May 22, 2018
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Portland launches new study to determine future of public spaces

By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — The city of Portland announced on Wednesday it has partnered with The Trust for Public Land and nonprofit Portland Trails for a study that will show, in part, which city-owned properties should be maintained as public spaces and which should be considered for development.

The citywide open spaces assessment aims to take inventory of Portland’s parks, gardens, trails and other open spaces and develop “a holistic vision” for the network of public places.

The assessment will include recommendations on which of the publicly owned spaces need greater investment — and how they can be improved — and which may be better suited to commercial development.

The project launch comes against a backdrop of lingering conflict over the future of Congress Square, which the City Council voted to sell to private hotel developers last fall, fueling a heated debate over whether that and other public spaces should be available for development.

Through a drawn-out legal battle, opponents of the sale successfully forced a public referendum that effectively put the Congress Square transaction on ice, then organized a series of summer events aimed at revitalizing the long-neglected 14,500-square-foot space.

On Wednesday, city officials touted the new open spaces assessment as being an inclusive process in which a public survey will factor heavily.

For support of the public engagement portion of the open spaces assessment report, Portland Trails secured a $18,000 grant from the Lerner Foundation.

“City parks are a tremendous asset and contribute significantly to the quality of life we enjoy in Portland, but this effort will go beyond that by looking at ways in which we can improve our parks and open spaces and sustain them into the future,” said City Manager Mark Rees in a statement.

In addition to creating a comprehensive directory of Portland’s publicly owned open spaces and outlining common goals for those properties, the study “outcomes will also include the development of an assessment tool — with public input — to look across city-owned land and help guide decisions about which spaces may need more recreational facilities, trails, space to grow food, public art, additional protections and which are better suited to develop, how to improve park quality and access, and an assessment of resource needs,” according to a Wednesday city announcement.

The Trust for Public Land will also lend its expertise to help identify ways to line up sustainable funding for the open spaces as part of the effort.

“We’re delighted to work with the city, and Portland Trails, and glad that they sought out our technical expertise and recommendations,” said Wolfe Tone, Maine state director for The Trust for Public Land, in a statement. “There are a wealth of open space assets in this community in addition to our city’s parks, trails and gardens, particularly the dozens of dedicated local stakeholders and stewards who care about these spaces deeply. We are honored to work on behalf of these existing assets and stakeholders, along with other open space lovers in Portland, to build consensus on a collective future open space vision for Portland as a community.”

Kara Wooldrik, executive director of Portland Trails, said in a statement that her organization is “eager to begin the public engagement process.”

“We will facilitate a series of public meetings, beginning in the fall, aimed at developing a community wide open spaces vision that will set the course for Portland’s future,” she said.

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