Poetry Corner: “America” by Claude McKay

Photo of Claude McKay by hoto credit: Carl Van Vechten
Claude McKay, who was born in Jamaica in 1889, wrote about social and political concerns from his perspective as a black man in the United States, as well as a variety of subjects ranging from his Jamaican homeland to romantic love. Photo credit: Carl Van Vechten

by Claude McKay, 1889 – 1948

Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,

And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,

Stealing my breath of life, I will confess

I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!

Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,

Giving me strength erect against her hate.

Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.

Yet as a rebel fronts a king in state,

I stand within her walls with not a shred

Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.

Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,

And see her might and granite wonders there,

Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,

Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.

Poetry Corner is curated by Alicia Harding.

Report from the Legislature

By State Rep. Ben Chipman

Benchipman-bwI hope you are having a great new year. The 2016 legislative session began January 6th, and this year we will be taking up over 200 bills. I will continue to provide effective leadership on the issues that are important to you and pass legislation that benefits the City of Portland. If you have any questions, concerns, or ideas, please feel free to contact me anytime. I am here to serve you.

Addressing the Drug Crisis

The opiate/heroin epidemic has become a huge problem in our neighborhoods and across the state. Last year we had 14 overdoses in one 24-hour period here in Portland, and drug abuse is now responsible for about 75 percent of the crime in our city. Right now 5 people are dying every week in Maine from drug addiction, and many more are having their lives destroyed. This is a major crisis we cannot ignore.

We just took a significant step to address this issue. Last month I co-sponsored and helped pass a bill to make drug treatment and rehabilitation easier to access (LD 1537). This bill, which has now been signed into law, will provide $3.7 million to improve and expand drug treatment, rehabilitation, and recovery programs in Portland and around the state.

Drug addiction is a serious public health issue. We need to do everything we can to continue expanding access to treatment and rehabilitation. I am glad we passed LD 1537 and I hope it makes a real impact on an issue that is affecting so many people.

Rent and Property Tax Relief

This year we continued funding in the state budget for the rent and property tax refund program, known as the Property Tax Fairness Credit. Those who qualify can receive refunds up to $600 per year (up to $900 for those 65 and older). The refund amount is based on your income and how much you pay for rent or property taxes. If you would like a refund application, please contact me. I would be happy to mail or deliver one to you.

Ben Chipman has been representing part of Portland in the Maine House of Representatives since 2010. He can be contacted at (207) 318-4961 or Ben.Chipman@legislature.maine.gov.

Bayside Community Garden—Pursuing the Big Picture

By Deborah VanHoewyk

New trend you might not be aware of: Food-as-a-key-to-urban-revitalization. Sure, we all know how important food is to Portland’s popularity—we’re a terrifically foodie city—and restaurants contribute 27 percent of Maine’s $7.5 billion tourist industry (second only to retail, at 28 percent). But this new trend is about making sure that local food systems contribute to a healthy population by making fresh food available to all, regardless of income.

Fixing the City with Food

bed with sign 2-BEANsIn Portland, Mayor Michael Brennan started the Mayor’s Initiative for a Healthy and Sustainable Food System almost as soon as he entered office. The Initiative dealt with a wide range of food-system issues, from policy to how to set up a community garden on public land. It accomplished a lot—assessment of the gaps in Portland’s food policy environment, connecting more fresh food with the schools’ food service system, and particularly work in urban agriculture that has supported a new community garden on the Eastern Prom; The Mount Joy orchard of fruit trees on the North Street slope; and maybe, just maybe, a goat herd to clear out the brush around Portland’s parks.

The great majority of this work was done by volunteers, coordinating with members of City government. It is not yet clear how the Initiative will take shape under the Strimling administration, but it is proceeding for the nonce as Shaping Portland’s Food System, again a volunteer effort coordinated with the City.

The Theory of Fixing the City with Food

Still not clear on how this is going to revitalize Portland’s marginal neighborhoods, Bayside chief among them? Well, a couple of local organizations have grant applications out to the Kresge Foundation and a partnership between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Reinvestment Fund. These funders are at the forefront of testing solutions for using food systems and health initiatives to improve the quality of life and opportunity in low-income neighborhoods. Stay tuned for word on whether either of these grants is coming to a neighborhood near you.

The Kresge Foundation supports programs in housing, transportation, and “healthy food systems that benefit low-income communities.” They are betting their funding on the idea that “food-oriented initiatives” can “contribute to economic revitalization, cultural expression and health in low-income communities.” Kresge believes that food is a key driver of not just health, but also “cultural expression, social cohesion, entrepreneurship.”

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation / Reinvestment Fund grants are based on the idea that we need to fundamentally change how we revitalize neighborhoods: in this case, “if you build it, it still doesn’t do a damn thing for well-being and opportunity.” In fact, they see that health-based programming goes far beyond local food systems and food production. The quality, stability, and availability of housing are also critical to revitalizing neighborhoods and improving well-being; so is education and workforce training; so is transit, so is reducing crime, so is improving local resilience against environmental crises (think West Bayside, East Bayside, and sea-level rise…).

The Bayside Community Garden—Working on It!

flower bed sign-STRIVELast summer, with the help of a grant from the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation, the Bayside Community Garden started getting involved in some of these efforts and will continue to do so in the 2016 gardening season. As our gardeners know, we added two new beds for children from the summer lunch program, which we hope will catalyze more immigrant involvement in garden programs. We coordinated volunteers from the Bayside program of STRIVE, an agency that assists developmentally challenged young adults, and will be doing so again this year. We made an initial connection with the Locker Project, which gets excess produce onto the plates of school children. We were helped out not just by Harvard Pilgrim but the City’s department for Open Spaces, led by Troy Moon, and We Compost It!, Portland’s newest residential composting company.

The Bayside Community Garden has a waiting list for plots, but it is much shorter than the waiting list for a City plot. Moreover, we have started looking into the new procedures for setting up a community garden on public land, with the hope of expanding food production in the neighborhood. We charge much less than the City for a plot—$20 to help replace tools, throw a Harvest Party, etc.

The Bayside Community Garden will be identifying available plots starting in the last week of February. If you are interested in a plot, fill out the form on this page!

From Our City Councilor

By Belinda Ray

Belinda Ray-BWWHIRLWIND. In a word, that’s what the last eight weeks have been. From being sworn in on December 7th to attending the first meeting of the Housing Committee last night (January 27th), my days have been full. As with any new job, there is a sharp learning curve in the early months, but truth be told, I’ve loved every minute of it so far and enjoyed the challenge of taking in so much information in such a short time frame.

One of the highlights of my first two months has been receiving my committee assignments. As part of my Council duties, I will be serving on three committees: Housing, Health and Human Services, and Finance. Each committee has its own set of challenges, as you can imagine.

The Housing Committee, which is new this year, was formed to address the housing quandary Portland finds itself in at present. The two main problems, of course, are that we don’t have enough housing and that the housing we have isn’t affordable for a large segment of the population.

We had our first Housing Committee meeting, as I said, on January 27th, and we heard from many different stakeholders about their views of the problem and how it should be addressed. Of particular interest was Dr. Christopher Herbert, who is the managing director for the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University (www.jchs.harvard.edu). Dr. Herbert emphasized that a lack of affordable housing is a problem in cities across the country. He also mentioned that he believes Portland has already taken many crucial steps to address the problem, which is a testament to the excellence of our planning department and, of course, my predecessor, Councilor Donoghue, for whom affordable housing was a major priority. Still, even with the steps that have been taken, there is more to do, and I look forward to working with the members of the Housing Committee, the City Council, and city staff over the next year to continue to make strides in this area.

I haven’t yet had my first Health and Human Services Committee meeting, but the Finance Committee met in early January to go over the city’s most recent audit. I’m in the process of combing through our Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) to get a better overall feel for the city budget, and the Finance Committee will begin discussing the city’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) in February. (Suffice it to say I’m learning a lot of acronyms on this committee.) If you’d like to join me in reading the CAFR, you can find a copy of it on the city’s website on the Finance Department page. Maybe we can make it a District One Big Read project (www.neabigread.org).

In terms of challenges for the Finance Committee, I’ll leave you with this: annually, we have about $12 million to spend in our CIP, and to date, the City has received over $50 million in requests for that funding from its various departments. Needless to say, setting priorities for the city’s capital spending for the next five years will be (you guessed it) challenging.

Big Changes Coming To Bayside

At the February meeting of the Bayside Neighborhood Association, board members and guests got a preview of some significant infrastructure and development projects coming to Bayside. The City of Portland’s Director of Economic Development Greg Mitchell and City Planning Director Tuck O’Brien presented a preliminary map of the Bayside Infrastructure Improvement Program, a collection of planned work that the City aims to manage, and communicate about, as a coordinated effort.

The Program includes sidewalk and trail enhancements, waterline improvements, and roadwork throughout Bayside. The two major projects that make a coordinated approach critical are the Midtown residential development and a combined sewer overflow project, two of the largest construction projects in Bayside in recent memory.

Midtown, at Somerset Street from Pearl to Elm streets, will have 450 residential units and 800 parking spaces, and construction is set to begin shortly following the sale of the property in February, from the City to The Federated Cos.

The combined sewer overflow project, which will utilize or impact all of Marginal Way, is a complex hydraulic engineering project designed to free up existing capacity otherwise used for stormwater runoff and to alleviate the increasing flooding in Bayside.

These two massive projects will entail work from multiple utility providers and large construction crews and significant rerouting of traffic. So it only makes sense to plan ahead and incorporate other infrastructure work into a coordinated approach. Other projects included in the Program include improvements that have been in the works for some time as well as newly planned efforts that simply make sense to do when there’s a big hole in the ground already. The overflow project is just one part of Portland’s goal to address sea level rise citywide. Other flooding mitigation projects in the Bayside Program include rain gardens, which utilize plants with a tolerance for the high concentrations of elements typically found in stormwater runoff, such as nitrogen and phosphorous, and that absorb more stormwater than conventional gardens.

Funding allocations have been authorized for all projects in the Bayside Infrastructure Improvement Program. However, some projects are still early in the design process, and Mitchell and O’Brien acknowledged that allocations are based on projects “as originally envisioned”; thus budget adjustments are expected as these complex projects move toward realization.

The City aims to coordinate both the management of projects and the communication to residents and commuters about plans and impacts. Public meetings will be scheduled about the Program as a whole and about specific projects, as appropriate. The City is planning to introduce innovative ways to keep the public informed throughout the process, including a website with an interactive map to find the latest status on projects impacting a given location.

It’s going to get messy for a while in Bayside. When the dust clears, we’ll have more housing, better flood protection, and improvements to our neighborhoods. We’ll post updates on this Program on the BNA Facebook page and in our next issue of The Baysider. Stay tuned!