I'm a native Mainer, and have lived most of my life in Maine, outside of my college years. What's more, I have lived in several distinct regions of the state --Western Maine, Moosehead, Aroostook County, Central Maine, and now in the Mid-Coast area. The minute I left Maine, I began to miss it, and only after leaving did I really realize what a wonderful place it is, and how lucky I had been to grow up here. The Maine I love, however, is changing, and not every change is for the better.
In the last 15 years, well over 800,000 acres (think Rhode Island) have been converted from farm or forest land to housing or other development. Fields I remember from my youth are growing houses instead of corn, and ugly strip malls are mushrooming up to provide take out pizza and gasoline sales to the owners of the houses. We Mainers are an independent, hardworking and resolute lot, but this is enough to take the wind out of us. We are independent; therefore, if someone decides to sell their farm to a developer, well, that's their right.
But. All those new homeowners, all wanting more school buses to transport the kids to school, and better roads, then snowplowing, and trash service, and so on. All those services cost more in taxes, and well, all those houses built last year are spoiling what all the folks who built houses here the year before came here for, from New Jersey and Massachusetts and points south.
Last Friday, I went to the GrowSmart Maine Summit to hear about some new ideas for Maine's future. GrowSmart Maine has a plan to address these issues and more. Working with the Brookings Institute, GrowSmart Maine commissioned a study and (more importantly) a follow-up plan: Charting Maine's Future: An Action Plan for Promoting Sustainable Prosperity and Quality Places. The report looked at Maine's population, economy and development patterns and came up with strategies for economic development, government /tax streamlining, and planned development that just might help Maine keep our economy growing, yet prevent us from doing so and looking like Newark at the end.
I read the report, I listened to the speakers, I looked around this weekend, and I have thought about the changes I'm seeing in Maine, and the changes I want to see. I am convinced. I think the plan is a sound one, and I am on board. We need to control our growth and make sure we keep Maine the way we love it. We need to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
I urge all Mainers to check out the report. It is available for free online as a PDF file, or you can order it for $10. Friends and neighbors can borrow my copy. Even if you don't agree in the end with all the recommendations, I suspect you'll find some enlightening information about the way Maine is growing and changing. Let me know what you think.