April 13, 2012

Another View: Civic Center upgrade offers new opportunity to connect

The long divide between Free and Spring streets can be easily alleviated.

By JESSE THOMPSON

The upgrades planned for the Cumberland County Civic Center amplify the impact and potential of the improved facility on the surrounding streets and downtown. The empty Spring Street arterial stretching from Temple Street to High Street is a prime example.

This corridor is an out-of-scale, under-used, uninviting "highway" that dramatically severs the historic connections between downtown Portland and the waterfront.

The short four-lane arterial is also incompatible with the surrounding high-quality neighborhoods and real estate, as well as the city's economic development potential.

To make matters worse, the civic center has always blocked people from walking down to the waterfront from downtown. The good news is the situation doesn't have to remain that way.

Last September, the Portland Society of Architects held a design workshop to "reimagine" Spring Street from Temple to High. One of the event's many inspired workable suggestions involves creating a permanent open pedestrian passage through the civic center's lobby, thus providing more inviting, direct and easy public access between Free and Spring streets.

PSA believes this is a modest step toward re-establishing the connectivity lost in 1970 when Brown, Cotton and West streets were blocked to accommodate the new arena and accompanying arterial.

What's more, the new passageway would help restore a valuable downtown experience, a small but important piece of the heart of the city for Portland citizens and visitors alike.

PSA views the civic center renovations as an opportunity to transform a mute and unloved building into a public gathering place that inspires civic pride and elevates the quality of its surroundings. Mending one of Portland's most overbuilt and underutilized streets should be a key component of that transformative vision.

Jesse Thompson is the Advocacy Committee co-chairman for the Portland Society of Architects.

 

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