LEWISTON — Urban planners will take over a downtown parking lot for two days in June, converting it into an experiment in urban development.

“Basically, they will be activating that parking lot completely, for two days,” said Kara Wilbur, one of the organizers of the Build Maine conference and exposition, returning to Lewiston Bates Mill for the third time.

“It will be installed the day before Build Maine,” Wilbur said. “And then, the day of the conference, we will have everybody go to lunch there. That’s were we’ll have the food trucks set up.”

The conference brings different types of urban planning professionals together to discuss modern urbanist theory, explaining how building scale, road planning and development can affect communities’ future growth opportunities, economy and overall health.

It’s sponsored by the Congress for the New Urbanism, the Maine Municipal Association, the Maine Real Estate and Development Association and GrowSmart Maine.

The parking lot experiment is being built as part of the national Better Block Foundation, and local groups on the privately owned lot south of the intersection at Pine and Canal streets.


“We just want everyone to go and enjoy the parking lot,” Wilbur said. “It’s getting the idea across that if you have underused space along streets or neighborhoods, you can transform it as a good way to attract investment and people.”

Roughly 250 planning professionals, developers and urban architects attended the first conference in Lewiston’s Bates Mill No. 1 in November 2014 — and they came back six months later in May 2015 for the second conference.

This year, Wilbur said organizers are planning for a warmer June main event, with spillover events organized by other groups expected a couple of days before. Last year, a group of Bates College students hosted a Simard-Payne Memorial Park concert and experimentally narrowed Oxford Street near the park.

Things kick off June 22 with two higher-level presentations, meant as development-level programs for planning and urban design professionals.

One program, featuring Asheville, N.C.-based planner Joe Minicozzi, will discuss urban planning costs and economic benefits. The second looks at tactical urban experiments and is presented by the Better Block Foundation.

Each of the June 22 sessions costs $50.


A beer garden, hosted by Baxter Brewing Co., is scheduled June 22 as well.

The main event kicks off at 8 a.m. June 23 and includes presentations by nationally renowned urban philosophers, designers and entrepreneurs at the Bates Mill June 23.

Tickets for the main event are $75 and available online  at www.build-maine.com, the Build Maine website.

Featured speakers include Burlington, Vt., Mayor Miro Weinberger, Saco City Administrator Kevin Sutherland, author and social critic James Howard Kunstler and Buffalo,N.Y.-based urban preservationist and real estate developer Bernice Radle.

A special evening public session is being planned at the newly opened Agora Grand Event Center, 220 Bates St., on June 23.

“It’s free and open to the public,” she said. “It’s a new thing because we’d heard that some communities are having a hard time getting their elected officials to the event.”


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