I joined the GrowSmart Maine Board of Directors in 2018. I remember telling friends and family at that time from outside of the state of my new role, and a frequent response I heard was “cool, smart growth was a big thing in the 1990s.” To me, that left the impression that smart growth was a passing fad, like platform shoes or baggy pants from that same decade. That planned economic and community development that curbs urban sprawl and environmental decline was something that was somehow no longer applicable.
Well, in many cases the economic and environmental realities that originally prompted the need for smart growth are more pronounced today than they were two decades ago. Take online shopping, for example. The American consumer has changed since the 1990s. No longer are we buying nearly as many goods at stores. Today, through a growing number of online consumer portals (Amazon chief among them) we are finding ourselves doing more and more of our shopping at home in front of a computer. For many, purchasing with a few keystrokes off a tablet or phone seems like a lot less effort than does getting into a car and driving out to a large store. This means large retail outlets are feeling the crunch.
However, consumers do still want to buy specialized goods at the locally owned store, or eat dinner at a local restaurant. They want experiences that are unique to the community – and they want to do them in a place that feels equally unique. These are the kinds of goods that go with strong downtowns and neighborhood nodes that feel special and emblematic to that area. Smart growth and vital downtowns are perfectly designed for the changing trajectory of the American consumer, not relegated to the fashion trends of the 90s. I feel strongly about the important mission of the GrowSmart Maine, both environmentally and economically. However, I also feel that the future of the marketplace and GrowSmart Maine are converging to the same place. Keep your combat boots and your parachute pants in the closet – but smart growth is more relevant than ever