Possible Population Goals, Objectives and Actions Resulting from Focused Discussion #1

Goal: Grow the population of the City while maintaining and enhancing the diversity of its residents

May 8, 2013

The population of Gardiner has steadily declined over the past thirty years.  During this period, the population of the City has “aged” with a larger share of older residents and fewer younger households and children.  The aging of the baby boom generation will likely continue this trend.  At the same time, the surrounding communities have been experiencing population growth as new housing has been built. 


While the movement toward a more “urban” lifestyle among young adults combined with downtown revitalization, increased transportation costs, and the possible availability of natural gas in the City may mitigate some of this outward movement, changing this pattern will require a comprehensive, coordinated effort on the part of the City and the larger community.  The following objectives and related actions outline the principal components of such a program.


Objective #1: Increase the awareness of Gardiner as a great place to live throughout central and southern Maine


Outside of the immediate area, Gardiner is something of an unknown quantity to people who are looking for a place to live.  Gardiner is seen as a “tough sell” by the real estate community because of its high tax rate compared to the more rural surrounding communities.  Gardiner needs to market itself as a wonderful place to live.  While the City promotes Gardiner as a place to do business, less has been done to promote Gardiner as a place to live:


Action 1-1. Use the City’s website to market Gardiner as a great place to live.  The community should identify and promote the City’s assets (schools, downtown, walkable neighborhoods, inclusive attitude, etc.) as a place to live on a separate portion of the City’s website that is easy to find and get to.  This effort should focus on diverse segments of the population – families with children, younger singles, empty-nesters, retirees.  The website should include video testimonials from a variety of types of residents about why Gardiner is a great place to live.


Action 1-2. Recruit “community ambassadors”.  Heart & Soul should identify and recruit a pool of people who are willing to provide testimonials about living in Gardiner that can be used as part of the marketing program.  These “community ambassadors” should be a diverse group of residents including a range of ages as well as both longer-term residents and people who have recently chosen to move to Gardiner.  Heart & Soul should work with these ambassadors to present a consistent yet diverse message about the community and its assets.


Action 1-3. Establish a welcome committee.  New residents may have a hard time connecting with the community especially people who do not have children.  Heart & Soul should establish an ongoing program to welcome new residents to the community.  This would include collecting/developing information about the City, various programs and activities for different segments of the population, and organizations that may be of interest.  The program would need to establish a system for identifying  new residents of the City (possibly through public records such as real estate transfers, voter registrations, excise tax payments, etc.) and for recruiting and training volunteers who would be available to introduce people to the community.  Ideally, the program would match new residents with “welcomers” with similar characteristics.


Action 1-4. Work with the real estate community.  Real estate agents are often a major source of information for people looking for a community in which to live.  The City and Heart & Soul should establish an ongoing relationship with the agents who are active in the region to assure that they have accurate, up-to-date information about Gardiner and the advantages of living here.


Objective #2: Maintain and enhance the livability of existing residential neighborhoods


Gardiner is seen by many residents as a good place to live.  The City’s older intown neighborhoods offer the opportunity for a livable, walkable lifestyle that is becoming increasingly popular both with younger people and empty-nesters.  At the same time, there is a need for attention to these areas of the City to maintain and enhance their attractiveness especially for younger families and singles.


Action 2-1. Support the creation of neighborhood associations.  The City’sestablished residential neighborhoods are a major strength of the City.  However, there is no formal mechanism for residents to be involved “as a neighborhood” in the affairs of the City and larger community.  Heart & Soul, with support from the City, should encourage neighborhoods to establish neighborhood associations either as informal groups or as formal organization to play a more active role in the community.  When neighborhood associations are established, the City should recognize them in the appointment of committees, discussion of issues impacting the neighborhood, and in planning for the future of the neighborhood.


Action 2-2. Establish a neighborhood improvement program.  Much of the City’s housing stock especially in the older, established neighborhoods, dates to before World War Two.  These homes require regular maintenance and in some cases have outdated and inefficient heating and utility systems.  Assuring that homes are maintained and upgraded is important to assuring that these neighborhoods remain desirable places to live and to invest.  The City should establish a neighborhood improvement program to provide assistance to elderly and lower-income households to maintain and improve their property.  This program should include both technical assistance in helping people qualify for available programs and local loans and grants to homeowners to maintain/improve their homes if the City can obtain the necessary funding.  As part of this effort, the City should aggressively pursue outside funding such as the Small Cities Community Development Program and foundation grants.


Action 2-3. Maintain and enhance the sidewalk system.  A key benefit (and competitive advantage) of the City’s established neighborhoods is their walkability both within the neighborhood and to community activity centers.  Maintaining and expanding the City’s sidewalk system is important to maintaining the livability of these neighborhoods.  The City should revisit the work of the City’s Sidewalk Committee from 2007 and develop a phased, long-term plan for improving these facilities.  A focus of this plan should be on improving the linkages between the older neighborhoods and key activity centers such as Downtown, public buildings and schools, major community centers, and recreation areas.  To carry out this program, the City Council should create and regularly fund a sidewalk improvement account within the City’s operating budget.


Action 2-4. Improve access to recreational facilities.


Action 2-5. Improve internet service.  Gardiner’s established neighborhoods offer a livable, walkable environment that is potentially conducive to home businesses and telecommuters who rely on Internet service.  In a sense, they offer the possibility for a live, work, play environment.  The work component is dependent on the availability of reliable, high speed Internet service.  The City should work with service providers to assure its availability throughout the City but especially in the residential neighborhoods.


Action 2-6. Provide opportunities for the creative reuse of large older buildings.  There are a number of existing large buildings within the City’s residential neighborhoods that are no longer being used for the designed purpose.  Finding appropriate uses for these buildings that are both economically viable and suitable for the neighborhood can be problematic.  The City should revise its zoning to create a mechanism to allow the creative reuse of these buildings on a case-by-case basis as long as they maintain the character of the neighborhood.  This could be done through the creation of an overlay district or the use of contract zoning that would allow the specifics of each redevelopment to be carefully reviewed and negotiated.


Action 2-7. Adopt and enforce a housing code for multifamily buildings.  A sizeable percentage of the City’s housing units are located in older multifamily buildings.  While these buildings provide an important supply of rental housing for both Gardiner and the region, some of these properties are not well maintained.  To address this issue, the City should adopt a basic property maintenance code for non-owner occupied multifamily buildings.  This code would require the building and individual units to meet basic standards for life safety and livability.


Action 2-8. Address nuisance situations.  The behavior of the occupants of housing can influence the livability of a neighborhood.  Disruptive behavior impacts neighboring properties and can influence the entire neighborhood.  The City should adopt an aggressive policy toward nuisance behavior.  This should include making this an enforcement priority for the police department.  In addition, the City should explore the adoption of a “disorderly house” ordinance that allows the City to take action against a property owner if there are repeated problems at his/her property.


Objective #3: Increase the range of housing options available in the City


Objective #4: Expand the range of activities and services to meet the needs of a diverse population