2012 -- Top 10 for Job Prospects, 2012

RelocateAmerica -- Top 100 Places to Live in United States, 2010 -- Top 10 for Small Business Vitality, 2010

Bon Appetit -- America's Foodiest Small Town, 2009 -- America's Most Livable City, 2009

American Planning Association -- Commercial Street named a Great Place in America, 2008

US News and World Report -- Top Ten Places to Retire, 2007

Organic Gardening Magazine -- Top Green City (under 150,000), 2007 -- Top Vacation Resort Area for People with Dogs, 2007

Business Week -- Best Places to Raise Kids, 2007

Kiplinger's Personal Finance -- Best Cities for Mid-Level Professionals, 2007

Self Magazine -- Healthiest Cities for Women, 2006

INC. Magazine -- Boom Town List of Hottest Cities for Entrepreneurs, 2006

Forbes Magazine -- Top 50 Best Places for Business and Careers, 2006

Milken Institute -- Top 100 Best Performing Cities, 2006

Countryman Press -- "100 Best Art Towns in America" (book), 2005

INC. Magazine -- Top U.S. Cities for Doing Business, 2005

American City Business Journals -- Top Market in Small Business Vitality, 2005

Milken Institute -- Best Performing Cities, 2004

National Geographic Adventure Magazine -- 10 Great Adventure Towns, 2004

INC. Magazine -- Top 25 Cities For Doing Business In America, 2004

Travel Smart Consumer Newsletter -- No. 6 on the list of the "10 safest, culturally most fascinating U.S. cities," 2004

Bike Town Magazine -- Bike Town U.S.A., 2004

National Trust for Historic Preservation -- America's Dozen Distinctive Destinations, 2003

• Fine Living Cable Network -- 10 Perfect Places to Live in America, 2003

• Outside Magazine -- North America's 10 Dream Towns, 1999

Source: City of Portland


WHILE PORTLAND often ranks near the top of some subjective, lifestyle-based lists of the best places to live, here are some hard numbers that help show what it's really like to live here:





HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATES (ages 25 and older): 91.3 percent

BACHELOR'S DEGREE OR HIGHER (ages 25 and older): 43.2 percent

MEDIAN HOUSING VALUE (owner-occupied): $248,100

CRIME RATE: Down 15 percent over the past three years

UNEMPLOYMENT: 6.1 percent (as of May 2012)

Source: City of Portland

America's most livable city, proclaimed a list from Third-best city for raising kids, cheered a list from Parenting magazine. Fifth-best city in the nation for hipsters, announced Travel + Leisure.

But wait -- some lists say Portland's not so great.

The city has the eighth worst-dressed population in America, according to Travel + Leisure, the same publication that tagged the city a hipster haven. And Men's Health magazine's list of 100 "Hotbeds of Sex" cities in 2010 had Portland dead last.

How can this be? Great place for hipsters and families, but worst place for fashion sense and sex?

"Apparently, the hipsters aren't having sex. Maybe they can't get out of their skinny jeans," said Chris Kast, a brand marketing strategist who works for The Brand Co. in Portland.

Portland has seemingly cornered the market on making best-city lists. The city of Portland's website lists 35 "best place" lists put out by magazines and websites that name Portland in the past 13 years. (Not surprisingly, the city doesn't keep track of the worst-place citations.)

But what it all means and what impact the lists really have are murky questions -- not the kind of questions easily answered in our Twitter-, soundbite- and list-driven society.

For the companies that compile the lists, however, the answer is fairly simple: Money. Lists are conducive to online slide shows, and slide shows drive Web traffic -- big time.

"People have always liked lists. They talk about them. That's why magazines have done them for years. But with the Internet, there are a lot more places to put these lists, and there's the ability to do slide shows, which definitely drive a lot of traffic," said Ellen Cannon, editorial director for QuinStreet Financial Services websites, including,, and

"One of the largest sites we work with is MSN, and their top (page views) are always for slide shows," Cannon said.


To get a sense of how great Portland does on magazine and website lists -- and how abundant and diverse these lists are -- let's simply list some of the lists:

"America's Foodiest Small Town": Bon Appetit, August 2009

"America's Most Livable City":, April 2009

"Top Vacation Resort Area for People with Dogs":, 2007

Top 12 "surprising, thriving, and emerging world travel destinations": Frommer's Travel Guides, 2007

Top two "Best Cities for Mid-Level Professionals": Kiplinger's' Personal Finance, June 2007

One of the top 10 "Perfect Places to Live in America": Fine Living Cable Network, 2003

Portland has also made best-place lists for being green, for art, for women's health, for small business vitality, for biking, for programs for low-income and homeless people, for historic properties, for safety and for access to local products.

So far in 2012, Portland's list accolades (or disses) include the hipster and worst-dressed lists mentioned above. Most recently, the city was named by Kiplinger's in July as the best city for "second acts," which basically means adults with grown children looking for a change.

(But those same adults probably shouldn't retire in Portland, given that last year ranked Maine as the worst state to retire to, mostly because of weather, taxes and other economic factors.)

Do the lists really mean that Portland is so great (or so bad) in the various categories? Will people who are looking for a better life, a better vacation or a better job, for example, just flip through the lists and decide to come to Portland?

(Continued on page 2)

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Today's poll: Best-city lists

Do you think Portland's appearance on best-city lists makes a difference in attracting people to the city?



View Results