For some time now there has been a decline in the political discourse in Windham. It is not something that is exclusive to Windham and is in many ways, a regrettable part of our national dialogue.

We need only look at such media luminaries as Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and Don Imus. It is not that I have anything against respectful criticism or even good humored pokes at our ideas, attitudes, actions and policies. Although our ability for free speech is a fundamental tenant of our democracy there are levels of exchange that degrade our ability for civil discourse. I feel we are seeing that in spades here. It makes it very hard to even read our local papers with the mean-spirited, self-aggrandizing, and often demeaning attitudes found in and within certain editorials, letters and columns. It is also found in some of the attitudes and comments of our elected officials. ……Come on folks. We can do better.

On another subject, I would like to address Councilor Kaile Warren’s idea of putting horizontal traffic lights in North Windham. I do not think horizontal lights will do much to give distinction to North Windham, nor do I feel there is a pressing need to accommodate the passage of large boats. I do however agree with the basic issue Councilor Warren seems to want to address. North Windham is less than appealing much less distinguished.

While I do not believe horizontal lights are the answer, I do appreciate Councilor Warren wanting to address the issue of how we make our commercial district more distinctive and functional. With or without horizontal lights, much more needs to be accomplished. We have seen the enhancement of ugly commercial districts in other communities. Look at Falmouth for an example. I believe it can be done here and we can do it even better.

Foremost we must develop strategies to get rid of the visual clutter. Envision as you drive through North Windham what it would look like without power lines. Then envision better designed lights and street signage. This can be done by redesigning, burying or relocating lines and street signage.

Next envision more substantial green spaces on either side of Route 302. These would involve growing real vegetation rather than mulch. Maybe even a green median strip. These green spaces would be both environmentally sound allowing for greater permeability for ground water recharge and far more beautiful. Such a greening would entail removing or moving parking spaces away from the road and reducing the number of curb cuts and entrances from Route 302. This would also help the traffic flow through the district.

As well, there could be a move to make a greater consistency to the retail signage that is there. One of the great things about Maine is that it does not have billboards. If we could enact the same sense of control and consistent signage throughout our commercial district what a difference it would make.

After this we could demand greater expectations in the area of the design of our buildings and renovations in our commercial district. Let’s look at the many examples of our local banks such as Gorham Savings, Mechanics, and Norway Savings. Notice the Maine Bean and commercial development on Commons Avenue.

Again, it can be done.

Pedestrian-oriented areas could be created within the larger commercial district. This could be done by moving parking to the periphery, adding infill development or green spaces, embracing public transportation, developing pedestrian spaces and walkways, and requiring greater environmentally sensitive designs. In addition, there could be better commercial interfaces with our residential areas that provide for smaller locally developed neighborhood-oriented businesses.

I realize that the horizontal traffic lights would have been one step; but alone they would not go far to distinguish North Windham. I do, however, appreciate the willingness of Councilor Warren to appreciate the need to add distinction to our commercial district. It is an effort in the right direction.

Michael Shaughnessy is a former Windham town councilor and is a regularly contributing columnist to the Lakes Region Weekly.

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