Maine prides itself on its landscapes and seascapes. We recognize their beauties are intrinsic; lovely, for having been left alone.

The same cannot be said of our cityscapes. They require work, and now’s the time for streets to be swept and porches painted – and maybe, just maybe, it’s time for some larger initiatives.

There’s this pesky little problem, though: Our eyes often don’t see all that’s in need of our attention.

Take Sumner Park up on Munjoy Hill. On a clear day, one can see Mount Washington from the park. What’s impressive is the mass of the mountain. Even at 65 miles’ distance, it looms large, hopefully reminding us that humility’s a virtue.

What’s not impressive is what’s in the foreground. Yes, there’s a trash container by the park entryway. Unfortunately, there’s not another receptacle out by the benches presumably situated for folks to enjoy a sandwich and soda while taking in the view.

Instead, the land drops off there into littered high grasses. Sadly, we humans seem intent on leaving unlovely stuff in lovely places.

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No, another Sumner Park trash can wouldn’t be a cure-all, but it would be a start. What else is needed? The total cleanup of an adjacent hillside property that’s filled with broken pallets and choking on unruly vegetation run amok.

Are there means for a communal remedy here? A conversation with a private property owner? Some selective pruning? A homeless crew given wages and a sense of usefulness by helping clean our city’s litter fields?

Perhaps. But let me catalog some other spring cleanup prospects.

Might Oakhurst Dairy find a way to quell the dirt devils that rise from its truck parking lot at the corner of Chestnut and Somerset streets in Bayside? After all, shouldn’t a venerable Maine company whose stated focus is on “being green” find a way to improve its own in-town dirt parking lot?

Might the city also finally bring together the resources needed to get rid of that forest of pilings inside our Ocean Gateway pier? Or is this really the first view of Portland we want to offer the swelling numbers of cruise ship passengers visiting our city?

How about tackling some of the city’s other visual pollution?

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Who in their right mind thought attaching 21st-century antennas to the 19th-century Portland Observatory was a good idea? Can you imagine the same being done to the Washington Monument?

And who thought it so all-fired important that, over a Fire Department substation, a communications tower that’s spindly, ugly and taller than that same Portland Observatory should be erected right next door to it?

Arrogance and obliviousness need not rule the day.

In Portland’s case, some of the most egregious offenses against the contours of an otherwise human-scaled town are three high-rises: Portland House and Promenade East condos on Munjoy Hill, and Franklin Towers, across the street from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

All severely mar views of Portland while also walling off notable views from the city. If someone can catalog their redeeming architectural value for me, I’d invite them to try.

Until then, I’d suggest beginning efforts to get all three torn down. Admittedly, we’re talking here about something slightly more ambitious than spring cleaning.

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However, a new Franklin Towers surely could offer the same number of public housing units that it now provides and do so without rising above the roofline of the Immaculate Conception cathedral. Is there not something to be said for paying deference to the spiritual?

In the case of the yellow brick wall that is Portland House and the brutalist block that is Promenade East, replacements certainly could be designed that offer greater luxury while better hugging Munjoy Hill and offering better views for everyone.

So let’s consider one last prospect: Making something more of the very pinnacle of our fair city – the blinking sign atop our Time & Temperature Building. Something tells me we can make something more of our town’s crown. I’m imagining a less cryptic, colorful kaleidoscope of art and information that brightens our hearts night and day.

Yes, spring’s the mischief in me, and so I cast these seeds upon the city to see what takes root.

 


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