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Working Waterfront: Gentrification, Access, and You

According to Atlas Van Lines, Maine was the most "moved to" state in 2021 and second only to North Carolina in 2022. This brings new opportunities to the state, as well as new challenges. Communities like Harpswell, which value traditional waterfront uses for their economic benefits and heritage, must work together to maintain these values and sense of community.

To foster dialogue on this issue, MCFA hosted "Gentrification, Access, and You," the latest in its conversation series, "Living and Working in a Waterfront Community." This event took place at Bowdoin's Schiller Coastal Studies Center on Orr's Island. The panelists included Marissa McMahan, Senior Fisheries Scientist at Manomet Fisheries; Matt Gilley, a Commercial Fisherman from Cundy's Harbor; Ben Ford, Principal Attorney at Archipelago Law; Emily Coffin, Seafood and Fisheries Policy Coordinator at MCFA; and the host, Holly Parker, Director of Bowdoin's Schiller Coastal Studies Center. The conversation was moderated by MCFA's Director of Community Programs, Monique Coombs.

The discussion revolved around exploring what each term in the event's title meant to different people in the community and the challenges and solutions facing Harpswell and other coastal communities. Monique began with the question, "What sustains a community?" which elicited various responses about the authenticity of coastal culture and the danger of moving towards a curated authenticity that merely looks pretty but doesn't sustain the community. The importance of having a younger generation was also a common theme. Panelist Matt Gilley expressed, "When I was a kid and I got off the bus, and my parents weren't home, if I needed a snack, I could go to pretty much any house, and they knew me and knew my family. Now, I don't know half the people around my house." Marissa McMahon added that, "There used to be 22 kids at the end of her road, and now there are only 4. There used to be 2 schools with 500 kids. Now there is only one."

Shifting to how newcomers to the area can become a meaningful part of the community, an audience member pointed out that it is important to "learn how to make the community better by volunteering as a firefighter or in community service organizations." Holly Parker emphasized that when entering a community, you have to understand the context, saying, "Don't come into a community saying, 'You have a problem. I'm going to solve it.' There needs to be a lot of listening first." Panelist Ben Ford highlighted issues regarding intertidal access, noting that "places where you might have been able to go clamming for twenty years might disappear with a change in decision or ownership." Coombs pointed to initiatives like Harpswell's upcoming Harvester Appreciation Day to build understanding and community around the town's shellfish harvesters and the value of the resource to the town's economy.

After an in-depth discussion of some very complex issues, MCFA's Seafood and Policy Associate, Emily Coffin, added, "Humor is a valuable tool. Fishermen are the funniest people I know. Sometimes you can share a joke, and it helps to connect with that person."

If you were unable to attend the event, a recording is available here, and recording of previous panels held in Harpswell are here.

The following are a few resources that were mentioned in “Gentrification, Access and You”:

We would also like to reiterate the three calls to action mentioned at the conclusion of the event:

  1. Stay Informed: Sign up for newsletters and emails from MCFA, HHLT and the Town of Harpswell.

  2. Be a Good Neighbor - enough said!

  3. Get Involved - Attend public meetings or consider joining a committee.

You can also read more about gentrification on the waterfront in our blog post HERE.

You can find more resources and articles about gentrification in the blog post HERE.



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