When I walk out my front door and head downtown, the odds are good that I’ll run into a friendly neighbor sitting on his stoop, or have a chance to chat with an acquaintance who’s lingering outside the storefront window of one of our local businesses. If I'm in the mood, I can claim a bench in Monument Square just to people-watch as a broad cross-section of humanity — tourists, families, the homeless, and suited businesspeople out on lunch break — walk by and mingle with each other in their own chance interactions.
From bustling Congress Street to the quieter neighborhoods of Deering Center and the East End, Portland’s streets and sidewalks cultivate lively civic interaction and make our city a more interesting, more creative, and more friendly place to live.
We’re one of the last cities in New England — indeed, in the whole country — where this is still the case across such a broad range of our streets and neighborhoods, and I'm convinced that this is a big reason why so many people are increasingly interested in living here.
The largest, most well-used public open space in the City of Portland isn’t the Eastern Prom or the Evergreen Cemetery or Baxter Boulevard — indeed, all of these famed parks are small and little-used by comparison.
The public space that occupies the most acreage in the City of Portland, and gets used on a daily basis by virtually every one of the city’s residents, is the public space that literally sits outside the front doors of our homes and businesses: our city streets and sidewalks.
In the relatively brief time since I moved here five years ago, I've noticed an increasing amount of foot traffic on our streets, as well as an increasing number of local businesses that contribute to the interest and vitality of this public space with interesting storefronts and more street-level activity.
As Portland Press Herald reporter Tom Bell reported last week, a fast-growing number of Portlanders are finding that they can live here more enjoyably without the hassles and expenses of owning a car. As their numbers grow, more local businesses pop up to serve their needs. There's a virtuous cycle at work, as the increasing vibrancy of our streets and sidewalks contribute to the increasing prosperity of local businesses and households.
Tonight, the First Friday Art Walk brings a huge surge of strollers, outdoor diners, and sidewalk art patrons to downtown Portland to enjoy the public spaces and spectacles of our downtown streets. See you out there!