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Old 01-24-2014, 11:44 AM
63 posts, read 167,978 times
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We (myself, wife and 5 yo son) are considering a move from Seattle back to New England - to either Burlington, VT (where we lived from '03-'10) or to Portland, ME. We are feeling a pull to head back to New England to be closer to family and friends who mostly reside on the east coast. I am adamant against moving back to another big city like Boston (have lived there before) - we are pretty set on small city living should we move back. I am intimately familiar with Burlington, having lived there for 7 years. We both have jobs set in either place, so that is not an issue. Although Burlington would make sense in terms of familiarity, I am wanting to gather more information about Portland because it is a bit bigger and my sense has always been that Portland has more going on in terms of the economy, restaurants, ? a bit more racial/ethnic diversity (which I realize is fairly limited in both locales). I also wouldn't mind continuing to live near salt water - Lake Champain offered beautiful views, but to me, there is nothing like salt water...

Although in many respects, I had many great times in Burlington while we were there, I also found it to be somewhat stifling and provincial. It really felt like the small college town that it is. That certainly has its' pros and cons... When we first moved there from Boston in '03, I was kind of bummed to see that the weekend night scene was really dominated by college kids spilling out of the bars on Church St. In terms of pros - VT had a wonderful simple quality to it, and our lives were steeped in enjoying the outdoors - alpine and cross country skiing, running, hiking, etc... We look forward to doing all of this in either locale.

I would love to get more input from those familiar with both cities. Does Portland feel appreciably larger? Does it feel a little less isolated and a bit more diverse? I have never spent much time in Portland; only stopping for a meal while passing through or visiting for an afternoon.

Thanks in advance!
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Old 01-25-2014, 01:09 PM
Location: Maine
18,598 posts, read 22,371,379 times
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I liked both towns quite a lot. To me, Burlington feels like a sizeable town, whereas Portland feels like a small city. Definitely not isolated. Boston is only a couple of hours away, by car or rail, and it's pretty much solid civilization the whole way. North and west of Portland, civilization gives way to smaller towns until you hit Lewiston/Auburn or Augusta.

Lots of good restaurants in the area. The economy continues to struggle everywhere in Maine.

In terms of diversity, I don't think you'll notice a huge difference between the two places.
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Old 01-26-2014, 06:01 AM
Location: Portland, ME
234 posts, read 300,996 times
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A recent development in Portland, really in just the last year, is a panhandler at every major intersection, sometimes even two or three per. It has become so bad I've even seen them at places like Valley and Commercial St. The city passed a law banning them from standing in the medians but the police refuse to enforce it.
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Old 01-26-2014, 06:08 PM
63 posts, read 167,978 times
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Thanks for the responses so far. I have been wondering whether Portland actually feels bigger than Burlington - sounds like it does feel more like a "little city". Thanks again.
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Old 01-26-2014, 06:17 PM
Location: Ohio
192 posts, read 359,058 times
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It's funny you mentioned the panhandlers. When we lived in Columbus Ohio rumor (pretty good source) had it that the homeless shelters would supply them with materials for sign making, and then shuttle them to various corners. We did notice a few last June while in Portland. Almost made me feel like home!
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Old 01-26-2014, 07:25 PM
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Burlington, VT is roughly two hours from Montreal ( including the border patrol), while Portland is about the same from Boston, so the Big City factor is about the same. Burlington has more of a collegiate presence, though..
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Old 01-27-2014, 02:17 PM
Location: Cumberland Maine
843 posts, read 1,006,119 times
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Here's my two cents worth on Portland. We are about to move there (August) and have made several trips to investigate. We have lived in Kansas City, Minneapolis, Washington D.C., and now Austin Texas. We wanted to get away from the big city headaches but still wanted some of the positives (restaurants, movies, theater, etc.). We were very impressed with Portland. It feels like much larger city than it actually is. And yet, within 30 minutes minutes, you can be out of town and into true small towns.
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Old 01-28-2014, 09:08 AM
Location: East Boston, MA
9,290 posts, read 17,335,061 times
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I lived in Portland for four and a half years and have family in Burlington so I'm fairly familiar with both.

I don't think they feel too much different in terms of size. Both are very small cities. While Burlington is smaller on paper, when you combine it with South Burlington you have a population that's about the same as Portland (65,000-70,000) in a footprint (about 25 square miles) that's the same as Portland. Neither is bursting at the seams. "Metro" Portland is listed at about 500,000 people but you have to keep in mind that that figure includes all of York, Cumberland and Sagadahoc Counties. It's all of Southern and a small part of Mid Coast Maine. A land area more thane double the size of Rhode Island with fewer than half the people Rhode Island has. Portland doesn't feel anything like a metro of around 1/2 a million people. I would call the size department a near wash with a slight edge to Portland. Given your familiarity with Burlington and lack of familiarity with Portland, Portland will probably feel a little larger until you get used to it. New cities typically tend to feel larger than they are until we get comfortable with them. Coming from a major city like Seattle, both cities will feel more like quaint, medium sized towns than they do cities. The difference in size, in my opinion, is negligible.

I don't think Portland feels any more diverse than Burlington. Neither city deserves high marks for being diverse. While they're obviously more multicultural than the smaller towns that surround them, they're the most diverse cities in the whitest states in the nation which doesn't say much. If I had to give an advantage to either, I'd give the slight advantage to Burlington due to the college population (which tends to be more diverse in smaller cities and towns than the general population). Both cities have colleges, but Burlington is the consummate college town. Portland has two satellite campuses and a tiny Art college.

Economically, I would call it a wash as well. Both are the centers of economic activity for their regions. However, neither is an economic power house. I think Portland may have more office space, but I notice more visible signs of economic struggle in the Portland area than I do in Burlington. Undoubtedly, Portland's homeless problem will jump out at you fairly quickly. Many can tolerate it, some cannot. Having lived in larger cities, I didn't find it to be incredibly bothersome, but it was surprising given the size of the city.

I don't consider either to be any more isolated than the other. While Portland is closer to Boston, Burlington is essentially equidistant from Montreal. Both are around the same distance from New York City. Both have adequate highway and bus access and both have trains that, while useful, are more tourist trains than proper commuter options. Both have small airports that serve hub cities in the East and Midwest. Personally, I prefer Portland's coastal location to Burlington's lakeside location but I have a hard time knocking Lake Champlain. Burlington is closer to major ski areas, but Portland is close enough to good ones too. Including being about 2 to 2.5 hours from Sugarloaf, which I consider the best ski area in the Northeast.

Prior to living in Portland, I had only lived in larger cities (Boston, Providence, Washington D.C.). I picked Portland for similar reasons to others who picked Portland (fewer large city problems without sacrificing too many amenities). After living in Portland for a while, I felt the same way about it that you do (at least in some sense) about Burlington. I found Portland to be just a little too small, insular, and stifling. I think the thing that bothered me the most was how self-congratulatory people in Portland could be about the city. It seems every day in the paper, on the news, and in general conversation locals are gushing about how wonderful Portland is. I don't have a problem with civic pride. To the contrary, I think it's necessary for a successful city. However, in Portland it was coupled with a slightly myopic view of world outside of Portland and Maine, and a blind eye to anything negative about the city. Obviously that's a generalization and not everybody was that way, but it was enough to be off-putting. Before living in Portland, I found the cynicism in larger cities to be a bit much. Having left Portland 4 years ago, I found the cynicism in lager cities counterbalances the civic pride perfectly and I haven't looked back. I think for all of the gushing that visitors and lifelong residents do over Portland it has to be taken with a grain of salt. It's a nice little city. Nicer than most little cities in New England, a region that's pock-marked with run down mill cities and economic wastelands. However, I don't think the hype comes close to matching the reality for many people. At least not for me. It'll always be a city I enjoy visiting on occasion because it is a nice place, but it's too small and provincial for me to ever consider living there again.
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Old 01-28-2014, 11:26 AM
506 posts, read 585,308 times
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Why does Maine always get black marks for being "too white"??? It's not like the state ever put up a sign that read "no non-whites allowed". I have read things on the internet that border on anger and contempt for Maine being "too white". I would say that cultural history, economic opportunity, and weather have had something to do with Maine's homogenous population. I don't think that French Canada or Europe had a ton of non-whites back in the day when Maine was settled.......and since then there just hasn't been a big impetus for other ethnicities to move to Maine (other than the liberal welfare benefits available in Maine that have attracted ALL races over the past decade).

And by the way.......how come people don't question why Africa is "so black"???? Anyway.....off my soapbox.

Portland definitely feels like a bigger city than Burlington when you are downtown.

The Portland Jetport is definitely better than Burlington's airport.......more airlines and more flights to choose from.
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Old 01-28-2014, 12:00 PM
Location: East Boston, MA
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The issue I think some people have with Maine being very white is just the lack of cultural diversity. I don't think it's an accusation of Maine being unwelcoming or racist. I haven't seen or heard that implied very often.

Cultural and ethnic diversity is something that benefits everyone. Exposure to a variety of different cultures opens the doors for understanding. That's especially positive for children in schools as the exposure equips children to better understand (and succeed in) the outside world. I went to college in Maine with students who, at 18, had literally never met a black person. They were good people, smart people, and certainly not racist. However, not having any of that exposure to different people creates another obstacle (the size of that obstacle is certainly debatable and varies depending on where they end up) that they have to overcome in order to succeed elsewhere.

Beyond that, there are benefits to the quality of everyday life as well. I love having an incredible variety of ethnic foods where I live. I like attending ethnic and cultural festivals. In Maine (and Vermont), the exposure to those things is limited. Sure, Portland (and Burlington) offers more than the more diversity than the rest of the state, but comparatively speaking, even for similar sized cities, it pales in comparison to the rest of the country.

So while I wouldn't call it a "black mark" on Maine, I think IHeartMaine's reasons for Maine being white are accurate, it is a check in the "cons" column for those who appreciate that sort of thing.

It should be said, that there are plenty of people who couldn't care less about the level of diversity in their area. It doesn't make them racist or bigoted. They just don't necessarily find it an important factor in determining where they live. For those folks, I'm sure they don't consider Maine's predominantly white population to be a negative or a positive. It just is.
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