PORTLAND, Maine — Scores of urbanites swarmed an art studio in an old paint shop Wednesday night. Sipping Rising Tide and Sixpoint ale, what did the 20-, 30-, 40- and 50-somethings have in common besides designer stubble, coy tattoos and an air of anticipation? Two zip codes.
In the last few years, New Yorkers from the city’s trendiest borough, Brooklyn, have migrated to Portland and Cumberland County in waves. They’re coming for jobs, for the connection to nature Maine affords and for better schools. And their arrival is changing the city’s creative community and upping its food scene.
“It’s cleaner than the Gowanus Canal,” one nametag read. “Space Gallery,” another said. “I found a job,” read a third.
The welcoming committee known as 2 Degrees Portland is a city initiative designed to acclimate newcomers to Portland. The program adopted the Brooklyn to Portland theme, creating the clever hybrid title of “Portlyn” for their March meetup because the pipeline grows more robust every day.
In the age of telecommuting and Skype, people no longer have to live where they work. And for many New Yorkers, Portland’s hand-crafted, genuine aura feels very Brooklyn.
“I was looking for a culturally vibrant place that is authentic,” said Annie Leahy, who moved to Portland in 2009 after 12 years in Brooklyn.
When she first arrived in Brooklyn Heights,“I could smell the salt air,” the former ABC News producer said. She gets the same rush from Casco Bay. “There is something in my DNA, I need to be near the water.”
The challenge for many who call “Portlyn” home is “how can we keep our New York City jobs and get out of the tri-state area?” said Sara Juli, a solo performing artist with an arts fundraising consultancy. She moved to Falmouth with her husband last July for a quality-of-life upgrade.
After crunching numbers, they figured out it’s less expensive for them to live in Greater Portland and commute to New York than to stay in Brooklyn. Juli’s husband flies to New York twice a week. The other options the family considered, namely Connecticut and Long Island, would’ve meant long commute times. In that scenario “expenses increase and quality of life go down,” Juli said. “It’s a 45 minute flight on Jetblue.”
No one knows exactly how many former Brooklynites now call Portland home. At least 75 were at Wednesday’s gathering. And more are on the way.
Fresh from Ditmas Park, Simon Rucker and Samantha Lambert bought a house on Munjoy Hill with a rental apartment nine months ago. They put a solicitation on Craigslist and another Brooklyn transplant will move in in early April. Why the stampede?
“New York is very expensive,” said Rucker, who has two small children.
“Everything is hard in Brooklyn,” added Lambert, from grocery shopping to cultural activities. In Maine it’s easy. She took her child to the Nutcracker for $30 and “we had sixth row seats.”
In New York she would spend $200 “and an hour on the subway.”
One difference in Maine Lambert, a 39-year-old native New Yorker, noticed is the lack of public transportation. She is just now taking driver’s ed.
Jennifer Hutchins, executive director of Creative Portland stood on a milk crate and gave an impassioned speech at the event. “We don’t want to become Brooklyn,” she assured the crowd in thick-framed glasses, slicked back hair and all manners of dress. “But if you come here you have to invest. Give something back.”
Maine, she said is at an “intersection of quality of life and economic growth. Growth is essential to our survival, but we can’t grow for growth’s sake. It’s about quality, not quantity.”