Walkability City: Portland, Maine

Portland, Maine, is a great place for those who want to go carless. (Photo: Alex Kehr [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr)

I've made some pretty big moves towards living a greener live over the last month. To start I sold my car, a big-ass Astrovan that was perfect for family trips to the mountains but terrible for solo driving. I got tired of dropping $30 into the gas tank every few days for little more than trips to the grocery store and to pick up the kids (I have no commute). My car had been making some ominous rattles lately and I wasn't keen on being at the mercy of a huge car repair bill for a car that I wasn't really too excited about. So I put an ad on Craigslist and sold it to a high school car nut who was going to fix it up and sell it.

Secondly, I moved into the city, Portland, Maine, to be exact (I have been living 15 minutes north of Portland in rural Cumberland Center). This may sound counterintuitive to living a greener life, but as many people know, city living is greener living. If New York City was a state, it would rank 51st in terms of its citizens per capita in environmental footprint. New Yorkers (and other city folk) usually don't have cars, they use public transportation and walk a lot, and they live stacked up on top of each other in space-efficient skyscrapers.

Portland, Maine, is a small city by most standards with only 62,000ish people living within its borders. It's the cultural, business and social capital of Maine (though not its legislative capital since that honor goes to Augusta) and has pulled in tons of awards and recognition for being a good place to grow up, raise kids, start a business and just live.

My new apartment is smack dab in the middle of town on a quiet little one-way street. I punched in my address into Walk Score, a website that ranks your location in terms of how many things you can walk to and pulled down a mighty 97/100. Whole Foods is right down the street, there's literally hundreds of places to eat within a 15-minute stroll, and I just discovered a great little Italian grocery store/bakery a few blocks away with amazing Luna rolls. (They are to die for.)

I haven't spent dollar one on gas in a month, am learning to love the limitations of public transportation (sometimes waiting is just nice) and I'm getting into great shape walking and skating (on my Sector 9 longboard) everywhere. I'm a huge fan of the farmers market that comes to town twice a week.

Next month I'm going to buy a cargo bike from the good folks at Yuba, something that will allow me even greater flexibility in getting me (and my stuff) around. The Mundo bike by Yuba has an extended wheelbase, beefy components and huge racks on the back that can hold two adults, three children or 500 pounds of cargo.

When I do need a car, I have the option of using Uhaul's car-sharing program UCarShare. For only $9/hour I can jump into one of their conveniently located cars (two are parked blocks from my apartment) and do my business, returning the car back to the spot when I'm done. You don't have to pay for insurance, registration or even gas with Ushare, just drive it and drop it off.

And when I need to really get out of town, I can just rent a car from any of the car rental companies found in any fair-sized city. In the long run, I'm going to save a ton of cash and pollution from being dumped out of a tailpipe.

We'll see how my carless ambitions hold up to Maine's notorious winters, but I think I'll keep it strong. I grew up in the mountains of New Hampshire and know that the only thing standing between me and a pleasant day outside, no matter what the weather, is the right clothing and number of layers.

And girls dig greener guys.



I'm not stopping at ditching the car and moving to the city. I'm making a concerted effort to live a greener life all around. I'll keep you apprised as things develop. So far though, living the greener life is living the good life. Huzzah for the environment and huzzah for Portland, Maine.