I ran the “Yes on 1” campaign to add protections to Portland’s valuable public parks as the volunteer campaign director.

Like many of us, I wear many hats in Portland – I have worked in real estate development for the past several years, primarily in affordable housing. I am a trustee at one of Portland’s largest cultural institutions. Two years ago, I was one of the organizers of President Obama’s last fundraising visit to Maine, at Southern Maine Community College. I am a frequent donor to and fundraiser and advocate for progressive causes and the arts.

I have never seen our community so divided over an issue and was surprised to find many people that I respect on the opposing side. In the end, I know that there is more that unites us than divides us.

I am proud that our grass-roots campaign brought the issue of our underfunded parks to the forefront. For too long, our community has taken our park system for granted.

We hardly noticed when the city consolidated the Parks and Recreation Department with Public Services in 2008. Presently, only a handful of personnel maintain our parks – they barely have the resources to keep up with mowing the lawns, never mind major improvements, programming or amenities.

Friends groups and nonprofits have stepped up to fill in the void – we owe them a great deal – but they’ve struggled to raise the city’s awareness of the need for adequate financial support. Six years later, it should come as no great surprise that many of our parks are in a state of disrepair and disuse.

Congress Square Park was the most glaring example. For too long, too many of us sat and watched while Congress Square Park fell into disrepair. A once-vital space was allowed to deteriorate. The City Council scuttled plans that were underway to fix it and instead tried to sell it. That misstep sparked a strong public reaction, but we should all be clear that this was part of a broader problem.

Fortunately, with the passage of Question 1, the voters of Portland decided to change course and strengthen protections for all of Portland’s parks. The “Yes on 1” victory reaffirmed Portlanders’ commitment to our entire park system. It sent a clear message that we should be investing in all of our parks, not divesting ourselves of them.

There will be tangible benefits for Portland. Parks improve our health and quality of life. They enhance property values, increase municipal revenue, bring in homebuyers and workers and attract retirees. Newly revitalized parks are at the center of the urban renaissance happening all across the country. More fully capitalizing on the potential of our parks and open spaces will make Portland competitive in the 21st century.

The Protect Portland Parks coalition is here to help. Contrary to some of the more heated rhetoric in the campaign from the other side, we are prepared to work with anyone and everyone to keep our park system vibrant and active. That includes neighbors, friends, former adversaries, members of the business community, the development community, urban planners, preservationists, artists, outdoor enthusiasts and, of course, the City Council.

And we’re prepared to begin by helping the park that started it all. A group of us are launching a capital campaign to raise private funding to put toward the redesign of Congress Square Park and to ensure a structure for ongoing programming and investment.

We invite the city to join us in investing in Congress Square Park, and we hope and expect it will commit funding toward improvements and ongoing maintenance. Together we can create a thriving urban park – an oasis in our dense urban center – that we can all be proud of.

More broadly, we hope the city takes this moment to re-evaluate its commitment to our parks and open spaces, and re-establishes a dedicated parks department.

As John Coleman, founder and CEO of The VIA Agency, said in his letter to the Press Herald endorsing “Yes on 1”: “I believe that Portland could be the greatest small city in the world. We just need to envision a future that is worthy of our great people – and find the creativity, courage, passion and drive to bring it to life.”

That is the challenge before us now – to work together to create a spectacular park system that will put us on the map. Let’s get to it.

— Special to the Press Herald