This weekend I took a trip up to Maine to visit my family and relax a bit. On Friday after coming in just after a major snowstorm left almost a foot of snow in the area, I went to Portland to have dinner with my parents and meet up with my friend wells for a drink. He lives in an apartment building that was constructed before 1900 with interesting eastern-inspired ornamentation. (Its doors are to the right.) We had some drinks at a place on Congress street across from the State Theater called the Downtown Lounge where the menu was written on chalkboards on the wall and a bottle of Pabst was $2.
Perhaps it was the Christmas decorations or the new snowfall, but I was again struck by the vibrant downtown economy of Portland. (For photos see my Portland Photo Project or my Flickr) Few storefronts were empty and despite the heavy snowfall there were people out and about, and the Downtown Lounge was filling up when we left to try another spot. With great urbanism, cheap beer, and affordable housing I was quickly fantasizing about relocating my (future) internet business to the city, my friend reminded me of some of the drawbacks: it’s small, he hasn’t met many people he likes, and there just isn’t a very strong internet culture. There’s a few businesses that offer free wireless internet but although Craigslist has launched a Maine version, it’s relatively quiet. A handfull of programming and web-related jobs I could find on there testify to a small high-tech sector, but any move would certainly be a contrast from Washington where the blogger meetup alone can draw 20+ people each month.
On the trip I also noticed several high-end urban residential developments under construction, a good sign for the city and which corroborates the impression I have of an overall healthy economy. I also spotted the hitherto unknown (to me) offices of Portland Magazine, who claim on their website to be of some renown.
My trip also included a trip to the Maine Mall, which I wrote about rather stridently for this website in 2002. It seems the post has attracted some interesting comments since I had looked at it last, including from one former mall security guard!
On Sunday I took a trip to Haverhill, Massachusetts, where my brother has recently purchased a house. Haverhill is an old mill town on the Merrimack River like Andover and Lowell. Just 30 minutes from Boston and connected to downtown by the MBTA commuter rail system I think the historic stock of buildings downtown (above) are ripe for redevelopment. In fact, a large apartment complex on the riverbank was under construction when I visited. While I don’t know much about development in the metropolitan Boston area it seems that a concerted effort to revitalize these small, historic cities along existing transit corridors could result in pleasant urban spaces with a high quality of life.