GrowSmart Maine is making a difference in Maine.
We are fully engaged, with so much more to do! Summit 2014 focused on the dollars and sense of smart growth– for communities, businesses and residents.
By fully utilizing existing infrastructure before building more, by offering choices in where to live, work and recreate and in how to get back and forth between these parts of our lives, we can manage growth and change in our communities. Smart growth makes sense.
Advocating for smart growth is at the core of all we do, in our lobbying, events and projects.
We’ve gotten really good at integrating these efforts, so that our events relate to our projects and our lobbying is informed by what we see and learn from all of you at the events and in our project work
Highlights of our recent work:
GSM is non-partisan and politically engaged. We provide our supporters with the information and resources to consider important questions that are key to Maine’s future.
In 2014 we supported a package of investments funded through bonds. Bonds are good strategy, and the six proposals sent to voters were worthy of passage, having gone through the legislative process which requires 2/3 approval in both the House and Senate. Interest rates are low and we are one of a few states that pays this debt in ten years, rather than 20. As with a household, where you may borrow for a home, a new roof, or a college education, there are investments worthy of taking on a reasonable level of debt, particularly at a low interest rate and a short payback period.
GSM focused on two bond proposals: one funding small business support and another funding investments clean water and safe communities. Question 3, the small business bond, provides $12MM in new funding for existing FAME programs and allows use of these loan programs by a greater variety of small businesses across Maine, including value-added agriculture, tourism and hospitality and businesses that strengthen downtown revitalization. Question 6, the clean water bond proposed a$10 million dollar investment to ensure clean water and safe communities across Maine; to protect drinking water sources; to restore wetlands.
In preparation for 126th Legislature, convened in 2013 and 2014: we met with Maine Downtown Coalition, Maine Real Estate and Development Association, Maine Realtors Assocation, Maine Municipal Association and Maine Audubon, the Nature Conservancy: Maine and the Natural Resources Council of Maine to compare legislative priorities and find where we could work together with greatest likelihood for success. This formed the foundation of our advocacy work in Augusta for past two years. We monitored about 150 bills and testified on about twenty issues. All testimony is available on our blog.
In supporting LD 1528, RESOLVE, TO PROVIDE FOR LIVEABLE, AFFORDABLE NEIGHBORHOODS, we were invited by the committee on Environment and Natural Resources to convene a stakeholder group charged with recommending ways to achieve the goals of the resolve with no mandatory costs to the state or communities.
The outcome included the renewal of an Memorandum of Understanding between Finance Authority of ME and MaineHousing in which the agencies affirmed their willingness to combine their respective business and housing funding capacity to promote downtown revitalization in communities across Maine, and would therefore pledge to make a reasonable effort to offer combined financing in those instances where mixed use of a building created a barrier to either organization financing a project. The intention is to offer another option for access to capital, reducing a significant barrier to reuse of upper floors along our Main Streets. It may only work in a few instances, but it is a move toward more smart growth in Maine.
Another significant effort during the 126th Legislature and continuing into the next session, is our leadership role in a coalition promoting the impressive statewide economic and community benefits of the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit. The program, created in 2008 and extended in 2011, demonstrates real economic impact in Maine by removing significant cost barriers to the reuse of historic buildings. At a time when legislative committees were in search of ways to fill a budget gap, the coalition of supporters was able to demonstrate the value of this program, and we intend to continue this effort in the 127th Legislature by sharing an updated economic impact study. Our key partners in demonstrating that the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit is one of the best economic development programs in Maine are Maine Preservation and the Maine Real Estate and Development Association.
A third noteworthy effort began as a legislative bill, which was deemed unnecessary but that led to the MaineDOT encapsulating their transportation policies into a comprehensive Complete Streets Policy which can be found on their website. This addresses the need to ensure that Maine roads are well-suited to all users, where appropriate; not just private vehicles.
In addition, GrowSmart Maine is engaged in “Aging in Place” efforts – As we work to build the economy, we need to focus some effort on meeting needs of Mainers as we all age, and many of us choose to stay in our homes or at least our hometowns. It’s important to note that what we do to accommodate aging Mainers will work for all of us; thus the phrase Aging-in-place; 8 to 80. Smart growth policies and projects will accommodate the wants and needs of aging Mainers as well as those young people who are choosing where they want to live and work as they build their careers.
Making Headway in Your Community
In 2012 we released “Charting Maine’s Future: Making Headway”, a status report on 2006 Brookings Report. We are building on this report with Making Headway in Your Community. This project comes from lessons learned highlighted in the recent update. Lesson learned #2 is that government is not always the most effective change agent. Going forward, it is important to build support for key efforts through relationships with recognized community and business leaders. Focus on those initiatives with strong grass roots support as they are most likely to result in success. We have expanded our focus to include more community level engagement. GSM is advocating for smart growth at the community level and providing information, connections, and resources to Mainers so they can effectively advocate for what they want in their communities.
We often address a variety of questions that revolve around the phrase, “how do I”…
– Make it safe for my child to walk or ride his bike to school
– Keep a farm that’s for sale in production rather than see it subdivided into house lots
– Take my idea and build a business right here
– Fix up and reuse an historic old building in the center of town
– Know where to start now that our comprehensive plan has been updated and approved?
People want to get involved in how their communities grow and respond to change. They sometimes aren’t sure where to start. At Summit 2014, we released Making Headway in Your Community, an online clearinghouse of resource organizations with expertise, information, tools to help in all levels. In addition, the website provides a place to share community-level success stories. We know that the combination of inspiration and information will be a real impetus for Mainers engaged in their own hometowns. This project is a joint project with the Maine Downtown Center, a project of the Maine Development Foundation.
Making Headway in Your Community is framed around four core principles, lenses through which we view our communities. It also encourages us to reflect on these different areas of interest and consider the connections between them.
– Smart Design: investing wisely in public infrastructure and strategic land conservation, rehab existing buildings where it makes sense
– Community Connections: well-designed public spaces, multiple transportation options and leadership skills development
– Local Economy: attracting and assisting entrepreneurs and business owners, focusing on key business sectors
– Healthy Communities: access to local foods and walking biking trails to encourage wellness.
This isn’t a menu of choices. Think of it as a buffet, in which there are no wrong choices, and where we’ll want to balance a little of each. If we focus on one to start, it is important to at least make connections with those working on other aspects of a strong community. For Maine to be strong, for our communities to thrive, for Mainers to succeed… we need to address all of these perspectives.
We have pre-loaded the website with roughly 100 resource organizations, including all of Maine’s Councils of Government and key statewide organizations. We began with a focus on western Maine for local/regional resources. We now have in place the structure in place for that first-stop when you are looking for information, resources and tools.
Where are you, what do you want to do and what kind of help do you need?
Filter on those three parameters to find resource organizations available to your community. The website is designed for organizations to add their own information, to manage their landing page which will describe what they do, then link to their website. We invite all organizations that work with business owners, community members, municipal leadership and Maine residents to join Making Headway in Your Community.
We plan a second phase to incorporate businesses that help communities and individuals achieve these goals and to add a GIS component to demonstrate the regions served by these organizations and much more.
Making Headway in Your Community also includes a worksheet that can be downloaded from our website. The purpose of the worksheet is to guide conversations and decisions as Mainers, alone or in committees, take on the future of their communities. We are in the beginning phases of a pilot project to introduce this concept to several towns in Western Maine. We began with Movie Night featuring the 30-minute film “Reviving the Freedom Mill” Community members attended Summit 2014 as part of this project from Canton, Jay, Livermore, Livermore Falls, and Wilton.
We were also invited to present Making Headway in Your Community in Bucksport, with Movie Night which was attended by nearly 60 people as this community faces immediate and intimidating challenges with the closure of their largest employer.
We will continue to introduce this set of tools to communities across Maine in 2015 and beyond where we’re invited in and where we recognize towns ready and interested, collaborating with local and regional organizations, to light the spark of those who want to make a difference and are unsure how to start
GrowSmart Maine serves as the Community Outreach Coordinator for Project Canopy, Maine’s Urban and Community Forestry Program administered through the Maine Forest Service. These efforts include:
•Encouraging proactive efforts at municipal level to maintain healthy urban and community forests.
•Providing information, technical and financial assistance to municipalities.
•Encouraging municipalities and others to reduce the impacts of land use change, fragmentation and urbanization of forest landscapes.
•Encouraging municipalities and others to manage and restore trees and forests to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
•Building and enhancing partnerships that increase the effectiveness of state urban forestry programming, and improve Maine’s urban and community forests.
We are a staff of three, with an engaged and committed board. Our supporters include businesses, foundations, and individuals. In closing, I want to recognize the importance of our collaboration with non-profits, coalitions and government agencies in all we do. We are better at our work, and we are all more effective, because we work together.
Why does it matter, all this work?
From Caribou to Kennebunk, it’s our kids and our grandchildren, these generations can choose to live in Maine because of our quality places and an economy that presents opportunities: jobs, entrepreneurship, investment.
Using Smart growth principles to guide growth and change, we can create the opportunities and quality places our kids seek in choosing to raise the next generation of Mainers here.
Bangor Savings Bank
The Emanuel and Pauline Lerner Foundation
The Horizon Foundation
The Maine Community Foundation
Helen and Walter Norton
Mr. and Mrs. T. Ricardo Quesada
The Elmina B. Sewall Foundation
Anna Marie and John Thron
Coastal Enterprises Inc.
Margaret Burnham Charitable Trust
The Nature Conservancy
The Philanthropy Collaborative
Bath Savings Bank
Richard Berman and Family
Dirigo Capital Advisors
J.B. Brown and Sons
The Miley Foundation
Northern New England Housing Investment Fund
Proctor and Gamble
Christopher Robinson III