Very interesting piece in Down East Magazine about my neighborhood, Munjoy Hill in Portland, Maine.
The Hill declined along with the city beginning in the 1960s, as urban sprawl paralyzed the downtown. Except for the Eastern Promenade, the Hill had never been a fashionable place to live, but now it was dismissed as downright seedy. Boarded-up houses and absent landlords were common, and drug-related crime made walking the streets at night dangerous.
In 1979, a group of Hill lawyers, including husband and wife Ned Chester and Barbara Vestal, formed the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization to apply for city grants to improve the neighborhood. With the money raised, the early MHNO built two playgrounds, established a neighborhood Fourth of July festival, and created parent-teacher organizations at the schools. Soon a critical mass of artists had migrated east, attracted to the Hill’s sunlight and affordable rents. The Eastern Promenade Trail, completed in 1995, added to the improving vibe by establishing a safe walking path along some of the Hill’s most scenic assets. And in 2000, the St. Lawrence, a crumbling Queen-Anne–style former church, was converted into the St. Lawrence Arts Center, a theater and community hub for the creative, eclectic neighborhood that by this time Munjoy Hill had comfortably become.
Today, the neighborhood that has been known as a rough outpost for most of its life is now one of the safest and most popular spots in the city. According to Census data, the Hill’s population has increased by 5 percent from 2000 to 2011, dwarfing the city average of 1 percent. Among those residents are many more artists, self-employed professionals, and singles than the city average. People walk or bike to work more than is typical in the rest of the city. And crime has declined dramatically since the police established a community outreach center in 1995.