Local historian Abraham Schechter gives his take on Congress Square Park

I’ve lived and worked near Congress Square Park since its inception in 1982. As a teenaged MeCA student, living in the Eastland, I survived the building’s fire. I also witnessed a positive transformation by tandem virtue of the Park and Museum. The public space became the fulcrum point for our nascent Arts District.

I’m also one among many city residents supporting the Citizens Initiative to Protect Portland Parks- not simply in support of rejuvenating Congress Square Park, but also to affirm the appropriate stewardship for all the city’s parks. Voting YES is a vote of confidence for amelioration instead of elimination. Existing neglect must not discourage vision for the potential of our designated public spaces. Care invites constructive participation. An inspiring example is Post Office Park, with its inviting landscaped design.

Urban public spaces will only increase in importance and potential vitality as Portland’s center intensifies. I visit our urban parks for simple respite, with books and coffee, while also recognizing the value of these places for events, festivals, and as open piazzas among built structures. Our city parks must be treated as protected land. Public parks must not be leveraged as commercial real estate.

At a time in which Portland’s population is polarized between affluent and destitute, with many squeezed into narrower margins, city officials must consider the spirit of our home. We confront a spiritual challenge. Selling sanctioned park space to private developers shows lack of faith. The precedent of vending public parks demonstrates pessimism about our community, and negativity about its prospects.

Counteract pessimism with trust. Trust that our community can attend to the vessels of its stewardship. The old saying that “few doubt, but even fewer trust,” reminds us to take the lead, be those who trust, daringly renew, foresee possibilities, and make the desert bloom.

-Abraham Schechter

Chris Shorr

About Chris Shorr

Chris is a sixth generation Portlander who loves all things Maine. He has worked with mentally ill and marginalized adults at a Portland non-profit, on a lobster boat in Casco Bay, at several high-end Portland restaurants, and at a local meat packing plant. He also ran for Portland City Council in 2013, wrote a weekly column in the now defunct Portland Daily Sun, and currently writes a weekly column in The Portland Phoenix.