Windham Eagle Choice Awards

Friday, August 5, 2016

21st Century Downtown Plan creates community for Windham - By Lorraine Glowczak

The 21st Century Downtown Plan that began as a spark of community imagination is inching closer toward reality. The collaborative planning phase that began in 2011 and adopted in 2013 may see the physical transformations begin in two to three years. Of course, baby steps are what it is going to take to reach the fully implemented vision. It’s difficult to determine the exact amount of years it will take, but Ben Smith, Windham Planning Director, stated that when completed, the new North Windham will be “a center of social and economic activity and it will shape the lives of the next three generations” in the most positive way. 

As it stands now, North Windham is a place of convenience. Need groceries? Need that new lawn mower, or make that hasty dash into the bank? Then North Windham is there for you. But what about a sense of community? Where are the parks? Where are the children playing? Do you see people walking to their favorite shop or eatery and supporting local businesses? Is there an easily accessible place for our elderly to gather? And, when you have guests from out of town, where in North Windham do you take them? Unfortunately, North Windham lacks atmosphere, aesthetics, community, and a place to gather with neighbors and friends. As a result, many individuals choose not to move to Windham for these very reasons. Ben Smith stated it best when he refers to the plan, “We want to create a healthy, enjoyable and residential community. To create a habitat for people.”
 
What exactly is a healthy community? As stated in the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization identifies a healthy community as such: “one that continuously creates and improves both its physical and social environments, helping people to support one another in aspects of daily life and to develop to their fullest potential. Healthy places are those designed and built to improve the quality of life for all people who live, work, worship, learn, and play within their borders - where every person is free to make choices amid a variety of healthy, available, accessible, and affordable options.”

What does a healthy habitat for North Windham look like and in what ways does the 21st Century Plan create and improve both its physical and social environment? First, it all began when city officials listened to its community members. Ben stated, “According to the community survey that was conducted in the fall of 2014, among the top things that people love about living in Windham is the proximity to Portland, the convenience of having a wide range of goods and services available right in Windham. They also noted traffic problems and the need for infrastructure improvements are among the top disadvantages to living in Windham. Residents also feel that the top threat to Windham’s quality of life was development and congestion in the North Windham commercial areas.”
As a result of that survey and many hours of research, the physical improvements of the 21st Century Downton Plan consists of significant pedestrian upgrades including the addition of new sidewalks, wider shoulders for bicycle use, placing electrical lines underground, and the addition of trees and broadband Internet. Additionally, a more efficient use of available land will create higher land value for the home and business owner. This will draw new businesses to the area such as lawyers, accountants, specialty shops, art, restaurants, and local pubs where music abounds. Most importantly and for all this to become a reality, the addition of waste water disposal is a must. But in doing so, present town ordinances need to be addressed and changed that include residential and commercial properties residing together in what is now a central business district. The present ordinances and changes needed will be discussed this fall in a community town hall meeting. The time and date is yet to be determined.

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There are always concerns by members of the public when facing transformation and change. Ben Smith reiterates that the community and government officials have worked together to discuss the various concerns and goals by meeting the public on a community and individual level. Without a doubt, funding is high on the list of apprehensions to the 21st Century Plan. Smith stated that there are a number of funding sources to include but not limited to grants, matching funds, public and private partnerships, as well as “adopt a green space,” and “adopt a tree” programs. Additionally, funding will be provided by the Department of Transportation improvement program. 
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As with any transformational and progressive goal, changes will be implemented slowly. It is possible that the community can begin to see the transformation take place in as early as two to three years. The whole completed project could foreseeable be finished in 15 to 20 years. As Smith stated, “the next big phase of North Windham is upon us.” And no matter how long the 21st Century Plan will take to reach full completion, North Windham will be buzzing will social and economic activity. It will be a true habitat for people and it’s going to be a wonderful community adventure.
For detailed information on the 21st Century Downtown Plan, visit www.windhammaine.us/220/21st-Century-Downtown-Plan

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