Although Congress Square Park sits in the heart of Portland’s arts district, until recently the place was unremarkable and desolate. It had fallen into disrepair, was noticed by nearly no one, and the city was proposing to sell part of the site for private development. But an energized grassroots campaign, orchestrated by the Friends of Congress Square Park, spurred newfound attention and appreciation for the park, which ultimately led to its preservation. While the Friends’ campaign reversed municipal plans and raised awareness of community-driven public space in general, Congress Square Park still lacked necessary resources beyond a dedicated group of volunteers.
With support from Southwest Airlines Heart of the Community, the Friends of Congress Square Park have built on the campaign’s momentum. They have implemented Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper interventions, regular collaborative programming, active management, and new outdoor furniture and activities. This work has established the park as a key destination for Portland’s residents and visitors, featuring local businesses, cultural institutions, and Portland’s bustling local arts scene. Congress Square Park – arguably Maine’s most urban public space – can finally and proudly claim this title.
Today, thanks to these efforts, the City of Portland and Friends of Congress Square Park are pursuing a new design for the park, its adjacent public spaces and a more pedestrian-friendly intersection. They aim to spread the life and energy of Congress Square Park, and the spirit of Placemaking, throughout the neighborhood to create a more dynamic downtown hub.
Many great public spaces have grown out of communities resisting development. It is the evolution from opposition to proactive visioning - helping to create, finance, and manage public spaces - that often makes the opposition successful. Congress Square, and the community around it, are forging this story of transformation.
Mayor Bill de Blasio caused quite a stir around New York City yesterday as he floated the idea of tearing up the pedestrian plaza in Times Square. This statement was the culmination of several days of debate centered around predatory panhandling and the square’s growing number of “street performers.”