How to make Bangor a better, more exciting place to live, work, create and play is a question for which city Councilor Sean Faircloth does not have answers. So starting Tuesday, he’s pitting neighborhoods against each other to try and figure it out.
The premise of the Innovative Neighborhoods competition is simple: teams of residents from five neighborhoods around Bangor will get together over the next five to six months and come up with two ideas — one about improving the city as a whole and one about improving their own neighborhood.
The neighborhood teams with the best ideas in each of the two categories, as deemed by residents via online vote, win.
Ideas could involve creating a new nonprofit theater, developing a new downtown mid-sized music venue, finding ways for the city to weatherize more homes or connecting businesses with the higher education community to assist workers with their latest innovation, Faircloth said.
“Can we spot-revitalize a key street in our neighborhood that will create momentum for further gentrification? What is the biggest problem area in our particular section of the city and how could the entire neighborhood team plan a revitalization?” Faircloth asked. Or teams could “completely ignore these ideas. Come up with something on your own that helps make Bangor the best small city in the United States.”
The competition kicks-off at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 4, at Nocturnem Draft Haus, where all attending residents will split up into teams that are divided by the city’s five elementary school districts. There, they will learn about the initiative, participate in a presentation by Bangor Savings Bank executives and start gaining insights as well as brainstorming ideas.
“The citizen drivenness of this is a big part of it. It’s a grassroots effort, not a top-down initiative,” said Bangor Savings Bank Senior Vice President Scott Blake. “We are trying to tap into the friendly existing neighborhood competition that Bangor has.”
Faircloth came up with the idea after reading the books “Inventology: How We Dream Up Things That Change The World” and “ Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity,” as well as a series in the magazine the Atlantic, in which reporter James Fallows and his wife fly around the country looking at why local communities are successful or not. He also garnered input from a steering committee consisting of city officials, residents and employees of several local organizations and businesses, including Bangor Daily News reporter Matthew Stone.
“Federal and state government is not functioning well, but cities are doing dynamic things these days,” Faircloth said. “Bangor could take a lead.”
As of about noon Monday, 45 people had signed up for the kickoff party on the Innovative Neighborhoods Facebook page.
During the competition, each team will create its own schedule and determine its own way of coming up with and pursuing ideas, Faircloth said. Teams would identify possible funding sources such as grants, possible private investors or public funds for their ideas if there are costs involved.
Each team will roll out the ideas sometime in the fall and will be judged by residents through an online vote on the BDN website. The victor wins bragging rights and possibly a quirky small award, Faircloth said.
Faircloth hopes residents will approach the competition with the same fun and competitive spirit they approach recreational dodgeball or trivia night at a bar. And even if an idea doesn’t win the competition in the end, there’s nothing stopping it from being put into action.
“Hopefully this will be an idea generation machine,” he said. “Big visions need oxygen sometimes and Innovative Communities could help provide that oxygen.”