Issue 47: Guided by What Matters Most

By: Callie Black

In the summer of 2016, the City of Rockland Comprehensive Planning Commission began discussing how to get the required community input for the new Comprehensive Plan. The Commission realized that getting “real” input from the many and varied citizens of our City was a daunting task and that a meeting at City Hall was not the way to go. As the discussion continued, the Orton Family Foundation’s Community Heart & Soul project came to light. Further investigation suggested it might be just the thing to pull our City together and provide the information needed for the new plan. Community Heart & Soul had been used in Damariscotta, Biddeford and Gardner and conversations with these towns suggested their successes could be replicated in Rockland. The Commission was not in a position to tackle such an undertaking, but a group of citizens, ready and willing, began Rockland Heart & Soul that fall.

The goal of the Community Heart & Soul program is to learn what matters most to a community, and then to move forward in planning and development based on just that – what matters most. But it’s not so easy to gather the voices of everyone in a community and that’s the hard work that Rockland Heart & Soul is undertaking now. We are determined that every voice be represented – old and young, rich and poor, newcomers and old timers, from downtown to Bog Road, South End to North End and everywhere in between.

To date, Rockland Heart & Soul has recorded interviews with over 170 people. These people have shared with us the things they care about in our community. They’ve talked about their hopes for the future of Rockland and their concerns. They’ve had some great ideas about things that would make our community even better. As we listen to these recordings, pulling data from them to put on our spread sheets, we are constantly amazed – by the similarities in the things people love about Rockland, by the variety of hopes and concerns and by the imaginative actions suggested.

We’ve learned so much – both the good and the bad. Don found community as he walked through the downtown on a snowy afternoon – stimulating conversation at the Farnsworth; neighbors at the Loyal Biscuit with a common concern, the availability of Musher’s Wax for their dogs’ paws in this snowy weather; conversation with a friend on the street as they walked; and the gift of bread from a local restaurant.

Laura loves Rockland as “a real and hardworking town, not a fake postcard town,” but she sees problems that others see: the high rents and even higher property taxes, and older residents who can’t afford to stay. She doesn’t want Rockland to become homogenized or as many others say, lose its “edge.”

Suzanne talked about the things she loves about Rockland and like so many others, the harbor tops her list. She sees it as a microcosm of Rockland “with people going out to earn a livelihood with their hands and their back…They’re out there to work. And the fact that the Coast Guard is here and there’s a fishing fleet…I like that a lot.” At Harbor Park, where she likes to eat lunch occasionally, “you see the boats come and go and there’s just a peace. It sounds kind of silly, but I’m proud to be from Rockland, I really am.”

Rockland Heart & Soul is still collecting stories. If you’d like to share your thoughts, we’d love to talk to you. And if you’d like to help us gather those stories, we’d appreciate your help. Email us at One of our volunteers will be in touch.


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