By Carol McCracken (Post # 2,436)
Mayor Esther Manheimer told a crowd gathered at Hannaford Hall at USM on Saturday of the many similarities that her city, Asheville, North Carolina and Portland share. Asheville has a population of roughly 21,000 more than Portland. Located in the north-western part of the state, it is also a regional hub in the State. And there is a riverfront area the city is redeveloping, but with a huge financial boost from the federal government.
The Mayor was addressing a “community conversation” hosted by Creative Portland, the Portland Society for Architecture, GrowSmart Maine and USM. The focus was on the current growth that Portland is undergoing and gave those attending an opportunity to speak their minds on the subject. Mayor Michael Brennan, a social worker by profession, introduced Mayor Manheimer, a lawyer, to an audience of close to two hundred community leaders and activists.
But differences in the two cities soon became apparent. Immigration is not an issue in Asheville, Mayor Manheimer said in response to a question from Ralph Carmona in the audience. Significantly citizen referendums do not exist in Asheville either as they do here in Maine. “We have a lot of stability in Asheville. We also have exciting and colorful elections there,” said the Mayor. The City Council tells the city staff what policies to implement and then the City Council stands behind those staff members. Politicians are careful not to undermine the city staff that is implementing politicians’ policies. Our city is process oriented with citizen engagement,” she said.
During public comment, Andy Graham said he’d prefer to see the planning process changed to “organic” because the public has not gotten what it wants. Dr. Richard Barringer, Professor Emeritus, USM, Muskie School of Public Service and a panel of experts member, quickly rejected that idea as unworkable. Barringer also said that Mainers have long been “anti-planning.” Other speakers said they felt left out of the planning process, that rules keep changing and that Master Plans need to be revised periodically. Jeff Levine, director of the city’s planning, was frequently challenged to answer questions. Levine responded,often, with good humor, that he knew there were flaws in the planning process and his office seeks ways to correct them.
Following a lunch break, participants chose between two break-out sessions which to attend. The better attended of the two was: The Intersection of Growth and Quality of Life in Portland. The other that this blogger attended was: Portland’s Peninsula: from East to West Everything is Changing.
Charles Lawton, a newspaper columnist, compared Portland to a family. “We need more revenue to take care of our family,”