Portland is rethinking some of its public spaces. Congress Square is the subject of an attempt by the Eastland Park Hotel's new owners to privatize the square, which corporate and city officials say is blighted. And there are other parts of the city that could be made better, more interesting, and more fun.
Though a city's vibrancy depends in large part on its commitment to public space, not all of Portland's landmarks measure up to the usefulness and community-building of Post Office Park, Monument Square, the Eastern Promenade, and the Back Cove Trail.
As a Maine native and architecture graduate, Calvin Dunwoody has picked three ailing spaces and makes these recommendations on how to fix them.
CONGRESS SQUARE AMPHITHEATER
We bet the last time you visited Congress Square wasn't exactly a walk-in-the-park experience. It's Brutalist architecture at its finest: all concrete, with a recessed landing that collects windblown trash, nowhere to sit, a fading mural on the northern wall, and no respect paid to the only physical evidence of Portland's most famous landmark-that-is-no-more (the clock from Union Station). This under-used space could be, but isn't and never has been, a thriving hub in the center of the Arts District. Steps from galleries, museums, clubs, and concert venues — and passed by thousands of drivers every day — it's a useless eyesore badly in need of attention. Rather than making the space into a private ballroom for hotel patrons, though, imagine it as a park by day and an amphitheater by night, where kids could perform puppet shows, buskers could gather and jam, and even, like London's Hyde Park, provide a Speaker's Corner for all to come and espouse and debate their views.
• Remove the concrete slabs, and plant grass in their place.
• Build a small stage, open for public use.
• Install an outdoor projection and sound system along the northern wall, with a retractable screen to prevent blocking both the mural and the southern view from the historic Eastland Park Hotel.
• Construct park benches and tables along the square's eastern wall.
• Repair the Clock House with new Plexiglas windows.