MAP President’s Corner: Rebuilding Planning in a New Era
It’s an exciting time to be President of the Maine Association of Planners (MAP), and I appreciate the opportunity, as the new President. Planning is experiencing a resurgence in Maine after some tough years of recession and political headwinds. Early in my nearly eleven-year tenure at the Land Use Planning Commission, I discovered MAP and I have benefited greatly by learning from my fellow MAP members. It’s hard to imagine the planning profession in Maine without a professional association to help bring us together and to speak on behalf of the profession on key issues. MAP certainly enriches our profession and, as a result, our communities.
Now, as the organization transforms into a section of the Northern New England Chapter of the American Planning Association, we have an opportunity to spend less time on administrative tasks and more time on the substance of professional development, public policy influence, and network building. It has taken a tremendous effort to realize that transformation, and I want to thank the tireless volunteers on the board and in the organization that made it happen. Let us take the opportunity they have given us to make real progress.
In the last decade as the State Planning Office was eliminated, Maine lost an important coordinating function in state government. But that did not eliminate the spirit of innovation in the planning community. We have seen continued, albeit in some cases slower, innovation. That has been particularly strong from local and regional programs and from individuals. Some inventive and successful programs have flourished in the recent strong economy, and planning employment opportunities are impressive, particularly at the local level.
However, there have been serious consequences from the change in government structure in Maine, and from the major shifts in Maine’s economy. The opportunities for success have been uneven across the state. Many of the most rural areas are losing population and struggle to maintain basic services. Funding for planning is very difficult in those circumstances, and small communities or communities with modest incomes don’t have the technical resources they need to plan for the future as they must focus their efforts on survival year to year. Recently, Carol Eyerman, past President of MAP, worked with a group of interested MAP members and sent a letter to Governor Mills, and to Hannah Pingree, Director of the Governor’s Office of Policy and Management. In that letter, Carol outlined the following priorities:
- Strengthen the foundation of municipal planning through technical assistance to local governments
- Improve planning efficiency and outcomes by financially supporting Regional Planning Organizations (RPOs) and Councils of Government (COGs) and actively involving them in the statewide policy conversations
- Focus on sustainable development and climate change policies as a tool for equitable protection of all Maine citizens while improving quality of life.
- Address the issue of food insecurity to remove barriers and ensure equal opportunity for all.
- Strengthen interagency coordination and delivery of services.
- Hire staff with a professional planning background for the Office of Innovation and the Future.
The Mills administration welcomed MAP’s comments and is open to hearing the planning perspective in upcoming dialogs, particularly regarding climate change and delivery of related planning services to municipalities. The first step in that process was Sarah Curran’s attendance and short address at the May 17 MAP annual meeting, which was well received. Sarah coordinates the climate change program in Ms. Pingree’s office and has extensive professional background in planning in Maine, including being a past president of MAP.
MAP’s involvement going forward will depend on members’ ability and interest to spend time attending meetings and talking with professionals and citizens from other sectors of Maine’s economy. The goal is to build awareness of the planning needs that Maine communities face, and to help shape the innovative and efficient delivery of coordinated services. If you have the time and interest to participate, please get in touch with me or another board member, and we will involve you as the opportunities for engagement come together. Of course, the board will keep the membership informed about key developments as well.
It will be exciting to see how the next year unfolds, and please contact me at any time with questions or thoughts.
Samantha Horn is MAP President and Acting Executive Director, Land Use Planning Commission.