GrowSmart. Shrinksmart. Be Strong. Pioneer. Locally.

By Rebecca Casey.

We occasionally ask ourselves if GrowSmart is the right name. Initially borrowed from the Smart Growth movement, some question whether it’s stale, while others are not yet familiar with it. I follow many thought leaders including Strong Towns, New Urbanism, Institute for Local Self Reliance and others. On top of that, my summer reading is about new localism and new pioneers. So I was surprised recently to be asked about “Shrink Smart” – a new term for me! Once familiar, I noted mention of the same concept under multiple other descriptors.

NPR Did a related piece:  ‘As Rural Towns Lose Population, They can Learn to ‘Shrink Smart’.

You can guess the gist of it: letting go of the desperate reach for either a big employer replacement savior or striving for economic growth despite a shrinking population. Focus on what makes your community special, what is valued by the locals – the more varied the viewpoints the better – and build on those commonly agreed upon assets for a stronger, more resilient town/city/region going forward. It only takes “super-involved citizens” and a focus on “quality of life” say the success stories; two things we have in abundance here in Maine.

So I’m all in for Smart. Even if sometimes the smart thing to do is to embrace your downsizing.

In business, a recession can be the opportunity to tighten up, strengthen the core team and position to rocket forward when things pick up.

In his book The New Pioneers, JP Faber highlights the renaissance of Detroit; only possible because the city was abandoned not only be employers but then residents and finally its own government. This is an extreme example, and one we can hope to avert in our own communities by jumping to new thinking before hitting rock bottom. I can think of local examples of this proactive leap, and hope to hear more at our Summit this October in Bangor titled ‘The Power of Localism: Tapping into a Maine Tradition’ where both the program content and the Maine Smart Growth Awards presentations will share success stories from Maine.

Katz and Nowak, in their book The New Localism, describe this “willingness to adapt to new economic realities” as key to modern competitiveness. A “willingness” implies openness of the current/remaining locals, while pioneers are most often those who arrive with a fresh view of assets and opportunities.

Whatever the organization or the movement, bringing together voices of the old locals, new locals, entrepreneurs and pioneers, we will Build, er, Make, er, Grow… a Better, Stronger, Smarter Maine.

And don’t get me started on “together” – that’s a whole other conversation!

Becca Casey serves on the Board of GrowSmart Maine. She is a grateful Mainer (especially in summer) and aspiring citizen of the world, striving to further the good work of making better places for all. By day she practices architecture. By night she enjoys food and beverage, family and friends.

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