BANGOR, Maine — While “Believe in Bangor,” a new committee formed to focus on quality-of-life issues, will be tackling some big problems facing the city in coming months, its first meeting on Friday focused largely on what community members love about their city.
Nearly 50 Bangor residents, business owners and city officials sat in a circle in City Council Chambers and took turns introducing themselves and sharing what they like most about the city.
City officials only had expected 12 to 15 people to show up and express interest in serving as part of the working group and subcommittees that will spring from it in the future.
“If you’re here today, you’re here because you care about the city,” Bangor City Council Chairman Nelson Durgin said.
Around the ring, residents lauded the Bangor Public Library, parks, the Penobscot Theatre, the city forest, entertainment options, the school system, businesses and the entrepreneurial spirit of some young men and women in the city.
Multiple people echoed the phrase, “I’ve fallen in love with this city.”
Kris Colford said he came to Bangor in the “heyday of my troubled youth.”
“I got a chance to change my life in this community,” said Colford, who struggled with homelessness and substance abuse in the past. “It’s helped me grow, it’s helped me mature, and it’s helped me overcome a lot of the garbage of my youth.”
Colford has started a nonprofit organization called Keeping it Real, which focuses on peer mentoring for inmates, community beautification, and education programs.
David Zelz, who works for Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, said he remembers the city during the days before urban renewal, when Bangor was “dismissed” and had an “inferiority complex.
“Bangor is changing significantly — on the move,” Zelz said, adding that he now sees a “proud city.”
But with development has come growing pains.
After introductions, residents began to talk about more distressing aspects of the city. One woman said she had to call police on several occasions because people were doing drugs on her front lawn, another found used needles in drugstore parking lots, while still other residents said they no longer feel safe walking in certain areas after dark.
Shawn Yardley, director of the city’s Department of Health and Community Services, told the group it would have to sort through the problems of the city, such as drug use and crime, to figure out what problems are symptoms of large issues and determine which challenges the city should attack.
Those who attended the meeting were handed a packet that included a list of factors that contribute to a community’s quality of life and happiness.
The factors include location and people, economics and employment, community safety, education, arts, culture and recreation, health, housing resources, parks, physical environment, transportation and mobility, alcohol and drug abuse, and civic participation.
Residents were asked to fill out a questionnaire, which asked them to identify in which areas they have expertise that could help the city. Based on those results and interest, subcommittees eventually will be formed to address areas of concern.
The committee likely will hold monthly meetings for the foreseeable future, according to Rosie Vanadestine, the city’s community and economic development director. Based on Friday’s large turnout, she said between 12 and 15 members of the working group would have to be selected to form a committee that would work with and bring recommendations to the City Council.
“Our intent is not to sit around and talk; it’s to get things done,” Durgin said.