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October 26, 2021

Maine cities rank high in national livability study, and they do it on their own

Source: WalletHub

Four Maine communities rank as some of the country’s best small cities in which to live and work, a new study finds. And one Maine metropolis scores high without help from a big brother.

The analysis, published by financial website WalletHub, compared 1,322 cities on the basis of 43 “key indicators of livability” in five areas: affordability, economic health, education and health care, quality of life, and safety.

WalletHub examined public data for cities with populations between 25,000 and 100,000. The indicators ranged from job growth rates to premature death rates to the numbers of bars and coffee shops per capita, and scores for each city were assigned on a weighted basis.

Portland, which over the years has ranked high on similar lists, placed No. 7 on this one. South Portland came in at No. 114. Specific rankings weren’t available for all 1,322 cities, but Bangor placed in the 50th percentile among them. Lewiston ranked below the median, in the 44th percentile, but still outscored hundreds of American cities.

The city with the lowest score, ranking 1,322, was Pine Bluff, Ark., and the No. 1 ranking went to Sammamish, Wash. Sammamish is a city of roughly Portland’s size, population 66,000, and is about 20 miles east of Seattle.

The No. 2 and No. 6 cities, Carmel, Ind., and Zionsville, Ind., are both suburbs of Indianapolis. The city ranking third nationally, Brentville, Tenn., borders Nashville on the north. Nos. 4 and 5 are Massachusetts cities, Lexington and Reading respectively, which are both suburbs of Boston.

If you notice a pattern here, you’re onto something.

Many of the best small cities ranked by WalletHub are affluent suburbs of much larger cities. In fact, among the top 25 in this year's comparison, only Portland, Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and Lancaster, Pa., are not parts of a major metropolitan area.

Saratoga Springs is 35 miles from Albany, N.Y. Lancaster, Pa., is about 80 miles west of Philadelphia.

One potential theory behind the top tier: Cities that are suburbs, especially of large metros, often don't have to contend with the same challenges of more isolated urban areas. Viewed from that perspective, Portland's rank may be all the more remarkable.

There's another trait that distinguishes the Maine cities on the list. All four receive high scores for the category of quality of life and in education and health care.

Portland received its highest rank, No. 12, for quality of life, and placed No. 56 in education and health care. South Portland was No. 365 for quality of life but bested Portland in the other category, at No. 47.

Both Bangor and Lewiston received their highest ranks for quality of life, placing No. 131 and No. 645 respectively.

In addition, Bangor, Lewiston and South Portland all beat Portland by hundreds of ranks in one important category: affordability. In that comparison of the 1,322 cities, Portland ranks 1,001.

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