The Road Ahead

We all need to look ahead and think about where we see ourselves in a decade or two, given the two paths from which we’ll choose. Sustainable progress starts an optimism that we can do more and do better.

Let’s travel down the road and envision what things are like in a united Lewiston-Auburn…

Bringing the two cities together quickly puts an end to the cross-river bickering, jealousies, not-invented-here mentality that has led to sclerosis. People ask, “What was the big deal and the big worry?”

The process of merging city operations and school systems has been a draw for new leadership to get involved. Involving the full community, we smartly assemble a future vision that everyone gets behind. If Portland can be transformed, we see that we can too…but in our own LA way.

Soon after the consolidation is completed, people see a city government that has never been smarter, more nimble, or more efficient. The opportunity and requirement to put two cities together presents an irresistible, once-in-a-career challenge to government professionals. Never before have they had – nor will they have ever again – the opportunity to reconsider in greatest detail how a city can be improved. Always in the past, the mindset was caution and preserving what is, and consequently institutional resistance was always too steep a hurdle for significant changes. It turns out the actual savings realized from the merger exceed those originally estimated by the Commission, much like what happened in Princeton, NJ a decade earlier.

In the first few years after the merger, taxes remain flat even as a strong cops-on-the-streets policing model results in a low crime rate becoming lower still. It just feels safe here. The city council decides to take half of the financial savings each year to invest in things long needed but put off because in the past budgets improvements were always on the chopping block.

LA has always been home to innovators and craftsmen. Our iconic mill buildings become magnets, then incubators, for entrepreneurs needing affordable workspaces but also an ecosystem of mutually supporting businesses. An aggressive economic development team reaches out to find the creators – then space and funding for them. Word is out that, unlike Portland, LA is open for business of all kinds. And those growing businesses drive the need for insurance agents, day care facilities, dentists, accountants, and so on.

Because there are no longer jealousies about what goes where, we implement a downtown masterplan, choosing the most logical places for boat launches, parks, music, and businesses that support the people attracted to the exciting atmosphere. The river, that had been hiding in plain sight, becomes ground zero for community events and celebrations.

Spreading beyond the riverfront area, Maine’s most diverse community blossoms to have a food and arts culture unlike any other. Young people from other parts of Maine see LA as a great place to hang and have fun. In fact, more and more decide this is the place they wanted to live.

Similarly, professionals, who in the past might have chosen to live elsewhere and commute in, become attracted to the advantages of living in LA. Around the state, people see it really is “happening here” as the combination of education quality, cultural diversity, public safety, and cost of living are unmatched elsewhere.

Merging our two cities cannot guarantee we will become a shining city on a hill, and no matter what, lasting progress cannot take place overnight. It takes leadership, courage, and years of hard work, but I believe if we work as one to unleash our potential the possibilities are endless.

Even more certain to me is this. If we hug our history and guard the status quo, 20 years from now we will still be two rival mill towns, where we are telling ourselves how great we are but wondering why our kids leave and never come back.

We all need to look ahead and think about where we see ourselves in a decade or two, given the two paths from which we’ll choose. Sustainable progress starts an optimism that we can do more and do better.

When I was growing up, Portland’s warehousing and waterfront district was shabby to say the least. It took decades for it to become the people magnet and economic engine it is today. How many people back then questioned the vision, the wisdom, and the cost of the effort?

The people who move things forward have a vision of how things can be and take action, usually against those who’s nature is to resist. The resisters are the naysayers, who are comfortable with what they have known. For them things are as good as they can be. Their glass always looks half empty, and for them it is.

The road to a brighter future takes courage and consistency. 2020 is the starting point. Seeds should be sprouting in 5 years or so, but it will be perhaps 10 years before we can feel secure that our progress is locked in. It is our children and their children who will reap the benefits.

Gene Geiger, Chair
Lewiston and Auburn Joint Charter Commission