Thoughts on an Ideal Community

Let’s be honest, doesn’t the whole concept of an “ideal” community feel slightly distasteful? I mean, ideal for whom? Surely we all know that what suits one person may well be anathema to another. And especially here in Maine, cookie-cutter communities are not very popular. We like to pride ourselves on our rugged individualism.

So, you may well ask, why did we run a survey asking folks what their ideal community would look like?

Partly because we find that in our business (public outreach, planning), there are a lot of assumptions made about what people DO want in their community. These assumptions usually reflect the opining individual’s own point of view. For example, if someone lives out in the country, they truly believe that everyone in Maine wants to live in a rural area. (It’s Maine, right? Why else would we live here?) If another someone lives in a more urban area and rides their bike a lot, they will become passionate about how it’s critically important to provide bike lanes and transit to reduce dependence on cars and foreign oil. (It’s 2012, right? This is the way of the future!)

You can see they both have a point.

But back to the survey. We wanted to find out if any of the options we provided for an “ideal community” really stood out – if there were any items that transcended age, gender and town of residence.  Now, given this is not a scientific survey with a randomly selected audience, and we can’t draw major conclusions. But regardless, we found the results interesting.

Number one item of importance in an ideal community: Good schools, with over 83% rating them highly important. This is not surprising, but it is good reinforcement for those who believe that support for local education is key to maintaining property values. And interestingly, only about a third of respondents thought it was highly important to be able to walk to these good schools.

Number two item of high importance, with a 74% rating: making sure locally owned businesses are part of the community.  So while a lot of people still go to those non-locally owned big box stores, they also are committed to patronizing stores owned by their neighbors.

And the other two big winners – no surprise here – are sidewalks at 67% and the availability of energy efficient homes at 62%.

Everything else – transit, bike lanes, housing choice – came in with 50% or fewer respondents rating it of high importance.

If we can draw any conclusion here, it’s that while lifestyles here in Southern Maine vary widely, any community that offers strong support for education and a convenient network of local businesses is going to be an attractive choice for a wide range of people. And that could play a big part in a sustainable future for Southern Maine.

We’ll plan to run this survey again early next year when we’ve attracted a bigger audience to Sustain Southern Maine to find out if the results change.

In the meantime, we hear you.

By Carol Morris, Sustain Southern Maine Team Member