Planner Profile: Mark Eyerman
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Meet Mark Eyerman, Owner of PlanME, LLC:
HOW MANY YEARS IN PLANNING PROFESSION?
My first “planning job” was in 1970 so with time off for some travel I guess you’d say about 45 years.
Owner of PlanME, LLC and soon to be former President of Planning Decisions, Inc.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND
I grew up in northeastern PA in Wilkes-Barre, a city of about 75,000 that is now probably less than 50,000. It was the center of the anthracite coal industry. My family was in the commercial roofing business and my nephew still is. After working summers in the family roofing business I decided I wanted to do something else. I went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) to study architecture and graduated with a degree in the Building Sciences.
WHAT LED YOU INTO PLANNING?
In my junior year at RPI we were given a design problem to design a new bank – it was a real situation. But the design program did not make sense in the context of the location and the site – what the bank wanted wasn’t a good idea for the City. They wanted a “suburban” design with parking in front of the building on a downtown site where all of the buildings were located right behind the sidewalk. So I designed what I thought they should want and didn’t do very well on the project. That was when my interest in community planning as opposed to buildings started.
WHAT IS UNIQUE ABOUT PLANNING IN MAINE?
The key thing from a planning perspective is that Maine is a home rule state. This gives local communities a great deal of freedom and flexibility to do creative planning. Sadly over the past 20 years there have been some well-meaning, but misguided efforts by the state to limit local authority. Many planners do not recognize the importance and power of home rule to planning. In addition, the Town Meeting form of local government combined with the situation where all land in the “organized territory” is in a local community and there is no county government or meaningful regional planning makes addressing larger scale issues difficult.
WHAT IS THE MOST REWARDING ASPECT OF YOUR WORK?
Seeing local people “get it” especially municipal officials.
WHAT IS THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECT OF YOUR WORK?
Maine is a state that too often looks backward not forward. Too many people involved in planning at the community level are “gray hairs” who often want things to stay the same or be like it was 20 or 50 years ago. It is difficult to get communities to really think about what we want the community or region or state to be 10 or 20 or 50 years in the future. A second challenge relates to density. A more compact, higher density pattern of development is the foundation for many of the things that both planners and some of the public say we want. You cannot have bus service or walkable neighborhoods or neighborhood/community commercial centers or schools that kids can walk or bike to and so forth without a compact settlement pattern. But too many are afraid of higher density or even the density of people that historically existed in our town and village centers. We mislead ourselves when we think of density in terms of households or housing units per acre when we should be thinking in terms of people per acre. As household size has declined over the past 40 years, the density of our communities measured in people has decreased. Today in most/many communities 50-60% of households have only one or two people. So we need to help people think in terms of people density and how we increase that where it is appropriate.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR DREAM PROJECT – WHAT KIND OF PLANNING WORK WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE MORE INVOLVED WITH?
Sprawl in southern and coastal Maine continues to be the primary pattern of development although there has been some resurgence of development within some of our core cities such as Portland, Biddeford, maybe Waterville. This is the life-style of the middle-aged population. The key issue facing Maine is how we create communities other than Portland that are attractive to educated, skilled 20 somethings--the so-called millennials. I think it would be fun to think about what it would take to create three or four other “communities” that are attractive places for the under 35 population to live and work. This means housing, jobs, education, recreation, entertainment, an entire life-style that appeals to younger people that are essential to the future of Maine.
WHAT IS YOUR NICHE OR MAIN EXPERTISE?
Innovative community planning.
This profile was originally published on October 13, 2016.