‘It’s really kind of an amalgamation of the working-class neighborhood that’s been around for a long time but in and of itself, with the exception of the Eastern Prom or a few small properties, does not necessarily have those same kind of attributes that draw it together as a historic district.”

These words in Monday’s Press Herald, attributed to local real estate attorney Gary Vogel, seem to carry the implication that the Munjoy Hill neighborhood has no historic value because it was just “a working-class neighborhood.” As though the people who helped to make Portland what it is today – those working-class people, many of whom were immigrants seeking what they hoped to be a better life – deserve to have the places they lived, raised families, built homes and ran businesses wiped out of the history of Portland because, well, they are just working-class homes. The people who lived in them, and their stories and history, have no value.

Is this the same phrase that was uttered when it was decided to wipe out Portland’s Little Italy to build the Franklin Arterial, a blight of a road that split the city and its culture in two? Or perhaps it was brought up again when Libbytown was chosen to be destroyed to make way for building I-295 – “It is just a working-class neighborhood, so who is going to care?”

It is these very working-class people who quite literally built the Portland we see today. They were the carpenters, brick layers, plumbers and electricians who built many of the homes we see. They were the fishermen, shop owners and small-business proprietors who kept the local economy bustling. And when our economy shifted to the service economy it is today, they were the people who cleaned the tourists’ hotel rooms, waited on their tables and stood behind the cash registers in Old Port boutiques. They were the artists who planted and nourished the creative economy we boast about so proudly these days. They are the people who put Portland on countless “Top 10” lists.

Portland has become a place where everyone wants to be. People see a lively, quirky, creative place with a bustling food culture and want to live here. I don’t blame them for having the desire – I was born in Maine, and I’ve lived in Portland for the past 22 years. My heart is here, at least for as long as it can afford to be, and I understand the appeal of this amazing city. Who wouldn’t want to be here?

But with the influx of people have come the developers who saw affordable real estate and huge investment opportunities. “Luxury” became the adjective of the decade as high-priced condominiums and apartments began to be built on India Street, Sheridan Street and the very top of Munjoy Hill. These buildings not only did not fit with the character of the city, but also began to slowly price the current residents of Munjoy Hill – those same working-class people, who helped make Portland so appealing – out of their apartments and homes. There is a Top 10 list for that, too – the most gentrified cities in America – but I’m not sure that’s a list we want Portland to be added to.

Historically, in our rush to grow and improve, people have been the part of the equation we neglect to take into account and thus forget. It has happened in countless neighborhoods and cities around the country, and it is continuing to happen today.

Neighborhoods made up of the working class, people of color, immigrants and refugees are seen not as the home of the people who built our cities, create our communities and continue to make them thrive, but as neighborhoods that present no value because their contribution is not visible in the form of an expensive home deemed to have architectural merit. We have failed time and again to protect those who made Portland what it is today – let us at least do them the courtesy of not forgetting them.


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