May Madness? Portland wins first round matchup in ‘Best Towns’ tournament

In the most lopsided result of Outside magazine’s online “Best Towns” tournament thus far, 87 percent of the publication’s readers voted for Portland over its first-round foe, Phoenicia, New York.

The two communities faced off in the east bracket of the 64-team field, naturally. The whole competition shares a lot of similarities to the NCAA basketball tournament — “March Madness” — in terms of how it’s set up. That makes it a bit more amusing than the national “best this, best that” rankings I typically write about here.

(Just yesterday: Portland named one of America’s “best-kept secrets.”)

In the first round of Outside’s tourney, Maine’s largest city, given the second seed, received 9,183 votes, while 15th-seeded Phoenicia garnered just 1,385.

Portland was one of two Maine locations included in the tournament. The other, Unity, didn’t fare as well in the first round, however, despite a spry showing. Against the higher seeded (No. 4 versus Unity’s No. 13) and perhaps more widely known Provincetown, Massachusetts, Unity came dangerously close to pulling the upset.

Provincetown eeked out a 4,521-3,981 win, just 53 percent of the Round 1 vote.

Portland's half of the bracket in Outside magazine's "Best Towns" tournament.

Portland’s half of the bracket in Outside magazine’s “Best Towns” tournament.

This is not the first time Portland has appeared in the virtual pages of Outside. In 2011, Portland was voted among the top 20 “Best Towns” in that year’s version of the list, although I don’t think it was decided in the same tournament format.

Here’s what Outside wrote about the city in 2011:

In a centuries-old fishing town two hours north of ­Boston, gentrification was bound to happen. But on the way to the refurbished warehouses and arty ­boutiques, Portland managed to preserve its locavore ethos, which is rooted in a 243-year-old farmers’ market. Now the gastronome scene is as good as the saltwater access. Urban farmers set up shop in East Bayside, growing organic produce and fermenting mead year-round, and lobstermen and fishermen keep the harbor in the Old Port’s waterfront district bustling. But there’s more than just food here: there are paddle-friendly shores on Casco Bay and hurricane-induced surf on the Atlantic beaches, while two hours away lie the long trails of New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

Earlier in 2011, Outside recognized the Maine Island Trail as the Best Sea Kayaking Trail in America, so the magazine is no stranger to our state.

As Outside’s 2014 tournament follows conventional bracketology, Portland’s next opponent is No. 10 Hanover, New Hampshire, which upended No. 7 St. Michaels, Maryland, in the first round.

(As of when I write this, Portland is well on its way to winning in Round 2 as well, with a nearly 2-to-1 advantage in votes.)

The top seed in the east bracket is Burlington, Vermont, which took 86 percent of the vote to knock off No. 16 Glastonbury, Connecticut, in Round 1 and faces No. 11 Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in Round 2.

The biggest upset thus far? Provo, Utah, the bottom-ranked town in the west bracket beat Jackson, Wyoming, the top-ranked town out there.

Overall, Outside received more than 400,000 votes in Round 1, which ended Monday night. Voting is open for Round 2 now.

Outside editors chose the seedings, so there is a human element to where in the bracket each of these locations ended up. In an announcement of the first round results, we do get a hint of their criteria. It said, in part:

The goal was simple: to find the best small town in America. The kind of place with top-notch restaurants, vibrant farmers’ markets, friendly neighborhoods and unparalleled access to hiking and biking trails. In short, the perfect jumping-off point for adventure.

Online voters will decide the overall winner in the days leading up to June 15, and the winning community will be visited by an Outside writer and videographer for what the magazine calls “marquee coverage” in its September edition. Towns that make it to the Sweet 16 will get mentions as well.

Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

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