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Congress Square as seen from Visible Logic's office.
Congress Square as seen from Visible Logic’s office.

If you live in Portland, Maine you know we are preparing for a referendum vote on June 10th. The question is a Citizens’ Initiative that would amend the city code and set out to protect a small city park called Congress Square.

I am particularly interested in this issue because our office has a bird’s eye view of the plaza. If you want to learn more about the details of the vote, this Press Herald article has an overview and also includes a photo taken from our office suite, looking down into the park.

A complex and confusing question

Like many referendum questions, this one seems to be worded in a way that can make it difficult to remember whether you really mean to vote yes or no.

A vote of yes will change the current city code to protect 60 public spaces in Portland and would make it more difficult for city councilors to decide to sell any park. It will in effect, overturn the recent sale of part of the land to the adjoining Westin hotel.

Voting no means you do not want to amend the city code. Supporters of this side feel the current protections in place are strong enough and the plans that are currently in motion to improve the park should move forward.

Beyond the wording, this is a complex issue.

There are supporters of open space who still may vote no; and there are people who applaud economic development who may still vote yes. Unquestionably, there are people on both sides of the issue who want something better done with this “failed” urban space.

This past week, as I’ve been considering the options and both the short-term and long-term ramifications of the vote, I was suddenly bombarded by the political signs that have sprung up all over town.

Political signs add to confusion

Congress Square Political Signs in Portland, MaineCould these signs make things any more confusing? Both sides have chosen a nearly identical looking bright blue color. Both sides emphasize a message of improving the park.

I’m guessing both sides are unhappy with the confusion and lack of distinction in their signage. I’m guessing that each group created their signs without knowledge of what the other was doing and just coincidentally settled on the cheerful and universally pleasing blue.

And I do think both sides want a better park than the miserable, sunken concrete plaza now in place.

From a branding perspective, there is a lack of differentiation in both the visual identity of the signs for the two groups and in their core messaging.

Why I’m voting No on 1

I look out at this park every day. When I first moved my office into the State Theatre Building in 2006 I was excited about enjoying my lunch out in this park. I thought I would love this park. Occasionally on a nice summer day tourists will wander in there and take the gritty edge off the place. But most of the time, it’s not any place I want to spend time.

This summer, the supporters of “yes on 1” have enticed a food truck to set up there regularly, and added additional seating. But rather than make me feel that we need to save the park it confirms that there is so much potential for this park and we need to move forward with plans to rework it.

I like the idea of better connecting the old Eastland hotel with Congress Street. And while the park will be smaller, it’s not going away. Honestly, people are probably safely using only about 1/3 of the park with its current layout so it’s not really shrinking by much. I expect Congress Square to be revitalized, better utilized and enjoyed by more people if we vote no on 1.

Get out and vote on June 10th!

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