Much has been said about Maine’s quality of place, a subject that hit me like a brick this weekend as I once again travel the roads of rural Maine.
But what is the value of a quality place without a quality life?
GrowSmart Maine describes quality of place as:
“. . . our majestic mountains, unbroken forests, open fields, wild rivers, pristine lakes, widely-celebrated coast, picturesque downtowns, lively arts and culture, authentic historic buildings, and exceptional recreational opportunities. It is our principal advantage in today’s global economic competition. Quality of place will help us keep and attract skilled workers and entrepreneurs to fill Maine’s declining workforce population.”
Sounds good, right?
Sure, right up until you drive along Rte. 4 past Livermore Falls and into the town of Jay on your way to someplace pretty.
The policy wonks, pundits and environmental do-gooders slap themselves on the back with self-congratulation over drinks at the Senator Inn in Augusta after passing some piece of legislation designed to protect Maine’s “quality of place,” but I wonder if they have ever strolled along Water Street, less than a mile away or driven past the dilapidated tenement triple-deckers that line Rte. 8 on the way toward the Civic Center.
Try telling someone in that neighborhood about quality of place.
Better yet, visit the Wal-Mart in Calais, Skowhegan, Newport or Sanford. Tell the single-mom buying generic-labeled cereal about “quality of place.”
Drive past the gutted factories and the ghost towns that were once homes to thriving industries like shoe shops, paper mills and textile manufacturing. Pull over and tell the people who are barely living there about quality of place.
Drive north, east or west from Portland. Get off the main roads and count the number of blue tarps that serve as substitute roofs on ramshackle homes. Pause and tell those people about “quality of place.”
There are no easy answers, but I never see the pundits or the lobbyists shopping for pre-paid cell phones, making an installment payment at Rent-A-Center or drying their clothes at the Laund-O-Matic on a sweltering July afternoon.
These people —the not-so-pretty and the not-so-fortunate ones —- are largely forgotten, discounted and mostly ignored. They routinely buy lottery tickets. Many of them smoke, and they keep their heads above the surface like prison inmates. One fucking day at a time.
It’s easy to judge them. To think we know better about how they should live or how Maine should be managed, but few of us know — really know— that if this is quality of place . . . That if this is as good as it gets…..
What is the value of having an abundance of natural resources if you cannot feed your children? What is the value of open space if you don’t have a car to get there?
How do we achieve the balance between protecting the things we cherish in our backyard without forgetting or discounting the people who live there?
I do not know the answers. Do you?