The League of Young Voters

Jenna’s work on the Pier — check it!
April 8, 2009, 5:31 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Presentation: Understanding the Local Needs and Uses for the Maine State Pier
March 26, 2009

a) Understanding what the community members value
b) Leads to understanding what are priorities or principles for economic development
c) The most important question to address in future discussion is “what kind of economic development do we want in our city?

Examine how to maximize the pier’s development potential for the public, including islanders, neighborhoods and businesses.

My name is Jenna Vendil and I’m the Field Director for The League of Young Voters.  I’m very grateful for this opportunity to talk in more depth about how we can maximize the pier’s development potential for the community.  I realize the unusual nature of having a member of this panel represent a part of the community that, on the surface, doesn’t seem to be a typical stakeholder regarding waterfront development issues.  However, the interests of young people actually coincide with the mutual interests of many members of the community regardless of their age, their class, where they live, or how long they’ve lived in this city.  The crux of understanding local needs is to understand what residents value from our waterfront and our community as a whole—What characteristics make Portland provide the quality of life and be the place people want to move to?  How do we not just preserve it for the future years, but enhance it to meet the needs of a shifting and developing economy, without shooting ourselves in the foot?

After negotiations with Olympia failed several months ago, I began to sit down with community members from all walks of life in order to figure out what it is community residents wanted to see out of the pier development.  Some of the folks I met with were young, transportation activists who lived on the peninsula.  Others were minivan-owning soccer moms who lived by Deering Center.  Some were labor organizers who care deeply about the working conditions of those who work in Maine’s burgeoning service industry.  One was a union construction worker who hasn’t been able to find work in that field for months.  Another was a local business owner who was a part of Portland’s economic and cultural transformation in the 90’s.  A few were retirees from Peaks Islands who are year-round residents of the island and saw the waterfront as their “backyard.”  It wasn’t a scientific survey or a poll by any stretch—but it is anecdotal evidence on how different members of our community share similar values about the potential for the Maine State Pier and our city.

I want to share a brief list of some of the commonly cited uses and needs that these individuals value in our city—

a.) Transportation.  Transportation development on the waterfront doesn’t just mean transportation for tourism or recreational use, but intermodal forms so people from the Greater Portland area so we can reduce parking density on the peninsula and residents can get to and from work.
b.) Alternative energy.  Yesterday’s analogy that “wind energy can make Portland the Saudi Arabia of Maine” should be explored.  Alternative energy and green jobs have the potential for generating revenue our city can benefit from.
c.) Jobs.  Not only do we need more jobs, but we need good, high-paying jobs for both constructions and operations.  It’s hard to get by with on full-time $7 hour hospitality jobs.
d.) Tourism.  What kind of tourism development do we want to bring?  If we are committed to building Portland’s tourist economy, we need to build it on assets like our local economy and the city’s unique characteristics…  As much as I like visiting Old Orchard Beach, that’s not where I chose to live or what I want Portland’s development to look like.
e.) Open Space:  The ideas of open space and public use shouldn’t be limited to whether or not there’s a private gate on our waterfront or not.  Thinking more broadly about what people in our community feel open to explore and use.  An example is Deering Oaks Park—it’s a public space that feels actually welcoming to both residents and tourists because of its diverse attractions with community festivals and events.
f.) Other values.  The list can go on and on and includes our local arts and entrepreneur spirit of Portlanders.

So all of these points of values, local needs, and local uses dance around a bigger question of why, after decades of discussion, we’re still having these conversations about what we should with the Maine State Pier.  That question is “what kind of economic development do we want in our city?”  Through my conversations with members of our community, it became clear that while a residents may share similar values about our city, we weren’t using those values to define a vision for the pier.  It’s critical that as a community, we give input that influences design standards and zoning limits, but that in and of itself is not enough.  We as a community must be included in the bigger conversations around the specifics, like what kind of business development should go into the pier.  For example, we have a strong local economy, which is an asset in our city.  We have the creative entrepreneurial minds to really flourish.  I’m really excited that the City has taken this step with public input and dialogue around the Maine State Pier and I look forward to a more holistic approach to the discussion of local needs.


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For the latest on Maine State Pier (and Ocean Gateway) I humbly offer:

Comment by Thrombosis

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