The Working Waterfront

Regional work challenges idea of community

Hancock County commission tackles big issues

By Alice Cockerham
Posted 2024-02-01
Last Modified 2024-04-02

Reflections is written by Island Institute Fellows, recent college grads who do community service work on Maine islands and in coastal communities through the Island Institute, publisher of The Working Waterfront.

I begin my day in a Hancock County Planning Commission staff meeting. Following this meeting, I attend Sorrento’s comprehensive plan meeting online, where we discuss the upcoming public engagement session.

Next, I am digging through Blue Hill’s housing data to determine how many additional units are needed to accommodate the predicted rise in population. Finally, I hop into the car and drive to Castine to sit in on a planning meeting to help determine appropriate growth areas.

When I accepted the position as an Island Fellow, I assumed the boundaries of my community would be geographically defined.

Not to be dramatic, but this is a typical day in my life as an Island Institute Fellow. At the time of writing, I am involved in eight different comprehensive plans, four committee groups, three regional planning groups, and two community resilience partnerships.

I’ve quickly realized that the work I am doing in this fellowship will not be confined to one municipality or one topic area.
The Hancock County Planning Commission (HCPC) advocates for a regional approach to rural development and planning.

Alice Cockerham
Alice Cockerham

This means it draws from all communities in the county to approach major problems like sea level rise or affordable housing. Because municipalities in the area are sparsely populated and town offices typically understaffed and overworked, it makes sense to combine resources and work together towards these collective goals.

This type of regional collaboration provides a vehicle for improving social and economic opportunity by ensuring rural and small-town interests and perspectives are at the table to set priorities and drive change. HCPC works with and supports all 33 towns in Hancock County.

Working at the regional level is becoming more popular among planners in Maine and HCPC is helping spearhead the organization of formal partnerships between municipalities. This work entails having our hands in many different pots and consistently traveling from one town to the next nearly every day.

When I accepted the position as an Island Fellow, I assumed the boundaries of my community would be geographically defined. Living on an island makes drawing the lines of a community simple, but this has not been my experience. Every day I work with diverse groups of people who engage in different types of work, come from different backgrounds, and are at different levels of involvement.

I am actively unlearning the notion that my community is defined by physical and tangible barriers of separation. My community does not have physical limits, it crosses town boundaries and manifests in more ways than one. I find I am applying the same concepts HCPC supports in its work to my personal life in this unique position.

Even though I am not living on an island, and the people I see in the grocery store aren’t the same people I am working with day in and day out, I still feel a sense of community within an area as large as Hancock County. I’ve learned that when people have the opportunity to work together and collaborate on things we all care equally about, meaningful relationships tend to form quickly. Making what might seem like a large and overwhelming area to cover, a much more attainable and organized space.

Alice Cockerham works with the Hancock County Planning Commission to make resources digitally available and to assist towns with comprehensive and resilience planning. She graduated from Bates College with a B.A. in anthropology and religious studies.