Livable communities are the roots that raise strong families and support a healthy economy

When we work together and plan well, we can all prosper. Creating livable communities in Maine means everyone is able to enjoy a clean environment, safe and healthy recreation, locally-grown food, fertile fish and wildlife habitat, and vibrant local economies that attract new businesses and create good jobs.

vision-icon.png A Vision for Livable Communities

Maine can build livable communities for the future using the same values of hard work, collaboration, creativity, and shared prosperity that we have been using since our earliest days. We can build communities and design transportation systems that reduce our dependence on cars, improve air quality, and encourage active lifestyles. Maine can create vibrant village centers surrounded by walk-able, bike-able neighborhoods in both urban and rural areas where schools and stores are within reach and local commerce is alive and well. We can support and improve existing communities with a strong quality of place – where people can be healthy and active, where they can grow and buy local food, where they want to live, work and play, and where they are happy to return after being away.

We can develop communities in thoughtful well-planned ways that take regional approaches to protecting and maximizing open space and minimizing sprawl. Maine people are frugal and careful with our resources and our communities can reflect that in well-planned waste and recycling systems, and in the use of construction techniques that don’t harm the environment. We can apply our creativity and ability to solve difficult problems to the challenge of adapting to climate change and the new and fluctuating weather and environmental shifts that are taking place. And we can help protect our precious environment as vital habitat for ourselves and for all the fish, wildlife, and plants we share it with.

today-icon.png Today in Maine

Maine people have a strong tradition of working together as neighbors to build communities that support everyone. This connection to the environment and creativity in solving problems give Mainers a solid foundation on which to plan for the future. In a 2009 statewide survey, 82% of respondents said it is important for Maine lawmakers to take action on reducing solid waste; 71% said lawmakers should invest in transportation alternatives to cars; and 67% said action is needed to reduce sprawling development.

Like other states, Maine experienced a long period of suburbanization. According to the Brookings Report, only 23% of Maine’s recent growth occurred in hub towns; 77% occurred in surrounding towns, new towns and rural areas. From 1980 to 2000, Maine developed more than 1,300 square miles of rural land, roughly the size of Rhode Island, which resulted in increased costs to local governments as well as environmental degradation.

Today in Maine, about 270 towns have completed a comprehensive growth and land use plan under Maine’s Growth Management Law, while innovative transportation plans are already underway in many communities across the state. Saco and Brunswick are both developing new mixed-use transit centers. Maine has recently been awarded $35 million in federal stimulus funds to extend passenger train service from Portland to Brunswick. Maine’s Safe Routes to School program has been active since 2001 and serves nearly 200 Maine schools, enabling and encouraging children to walk and bicycle to school. Maine’s Transportation Enhancement Program is helping create more community focused transportation systems by connecting public transportation, pedestrian & bicycle, environmental mitigation, and downtown revitalization initiatives.

Maine’s unique geographic and economic characteristics make it particularly sensitive to the effects of climate change. With almost 3,500 miles of coastline and important fishing, farming, forestry, and tourism industries, Maine’s stake in adapting to higher temperatures, rising sea levels, extreme precipitation, new invasive species, and the loss of traditional fish and wildlife cannot be understated.

Maine has the makings for many livable communities already in its midst and underway. Maine is home to many iconic locations that can serve as the focal points for forward-thinking community planning and Maine is enjoying an upswing in the number of new businesses and households that want to locate in Maine downtowns.

needed-icon.png What's Needed

The blueprint for livable communities lies in careful planning. Lawmakers must work at the local, state, and federal levels to lay the foundation for sustainable growth and prosperity. Creating livable communities for the generations of today and tomorrow will only be possible if Maine policymakers are willing to plan carefully and adapt to the changes in our economy and our climate.

In the next five years, we need to increase our use of smart growth strategies and principles. This includes identifying special and sensitive areas, appropriately locating development, redeveloping existing downtown areas, concentrating new development in Maine’s service center communities, increasing our use of regional and urban planning, and preserving and protecting more of Maine’s historic locations where the traditional values inherent in strong communities are alive and well. This also means protecting open space for agriculture, recreation, fish and wildlife habitat, and waterfront access.

We need to update and improve our transportation planning to encourage more transit oriented development that creates a rich mix of housing, schools, businesses and transportation options. Our roads need to be designed, operated, and maintained for all users. And we need to improve and redevelop our existing transportation corridors, intermodal transportation centers, and public transit. All these approaches need to be integrated into our state, regional, and local transportation systems.

We can no longer ignore the climate changes underway. We need to adapt to these changes by increasing our resiliency – our ability to weather any storm – by identifying and securing vulnerable areas, locating new construction strategically, and upgrading our transportation, storm water, drinking water, and coastal protection systems.

hiking-action-icon.png Take Action

The blueprint for tomorrow’s livable communities must be designed by Maine policymakers today. In the next five years, lawmakers can take specific steps to design and refine a comprehensive framework for planning and building the livable communities of Maine’s future in which we have successfully adapted to changes in our climate and our economy.

Location and Development Planning

  • Incorporate tools and incentives into local and regional planning to encourage use of the “Beginning with Habitat” program
  • Establish criteria to ensure that existing tax structures support smart growth strategies and reduce sprawl
  • Strengthen statutes like the Informed Growth Act that ensure development and redevelopment in appropriate locations
  • Provide additional funding for implementation of smart growth strategies, including the Working Waterfront Access Pilot Program, the Communities for Maine’s Future program, and the Endangered and Historic Building Revolving Fund
  • Secure funding for a Quality of Place Fund and maintain commitment to the Quality of Place Council as the coordinating body for state engagement in these initiatives

Transportation Planning

  • Implement a comprehensive and sustainable “complete streets” state and local transportation plan
  • Ensure that no new school construction occurs outside of growth areas and that students living within two miles of school can safely walk or bicycle
  • Promote and incentivize the connection of high density, mixed use development with transit services, including fixed-route, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), commercial rail, and ZOOM bus service to Biddeford/Saco and Lewiston
  • Create incentives to encourage regional community collaborations
  • Maintain or increase the current allocation of 10% of federal surface transportation funds for transportation enhancement projects that include bicycle and pedestrian facilities
  • Increase to 13% the proportion of federal safety funding that promotes bicycle and pedestrian safety

Adapting to Climate Change

  • Implement the state adaptation plan, including outreach, education, technical assistance, funding, and incentive components