The title of this column is “Steps Forward” for a specific reason. It is important to have a vision for where you want to go, and then move, at whatever pace is appropriate, to get there.

While looking to the past is valuable, either in community development and preserving heritage or ensuring lessons are learned from past actions, dwelling on the past or not letting go of the present is a surefire way to find yourself stuck in a quagmire.

It has been interesting to hear the word on the street about the need for a vision for Lewiston-Auburn, compared to current discussions in the respective city council chambers.

While there had been movement by the mayors of both cities last year to pursue a shared plan to revitalize the downtown, support was withdrawn in the crossfire over shared services.

With that shared effort gone, the city of Lewiston embarked on a journey to develop a municipal strategic plan, which includes a new concept for a “Riverfront Island” in downtown.

Another pair of efforts, underway in the city of Auburn, seek to update its land use master plan and also, as a subset of that effort, a new master plan for New Auburn.

For those who wish to see the community working together through its city governments, and respective city councils, perhaps that isn’t the first place to start.

A vision for a community involves more than the dirty details of zoning ordinances and the structure of public service delivery.

A vision must include having a vibrant arts scene, a strong presence of cultural and historic organizations and downtown streets with local businesses and attractive places to live.

To some, these might be farfetched frills that the city cannot afford to pay for. And I would say, you are almost right.

Lewiston-Auburn is fortunate to have dozens upon dozens of organizations committed to seeing these amenities created and thrive in this community. In the same vein, that presence of so many groups can be an Achilles heel.

If Lewiston-Auburn wants to market the performing arts, theater and major cultural events locally and to encourage those from away to attend, how do we do that? How many organizations currently have promotion efforts, how much money do they spend, and what is their marketing strategy?

Once word is out, how many handle their own ticket sales and processing of payments?

If Lewiston-Auburn wishes to preserve its history and ensure it is integrated into the fabric of the community through outreach, education and public displays, how do we do that? How many organizations currently collect items tied to the history of this community, its immigrants, its industrialization, its social and business scene?

Once those items are collected, how are they archived, stored, made available for research and shared with the community at large?

The quality of life in Lewiston-Auburn, and in turn its ability to attract business investment and residents, rests in good measure with our ability to offer a vibrant arts and cultural environment. Study after study on economic development strategies points to this as a key measure in communities with higher per-capita income and higher rates of job growth.

Rather than rely on, or perhaps wait for, municipal government to act, why can’t those in the arts and cultural community create a game plan for partnerships that would set us on an improved course?

Yes, there have been workings groups and committees to investigate this. Yes, they have, for the most part, ended with agreements to continue talking but often without tangible efforts to gain efficiencies in areas of overlap and allow those groups to focus on their core missions.

The time will come for city leaders to set us on a course of municipal partnership. While we are waiting, the arts and cultural groups operating here should step up and start along the path of true partnerships.

Jonathan LaBonte of New Auburn is a columnist for the Sun Journal and an Androscoggin county commissioner. E-mail: [email protected]


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