Sustain Southern Maine:
A Regional Sustainable Planning Grant from HUD, EPA, USDOT
CHALLENGE: Sustain Southern Maine is the result of a Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant won by the Greater Portland Council of Governments in 2010. As a large scale planning grant, it is looking at sustainability issues facing southern Maine from a regional rather than a local perspective. The strategy is to create a Partnership of stakeholders who can join in efforts to streamline and leverage an increase in sustainable development, including issues related to housing, energy, transportation, climate change and opportunity for all Mainers. While Southern Maine includes Maine’s largest city and a handful of smaller cities, it is primarily a rural region and sustainable options for transportation, housing, and employment are limited. Sustain Southern Maine was tasked with looking at ways to encourage increased choices in these to meet the growing and changing needs of the population and support the growth of a vibrant economy.
STRATEGY: Morris headed a highly experienced planning and housing team to examine the issues. The overriding goal was to determine what it would take to support the growth of smaller, vibrant mixed-use neighborhoods, not just in urban settings but in suburban and rural locations as well. Previous planning, both in Maine and nationally, clearly indicated that these kind of walkable, more densely populated mixed-use settings are more sustainable in terms of energy use and health outcomes, and also attract the kind of economic development that is the backbone of the Maine business community. The combination of an aging population and a younger generation interested in lower cost living also means that these kinds of communities are now very marketable. Using a criteria-based process, the team identified nine communities where this kind of development had a relatively high chance of success and conducted a series of workshops with property owners, municipal officials and interested citizens to determine the capacity for growth in each one. The communities represent a broad spectrum of sizes and locations. Their capacity for growth was determined not just through examination of physical constraints but also by identifying the ability to support growth politically and economically.
Morris was responsible for managing the process and engaging and communicating with the public. The firm created and maintained a website for the grant (sustainsouthernmaine.org) that acted as a central source for information on all aspects of the project. Active Facebook and Twitter pages were maintained to make announcements about the project and to keep interested parties thinking about the issues in the region between SSM events. Morris handled communication with all of the press across the region, keeping the project in the public eye.
Equity was also a major component, and to expand the team’s capacity to reach out to those individuals typically not involved in the planning process, Morris partnered with ethnography students from the University of Southern Maine to undertake targeted outreach to underserved populations. Group interviews were conducted with immigrants, refugees, homeless residents and both young and old residents living below the poverty line. Feedback from these groups directly contributed to final recommendations and provided a human face for the challenges facing these groups.
RESULTS: Sustain Southern Maine is a work in progress scheduled to be wrapped up in early 2014.