The Portland Society for Architecture is a volunteer-driven, nonprofit organization that believes that thoughtful design of our built environment is an integral component of Portland’s vibrancy. That’s why the PSA feels it’s time to recast the Congress Square conversation from one of failure and blame to one of possibility and engagement.

The decision facing Portland voters June 10 exemplifies the competing issues we face as a community – namely, balancing Portland’s need to grow and thrive along with the desire to maintain the city’s character.

To achieve that balance, our community must be intentional and thoughtful in how it brings its public spaces to life and how it maximizes the potential of plazas like Congress Square.

While the proposed events center will not magically create the dynamic plaza often portrayed in renderings circulating online, the sale of 9,500 square feet of underutilized city property is an essential first step toward realizing a more activated and vibrant public realm.

Moving the plaza’s center of gravity toward the true heart of Congress Square – currently located in the middle of vehicle-dominated Congress Street – will allow reframing the square as the cultural hub of Portland. We can begin to conceive of Congress Square stretching from the front steps of the Portland Museum of Art across High Street to the west and Congress Street to the north, and connecting to the south and east through downtown and the Old Port.

The history of what is currently defined as Congress Square is marked by a series of false starts and half measures that resulted not in a space that needs saving, but rather a space in dire need of transformation. That’s why PSA has chosen to support Forward Portland and urges a “No on 1” vote on the upcoming referendum.

Tuck O’Brien

vice president, Portland Society for Architecture


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