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Money magazine picks Portland, Ore. as nation's best place to live

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ Citing short commutes, small school classes, corralled urban sprawl and pedestrian-friendly blocks lined with java joints and bookstores, Money magazine lists this city as the nation's best place to live.

Money's 14th annual rankings appear in the magazine's December issue, which goes on sale this week.

For regional winners the magazine chose Chicago in the Midwest, Providence, R.I., as the best in the East, Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C., as the best area in the South and Salt Lake City as the best in the West. Sarasota, Fla., was named the nation's most livable small city.

The magazine lauds Portland's transformation from a timber town to a high-tech hub with an excellent job market and a ranking in the top fifth of all metro areas for job growth. Job growth is projected at 26 percent over the next 10 years.

The magazine also speaks highly of Oregon's brewpubs, recreational activities and a mass transit system that is the envy of many other cities.

``If all this tech talk makes it sound a bit like San Francisco, well, it is, but without the hassles and expense,'' the magazine says.

The magazine points out that Portland is surrounded by natural beauty, sitting in the shadow of snowcapped Mount Hood and a short drive from the majestic Columbia River Gorge.

Despite the high praise for the quality of living, the median price for a single-family home is $165,700, making it one of the nation's least-affordable housing markets. According to a Harvard University study those prices jumped 44.3 percent between 1991 and 1999.

But Money says that taken as a whole, the Rose City is way ahead of the competition.

Such paeans are becoming commonplace. Britain's magazine The Economist called Portland ``The nation's darling of urban correctness.'' National Public Radio's ``Talk of the Nation'' recently came to town to devote a program to the city's charms.

Some fear that Portland may become a victim of its own virtues, with so many people trying to live here that they will erase what drew them to Portland in the first place.

The population is getting denser as the Urban Growth Boundary, which controls urban sprawl and protects forested and farm areas, piles people into the city within its limits.

The magazine notes that people are so eager to live in renovated downtown areas that the vacancy rate there is a slim 3 percent.

The magazine quotes Portland Mayor Vera Katz as saying `We're growing gracefully.''

``We're reinventing ourselves as a very urban place by incorporating the natural environment, transportation, parks and neighborhoods,'' said Gil Kelley, Portland's Bureau of Planning director.

``It is interesting that Portland comes in high in livability rankings but has not done well in Money magazine over the years,' said Carl Abbott of Portland State University's School of Urban Studies and Planning.

He said the listing is a recognition of how well the local economy is doing.

``All of these surveys define a set of criteria then compare the cities to those criteria,'' he said. ``It is plausible that Portland is the best place to live.''

He said the rate of increase in housing prices had dropped some in recent years and that other cities are catching up, ``with Portland still a relatively expensive market.''

Abbott said with or without the article, Portland already is known as a good place to live.

``It has a strong reputation among young people, people in their 20s,'' he said. ``It's on the list of places where when people graduate from college and ask where they want to live, Portland is on the list.''

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