A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Will Portland's "transit-oriented" development offer a way in for transit riders?

The Thompson's Point mixed-use development proposal heads to its first workshop at the Planning Board on Tuesday afternoon.

Commenters on this blog and elsewhere have been giving the proposal mixed reviews, accusing it of being too suburban in its style and layout to be considered a real "transit-oriented" development.

I think that's fair, but I also believe that some minor changes could improve it drastically, and make it much more successful as a business venture for the developers and as an interesting place to go for visitors.

This week's planning board workshop will be a good venue to advocate for urban design improvements. It's still early enough for the developers to make changes, especially if those changes might, in the long term, add value to their development.

Here's the site plan as it currently stands. The big building in the middle is the sports arena and event center; just to the south, and sharing a wall with the event center, is a hotel and restaurant. Two mid-rise office buildings are on the southern tip of the peninsula.

Now, imagine that you're a conventioneer arriving here from Boston by bus or train. You walk out the front door of the station and turn left towards your hotel, crossing the train tracks on your way, and see the event building where your event is being held. But then you get annoyed: the main entrance is all the way on the other side! You end up walking roughly the length of a football field, dragging your luggage, to round the corner - at which point you then need to walk along the edge of a large parking lot before finally getting to your hotel lobby.

May I propose a slightly better way?

Instead of attaching the hotel and event center, which inconveniences foot traffic, the Planning Board ought to ask the developers to include a pedestrian street running east-to-west between the events building and the hotel and restaurant. This would give transit riders a shortcut to the complex's other spaces, but it would give the developers a neat little outdoor space to give their development some street life - potentially something like Yawkey Way or Portland Street in Boston:

A more modern example is the "Center Court" outside Portland, Oregon's Rose Garden (in the photo below, the basketball area is on the left; a complex of restaurants and shops is on the right):

I imagine that the developers had initially proposed to attach the hotel to the event center to make it easy for caterers to move between the two spaces, thus easing operations. That's valid. But I used to work in hospitality myself, and there's an old joke that the way to make your work as efficient as possible is to get rid of the guests altogether. And in a way, that's what's happening here. Is having your caterers cross a narrow outdoor space such a high price to pay for accommodating your thousands of car-free guests from New York, Boston, and elsewhere?

1 comment:

CarFreeMaine said...

I'm interested to hear what the response to this proposal was... I wasn't able to make the workshop and I think this is a really smart suggestion.