If you’ve read this blog in the past, you know I typically post whenever Portland gets named to a top 10 list or receives some other significant mention by national publications, and you also know that happens fairly regularly.
I joke in this space about how frequently somebody somewhere — Travel + Leisure, Forbes, etc. — is lauding the city or one of its businesses for having some of America’s best coffee, beer selection, brunch, you name it.
This time, in the spirit of turning the tables a bit, I thought it would be fun to make a top 10 list out of the top 10 lists Portland has appeared on during the course of 2014 (the city’s recent avalanche of accolades began, as far as I can tell, back with Bon Appetit magazine in 2009).
To be clear, not everyone rounds their lists off at 10, so my “top 10 top 10 lists” headline here is just a bit of word play. Some of these lists are less than 10, some are more. Without further ado, here are the top superlative lists that Portland landed on over the past year, as chosen by me:
Honorable mention. Yelp: 20 best cities to shop local for the holidays
How do you get to put 11 things in a top 10 list? Throw on an “honorable mention.” As my colleague, Darren Fishell, reported in November, the business review website Yelp not only included Portland in its top 20, it named Maine’s largest city No. 1 among places to shop locally for holiday gifts. Yelp spokeswoman Hannah Cheesman told Darren the company’s statisticians created a local shopping score, based on the percentage of retail businesses in certain categories that were locally owned, multiplied by the average star rating of businesses in each city.
I posted about our No. 10 entry on Valentine’s Day, right in the middle of what was one of the longest stretches of snow cover in Portland history — 122 straight days with snow on the ground by the time the last of it melted away on April 7. Almost exactly a year before that post, Portland was decked by a record snowstorm of nearly 32 inches. Portland gets nearly 62 inches of snow on average per year, and according to Bustle.com, typically needs to see about a foot of the white stuff hit the ground before school gets called off. So yes, Portland can actually handle a snowstorm. It’s certainly had enough practice.
And this is how Portland handles its snowstorms. This one came out during the last month of the year, and like Bustle.com’s mention, is seasonally appropriate. Wrote USA Today: “Downtown Portland, Maine’s Exchange Street is often treated to the unusual sight of skiers zapping by after substantial snowfall. This oddity begins to make sense when one discovers that Exchange Street is home to the Ski Maine Association, representing the Maine Alpine & Nordic Ski Industry, and they presumably have plenty of skis laying around their offices for just such spontaneous occasions.”
Like the urban skiing entry, ESPN’s list is kind of a niche ranking. If you don’t like baseball, it won’t mean much to you. But in a city constantly getting pats on the back for its food — which you’ll see soon enough — the baseball mention is a nice change of pace. This past season, the Portland Sea Dogs, which serve as the Double-A minor league affiliate for the Boston Red Sox, boasted such high-end prospects as catcher Blake Swihart, pitcher Henry Owens and infielder-turned-outfielder Mookie Betts during the 2014 season.
In a ranking I posted about in May, listicle factory Buzzfeed had this to say about Portland: “This super-hip city in southern Maine is equal parts artsy, nature-y, and all-around cool. Check out the Portland Museum of Art or eat at one of the many amazing seafood restaurants.”
In early July I wrote that Wine Enthusiast magazine placed Portland on its relatively exclusive list of five rising culinary destinations, mentioning by name Eventide Oyster Co., Hugo’s, David’s Opus Ten and Vinland (the latter of which is also singled out by the Huffington Post in a similar list I’ve got ranked as No. 5 below). While there are a lot of great places to eat in Portland, and certainly too many to mention here, it’s worth noting that since this Wine Enthusiast list came out, Zapoteca chef Shannon Bard has continued to bring notoriety to Portland, going on the Food Network’s cooking competition show “Kitchen Inferno” and winning the whole four-round shebang. The episode aired earlier this month.
Keeping the “foodie” lists together, the Huffington Post has its take on why Portland is such a culinary standout, posting this ranking in late October. Here’s what the HuffPo wrote about Portland: “Local cuisine is king in Maine’s coastal food town. The innovative Vinland restaurant serves only local ingredients — waiters are outfitted in locally-made duds, and the interior is decorated with white birch, too. Enjoy just-caught seafood, Asian-inspired buns and fresh breads at dozens of renowned restaurants, or make a day of picking out dinner at Harbor Fish Market.”
This one popped up in late July, with the publication Smarter Travel ranking Portland alongside places such as New Haven, Connecticut, and San Luis Abispo, California, as an up-and-coming tourist destination. Smarter Travel wrote that Portland “has all the trappings of a metropolis — touring Broadway shows, an opera company, two ballet companies, its own symphony, and chefs who regularly turn up on the Food Network — but without any of that pretentious big-city attitude.” See? There’s the food again. Smarter Travel makes special note of Portland’s popular First Friday Art Walks and Harvest on the Harbor event.
Maybe it makes me look old to geek out about this one, but for my money, it doesn’t get much bigger than Time magazine, which included Portland as a model for other cities to follow in its “Solutions for America” piece. This may be the only one of the bunch to take a slightly harder news approach to the whole city-ranking game. Wrote Time: “The largest coastal city north of Boston has long outgrown its reputation as a quaint tourist town. Aided by the nation’s lowest overall tax burdens for new investment and a 26-acre medical-tech campus, Portland is attracting highly skilled workers to its growing finance, insurance, education and health care sectors. It’s hip, foodie-friendly downtown and seaside location don’t hurt either. … Portland boasts an educated workforce: 45 percent of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree.”
Outside magazine gets the prize for the most grandiose superlative here, boasting that these 16 locations are the “best town[s] ever,” and describing them in the subhead as “perfect places to move now.” So if you’re reading this from somewhere other than Portland, what are you waiting for? Get to it, will you? Outside used online reader votes to come up with its ranking, and Duluth, Minnesota, was way out in front with 221,350. By that metric, Portland’s 30,230 votes ranked it 13th. But when re-ordered based on the cities’ respective “O-scores” — a mathematical formula combining myriad quality-of-life numbers like miles of trails, numbers of bike shops, unemployment rates and median incomes — Maine’s largest city leapfrogs up to a third-place tie with old Duluth. Only Ithaca, New York, and Boulder, Colorado, narrowly top Portland when the criteria is a bit more scientific.
Of all the lists on this list, this is the one Mayor Michael Brennan seemed most proud of early on in 2014, mentioning it prominently at a number of public appearances. So what was the big deal? Well, this wasn’t just a list of American cities Business Insider suggested visiting, it was a list of places humanly possible to visit. In fact, Portland was just one of two American cities the publication zeroed in on, choosing mostly to tout international sites or entire countries. This Maine city of less than 70,000 residents was ranked right up there alongside Iceland, Nicaragua, Cuba and Brazil, the latter of which was about ready to host soccer’s World Cup — the planet’s most popular sports tournament. You’d have needed an oxygen tank in order to visit two of the other places mentioned by Business Insider in this piece: The Great Barrier Reef of Australia and space. Space. Maybe we should ask southern Maine native astronaut Christopher Cassidy which place makes a better vacation spot.