Planners in Maine envision vibrant downtowns

From Fort Kent to Wells, town officials and planning groups are attempting to reinvigorate, preserve, and in some cases create downtown centers like the one Eastman describes. After 60 years of witnessing the spread of ubiquitous large-lot home developments, commercial strips and stores flanked by acres of parking lots, and the traffic-choked byways that connect them, towns are now looking inward for ways to distinguish their identities.

"That's called 'Anywhere USA,' " said Nancy Smith, executive director of GrowSmart Maine, a nonprofit that helps local towns reshape future development. While the modern strips serve a market demand, she said, "you've lost what makes a community unique."

Communities see livable, walkable villages and downtowns as a way to attract younger urban-oriented residents, improve efficiency and support local commerce. The challenge in many places will be balancing decades of single-purpose design that depends on automotive transportation with the growing desire of Americans to get out of their cars and walk city streets. Read more…

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