Downtown Portland, ME- great urban core for an underrated city

Downtown boundaries are a bit convoluted and debatable. I simply followed what Google Maps provided.

Downtown Portland is typical in many ways for a New England Dwtn. Great historic architecture dense, vibrant, and lots of retail remains. Streets are also a bit windy and confusing but much more legible here than Dwtn Boston. Dwtn Portland certainly experienced its own period of blight akin to most American Dwtns with the construction of the suburban Maine Mall  in the 1970s. Yet this didn’t last too long and Dwtn Portland was largely sparred from major urban renewal efforts. Revitalization really started in the adjacent Old Port district with tourist and lots of local businesses blossoming. Since Dwtn and Old Port are so intertwined, Dwtn quickly began to see spill over revitalization as well. The industrial bayside district to the north of Dwtn has also seen lots of new development including a Trader Joe’s Wholefoods, and lots of higher end housing.

While statistically a very safe place, Dwtn still feels a bit rough around the edges partially due to its large homeless population, but also because there are some dead spots and underutilized buildings, especially in the eastern half of Dwtn. Dwtn could also use a better college age presence along with more affordable housing. Its also not a huge employment hub, but this may be a difficult deficiency to overcome given the fact that the City of Portland only has 66,000 residents even if the region is over 600K. But I like Dwtn Portland, ME overall and feel its a very comfortable and walkable place tying in nicely to several great adjacent urban districts. This is a very underrated urban place, that only New Englanders seems to know. 
Click here to view my Downtown Portland, ME album on Flickr


* Great density for an American Dwtn and well integrated into several surrounding urban districts.
* High quality architecture, especially historic. In-fill is good as well generally with good urban form. Some of the 60s-80 buildings are pretty ugly though.
* Good transit service within Dwtn and surrounding neighborhood. Decent service to the rest of the City. Some service to inner ring suburbs.
* Good system of bike lanes Dwtn and out to Portland Neighborhoods. Some connections out to the suburbs and larger Metro. Dockless bike share system is in its pilot year.
* Great economic diversity Dwtn. Okay racial diversity.
* No larger parks or recreational spaces Dwtn but lots of nice small and medium sized plazas.
* Congress Sq Park is I would consider Dwtn’s best civic space. This is the most dynamic space with lots of events and even a “friends of Congress Sq Park”.
* Generally a pretty safe Dwtn but a fair amount of homelessness helping it to feel a bit edgy.
* Generally great urban form but a handful of surface parking lots on the eastern edge. Also good urban street form.
* Great cultural amenities include a nice array of restaurants, bars, & cafes, great array of theaters and music halls including (a cineplex, indie film theater, and several performing arts theaters), lots of art galleries, the Portland Art Museum, and several smaller museums and historic houses.
* Other Dwtn amenities include a dwtn library and post office, the Cross Arena, and plenty of courts and government buildings.
* Downtown has a safety ambassador program
* Great retail amenities Dwtn, especially if you include adjacent neighborhoods that are walkable… Trader Joe’s, Wholefoods & several smaller grocers, a drug store, good array of boutiques and unique stores, several bookstores, plenty of bank branches, and lots of home good stores.


* Decent amount of rental product but generally runs expensive. 1-bedrooms lease anywhere in the $1,000s, 2-bedrooms in the 1K&2Ks, no 3-bedroom product available.
* Similar situation for for-sale product. Most are condos selling anywhere between 350-800K. Some cheaper condos selling in the 200Ks. Decent amount of affordable rentals dwtn.
* No much of a skyline but some nice historic mid-sized towers and chapels.
* Portland’s main high school is located Dwtn and several others walkable to Dwtn like Baxter Academy for Technology & Science. A couple others about a mile out.
* Only a small Art College Dwtn. University of Southern Main is about a mile away with around 5,000 students.
* No convention center and only one sporting center, the Cross Arena.
* Difficult to find any hard numbers but I don’t sense that Downtown Portland is a huge employment hub. Probably 10-20K jobs especially if you include the great Dwtn area.
* No Target or other larger retailers. 

Old Port, Portland- Maine’s greatest port, now tourist destination.

This is the City’s oldest district between Commercial Street and  Spring-Federal Street. East to West, Old Port runs from Franklin St. to York and Maple. After Portland was largely destroyed by the British in the Revolutionary war, Old Port was rebuilt with 19th century brick buildings and fishing piers becoming Maine’s leading port and economic center. Old Port was revitalized in the 1970s when real estate developers transformed derelict warehouses into apartments, condos, offices and retail space. Old Port emerged as a popular urban district filled with boutiques, restaurants, bars, cafes, and night life. 

As much of Old Port’s historic fabric remains, it scores well in many urban categories including walkability, urban form, a wonderful streetscape, and beautiful historic architecture. Due to a plethora of local businesses and boutiques, Old Port contains most neighborhood retail amenities as well. Yet Old Port lacks amble access to green space (largely due to a privately controlled waterfront), expensive real estate, and mediocre public transit. There is still room for significantly more density to create a more well rounded district not so reliant on tourist and downtown workers.  
Click here to view my Old Port Album on Flickr


* Pretty great bike system citywide and to many suburbs. Limited bike lanes within Old Port and dwtn, but easy access to them on the edge of the neighborhoods.
* Very economically diverse population.
* Great cultural amenities with tons of restaurants, bars, and cafes, live music venues, and easy access to a cineplex and theaters.
* Lots of neighborhood amenities with tons of boutiques and locally owned stores, drug stores, bookstores, and easy access to several grocery stores in nearby districts.
* Very safe district.
* Convenient access to a great high school and a solid middle school is about 1 mile away.
* Great ADA infrastructure, attractive sidewalks, and consistent street trees.


* Even with great access to Downtown, mediocre transit access.
* No bike sharing but this seems to be on the way.
* No great racial or generational diversity.
* For sale housing is very expensive. 1 bedrooms condos selling in the 300s & 400Ks. 2-bedrooms above 500K.
* Rentals also expensive. Studios start around $1,000 and 1-bedrooms in the $1,000s. 2-bedrooms in generally in the high $1,000s and $2,000s.
* Recreation amenities a bit limited. Several plazas and parks but one needs to walk a mile to a large park. Unfortunately no waterfront park along the harbor.