South Portland tops Portland, Burlington and Boston in top New England cities list

The news and lifestyles website GoLocal of Providence, R.I., this week unveiled its list of top New England cities, calling it the “first ever” such ranking focused on the six-state region (although I’d be surprised if nobody had ever previously ranked New England cities).

Topping the list is Cambridge, Mass., which is near Boston and home to Harvard University (ask former Harvard Nieman Journalism Fellow and BDN colleague Christopher Cousins about life in Cambridge — I think he’d give it two thumbs up).

Following No. 2 South Burlington, Vt., is Maine’s first entry on the list, South Portland.

Friends of Casco Bay researcher Elizabeth Thompson works in No. 3 South Portland's Mill Cove last fall while No. 5 Portland stretches across the background. (BDN file photo by Seth Koenig)

While Portland, Maine’s largest city, and its institutions have been getting an awful lot of nationwide attention in recent months (click here, here and here for a sampling of the diverse accolades), South Portland has quietly established itself as one of New England’s best as well, according to GoLocal.

Portland comes in at No. 5 on the list, preceded by one spot by Essex, Vt. Rounding out the rest of the top 10 in order are Burlington, Vt., Stamford, Conn., Colchester, Vt., Concord, N.H., and Boston, Mass.

Other places in Maine that didn’t make the top 10 include Bangor, a bubble city at No. 11, Auburn at No. 20 and Lewiston at No. 21. Other big names you might be curious about? Providence fell to No. 23, Worcester’s at No 25 and Hartford, Conn., is the last one listed, at No. 30.

GoLocal said it used 16 criteria to develop its ranking, including median household incomes, unemployment rates, crimes statistics, public school qualities, the weather, commute times, the arts and parks, among other things (for more specifics, click here).

Included in the list were the top five most populated cities for each state in New England, which is how they ended up with the round number of 30.

Mike Glass of South Portland Public Works gets a ride down a snowy stretch of Thomas Knight Park courtesy of the Parks and Recreation Department's Mike Hebert on Feb. 16 while testing the "human dogsled" track in advance of South Portland's Winter Festival. (BDN file photo by Troy R. Bennett)

Here’s how GoLocal described South Portland, pop. 25,002:

With the motto, “Making All Things Possible,” this city just south of well-known Portland combines numerous strengths to place it in the Top 3 for 2012’s rankings. Known for its working waterfront, South Portland overlooks the tidy skyline of Portland and the picturesque islands of Casco Bay. And due to South Portland’s proximity to air, marine, and highway transportation options, the city thrives as a center for retail and industry in the northern New England region. The data bears this out. The city’s median household income of $51,066 is No. 1 in Maine, and its unemployment rate is the lowest in the state as well. Both violent and property crime rates in the city are among the very lowest on the list. And its air quality ranks as the very best, tied with neighboring Portland–a rare feat, to combine good environment with commerce.

First settled in 1630, South Portland began as a small residential community with many farms. In 1895 it was incorporated as a town after it broke away from neighboring Cape Elizabeth over a dispute regarding a future source of public drinking water. Three years later, South Portland because an official city. The city’s position as a retail center for the state began in the 1960s, when a former pig farm became the site for the construction of the Maine Mall.

And Portland, pop. 66,194:

This beloved historic city perched on a peninsula jutting into Casco Bay rounds out the Top 5 with its beautiful cobblestone downtown full of independent boutiques and restaurants, a top-flight museum, and solid numbers across the board on quality of life issues from prosperity to environment. The largest city in Maine is also one of the most wired cities on the regional list, coming at No. 4 on the list for wifi hotspots per capita.

Portland also boasts one of the most educated communities on this year’s list, with 43.3 percent possessing a BA degree or higher (No. 6 overall).  It also has some of the best weather on the list, boasting a high number of mostly sunny days. A gateway to Downeast (lobster, anyone?) and still a stone’s throw from Boston, Portland sits right at the center of all New England offers. Can 3.6 million visitors a year be wrong about the charms of this city? Not likely, say the lucky 66,194 who live there year-round.

Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.