By Lisa Whited, Chief Transformation Officer, workplace transformation facilitation, www.workplacetf.com

To all participants of the 1/28/16 meeting about Portland’s comprehensive planning process:

Thank you, again, for participating the evening of 1/28/16 in the discussion about Portland’s comprehensive planning process. We wanted to update you with additional conversations that have happened over the past week.

Members of #PortlandParticipates, which was created out of the Global Shapers Hub, attended Thursday evening’s meeting and have created the following values and purpose statements.

  • The purpose of #PortlandParticipates is to establish, foster, and facilitate a partnership between Portland’s residents who wish to share and create opportunities for public input and participation in important decision making for the city.
  • #PortlandParticipates is a neutral body of concerned, active people simply acting as a conduit amongst the people and the decision makers.
  • We value inclusivity, diligence, swiftness, transparency, and honesty. Our role is to extend opportunities offered for public input for greater inclusion and to create such opportunities when they don’t exist. We are not here to point fingers or make enemies; we are here to support a way forward so that Portland residents know of and participate in opportunities to have their opinions and dreams be part of Portland’s future.
  • Our communication channels are neutral in message – calling upon citizens to participate in the opportunities that affect Portland’s present and future.
    If/when we are asked for our opinion on a process, improvement, or opportunity, we are to provide factual, relevant, and clear action, direction, or support that is inclusive, mindful, and open to conversation.
  • The #PortlandParticipates group has identified several ways they would like to move forward with the city. To that end, members of the #PortlandParticipates group are hoping to meet with representatives from the City Council and Staff Tuesday (2/9/16), prior to the Tuesday evening Planning Board meeting. This is what the group has identified as eventual goals with this work:

We want a total rewrite of the comprehensive plan that is developed through a robust and inclusive process.

We understand that a total rewrite of the comprehensive plan may need to happen as a parallel event of the current update already underway by the City. We see the current update as a short-term goal and a total rewrite as a long-term goal (within one to two years).

We will achieve this through a partnership between residents, businesses, city staff, and elected officials.

Objective 1: Coalesce a core group that will give the time to identify the way forward and continually identify the necessary expertise and resources to keep moving it forward.

Objective 2: Engage city staff to identify opportunities to get this done.

Objective 3: Engage public support and city council to get necessary approval to get this done.

Objective 4: Design a process to get this done.

Objective 5: Get this done.

Objective 6: Celebrate and admire a comprehensive plan that we (a diverse and broad we) are proud of.

Tactic: Be kind and persistent people.

If you haven’t already, please “like” the #PortlandParticipates Facebook page. (You will find several other links to social media on that FB page that you can follow as well.)

This effort is for our community, by our community and is not an exclusive effort. So, please feel free to share this information with others whom you think would be interested in improving the process for all of us.

Thank you,

Lisa Whited,
Chief Transformation Officer
workplace transformation facilitation

Once Upon A Time: 415 Cumberland Ave.

Herb Adams

There was a time when neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night would keep Baysiders and Parksiders from their favorite neighborhood Post Office on Cumberland Ave.

Wait!—Isn’t the Post Office on FOREST Avenue? Yep, it is, now. But for many years, from 1921 to 1934, Portland’s busiest downtown Post Office was the graceful brick building that still stands at the corner of Cumberland and Forest Avenues.

“Station A of the Portland Post Office went into commission as a duly authorized office today,” proclaimed the Eastern Argus newspaper in December of 1921, “and is ready to perform the many functions of any first class office.” Downtown businesses took to it immediately, and it was a bustling place indeed.

In those days Portland’s main post office was a pillared temple of white marble on Middle St. at the corner with Exchange St., today the site of Post Office Park. Built in 1871 atop the ruins of Portland’s Great Fire of 1866, it stood as the symbol of midtown recovery in the days of sailing ships and horse-drawn traffic.

Although beautiful, by 1920, the cramped, columned building could expand no more and was a bottleneck for cars flocking there from “the congestion and inconvenience of many of the business houses on Congress Street,” said the paper.

“Business interests and the Portland Chamber of Commerce took the matter under advisement,” and many city sites were inspected. But long-term leases ran afoul of U.S. government policy, and business eyes turned westward down the peninsula. There they lighted upon a fine brick structure sitting in what were still some open pastures above the then-brand-new Deering Oaks Park

Built as a private home about 1880, 415 Cumberland Ave. shows up in photos of the 1886 Portland City Centennial Parade amid children waving little U.S. flags, and floats on horse-draw wagons. Owned by businessman Albert S. Rines, the building was chosen to serve as the post office because it was “not far distant from Congress Street, taking into consideration the advance of business houses to the westward of our city,” said the Argus.

“The structure was little changed from outward appearance with exception of a small addition” (today visible on the Forest Ave. side) and “all the furniture and equipment of wood and finished in natural grain has been installed, made to measure and expressly for this office. It runs the complete width of the building, there being various windows for the several departments.

“New cases have been installed, also racks for holding the pouches. [Here] the business may be carried on with dispatch.”

And indeed it was. Carriers still delivered mail only out of Middle Street, but in those pre-UPS days, parcel post and stamp sales centered on Cumberland Ave., and a classic photo still preserved by the Forest Ave. Post Office shows a fleet of a dozen Fords and a score of delivery men posing proudly before 415 Cumberland, loaded with packages.

Manager Louis W. Melaugh, clerk in charge, reported that the place was happy and humming on Christmas and holidays, open 7 AM to 7 PM six days a week.

DSCN0595brick bldg
415 Cumberland. Photo by Susan McCloskey

This was Portland’s second-busiest post office until the current massive brick building on Forest Ave., a WPA project under President Roosevelt’s New Deal, was built in 1931-1934. The last day’s mail left the Middle Street structure, and the last parcel post from the Cumberland Ave. office, both functions switching officially to Forest Ave. overnight on January 21, 1934.

Since then 415 Cumberland has called a variety of businesses home, including the showroom for Thos. Moser’s elegant Maine furniture, a colorful art gallery, and the busy Hurley’s Travel Agency. The rear ell has featured a ballroom dance studio, a weight-training room, and a thrift shop storefront.

Today, over 80 years on, few may remember when Christmas presents, Easter cards, and Valentine chocolates moved by flivvers out to happy households through busy Cumberland Ave. Soon, new development may fill the building, and new life may return to an old place.

It is all part of the ongoing story of our part of the ever-changing West End, this corridor where the Parkside and Bayside neighborhoods meet and shake hands as they have for over a century.

Herb Adams- photo
Local historian Herb Adams

[Editor’s Note: The full story of the controversial building of the current Forest Avenue U.S. Post Office in Bayside appeared under Herb’s byline in one of the very first Baysiders, Vol. 1, No. 3, in April 2001! Read it for all the colorful details about our busy neighborhood!]

A Valentine for Bayside

By Bob Riemann

My wife and I had visited Portland many times before we moved to the city three years ago. Living here and seeing the city as a summer visitor are two different things.

A week or so after we moved into our high rise Cumberland Ave. apartment building, the city’s character came into sharper focus. It was a fine October day and I was walking around Bayside looking all around and not where I was walking when I stubbed my toe on the curb and took a hard fall.

“Are you all right?” someone called to me. When I looked up two cars had stopped and a woman was half way out of one car offering to help me get up.

Well, I am in my late seventies so I could understand their concern. I got to my feet, thanked them and walked on, stepping a bit more carefully.

Ivalentines- redn many ways that incident captured the spirit of Portland — friendly, willing to help out.

When I walked my dog Sheba, people would stop their cars, roll down the windows, sometimes even step out to tell me what a wonderful dog I had, how they used to have one like it, how great dogs were, etc., while they petted my dog. Sheba, who was 16, died last fall, and now I am the one stopping others and asking if I can pet their dog.
As I ventured more into the community my first impressions were reinforced over and over again. These adventures were mine alone. My lovely wife has great difficulty walking. But I shared my experiences with her when I returned home.

All the art galleries got me interested in art. And I found the gallery owners and other artists very welcoming. The same went for the writing groups I joined.

As senior citizens my wife and I are delighted to have so many young families and college students in the area. That is so much nicer than living in some Sun Belt senior community.

I could go on about the attractions of Portland, the wealth of music from classical to rock, pop and jazz, fine restaurants, etc.

But while that is all wonderful, it is the accepting nature of its citizens that truly makes Portland a haven for retirees.

Students’ “International” Lobster Buoys Part of New Mainers Exhibit

Early in February, Make It Happen! students from Lyman Moore Middle School and Casco Bay High School painted lobster buoys with the flags of their home countries alongside Natasha Mayers, a Whitefield resident who is the University of Southern Maine Art Department’s artist-in-residence this semester. The buoys were then hung on the Maine Historical Society’s fence in conjunction with the opening of the society’s “400 Years of New Mainers” exhibition, a celebration of the rich diversity of Portland.

The first batch of buoys was painted by students in the Portland Public School’s Multilingual & Multicultural Center’s Make It Happen! Program. The program provides academic support, language acquisition, and a college readiness program for refugees and immigrants in grades 8-12. Make It Happen! AmeriCorps site coordinators and volunteer academic coaches help students take challenging classes, develop competitive college applications, and engage in leadership activities and civic opportunities. The program has centers in Portland’s three middle schools and three high schools.

Approximately 30 Make It Happen! students worked hard to paint the buoys for the opening of the historical society exhibit. Plans are underway to install the buoys in other public spaces in Portland, including the Portland International Jetport, and to temporarily float them in the bay.

Mayers hopes the buoy display will bring more awareness of the rich diversity being woven into Maine and help open hearts to the contributions and struggles of new neighbors. She is especially excited by the beauty, timeliness, and poignancy of the idea of floating in light of the dangerous sea-crossings being made by people fleeing conflict.

The historical society’s “400 Years of New Mainers” exhibit runs through April 2. The exhibition highlights personal stories of immigration through photographer Jan Pieter van Voorst van Beest’s contemporary portraits of “New Mainers” and original works by street artist Pigeon displayed among items from MHS’s permanent collection. The show’s narrative includes the centuries-long history of immigration in Maine.

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!