Thursday, June 07, 2007

Love this place.

One of the characteristics that makes Portland such a walkable city is how its greatest public buildings are framed at the end of our streets: look up Temple Street, and there's the stately Unitarian Church. Winding along Fore Street, the streetscape suddenly opens up at Boothby Square to frame the old Custom House. And at the top end of the former Middle Street, we have this, our Public Library, bookending the great public square in the heart of downtown Portland.

Seeing buildings at the end of streets makes our city feel smaller and adds to our street life: if you can see it, you can walk there, and most people do. So all the better if the architectural artwork that our streets frame happens to be a public building like a church or a library. Who wants to stroll down a street that dead-ends at a monstrous concrete parking garage?

This photo comes courtesy of selfnoise, who has many excellent pictures of Portland on his flickr page.
When I was a kid, this building was usually the destination when my family came to visit downtown Portland from Steep Falls, Maine. The building and its surroundings - the Square, the old gothic skyscapers next door - made Portland seem more exciting than it actually was in an era when several Congress Street buildings had been abandoned. When it was built in 1979, downtown Portland was losing its life to the Maine Mall, but the Library gave families like mine a reason to come downtown again. It was, and still is, a great public building that enjoys a mutually beneficial relationship with a great public space, Monument Square.

It saddens me that the Library's trustees are in such a rush to sell this public space short, to abandon a great building to move into a smaller space around the corner, in the shadow of Bayside's white elephant parking garage.

Luckily, it's not a done deal yet. Portland voters will have a chance to save the Library on June 12, during a special election to decide on a bond that would finance the move. We can preserve the library and save a million bucks. Let's all turn out to the polls next Tuesday and vote no on question one.

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