From Ocean to Action: South Portland's Initiatives Towards Climate Resilience
Steve Genovese, Sustainability Outreach Fellow, describes his role in South Portland's efforts to address climate change in coastal communities, highlighting the "100 Resilient Yards" project as a means of creating climate-resilient landscapes and promoting sustainable landcare practices.
When I first moved to Portland, I fell in love with the sign over the DiMillo’s parking lot on Commercial Street that reads “May You Have Fair Winds and Following Seas”. The ocean is synonymous with Maine and its way of life. Whole communities, including Portland, were built on a working waterfront that prioritized the sea as a means of generating food, transportation, economic stimulus, and even as a tool for managing emotional and social well-being. Today, those same coastal communities that have buoyed Maine’s economy and health are under threat from the existential challenge of climate change.
A Focus on Climate Change
I joined the Resilience Corps to strengthen my knowledge of climate change mitigation and to put myself on the front lines of community-centered action. What that meant in practice, I hadn’t fully grasped, but today as the finish line looms on my 11-month service term, I can only express gratitude for the understanding I have gained and the comprehensive list of actions being implemented state-wide in the fight against climate change.
In my time as the Community Engagement and Outreach fellow for the City of South Portland’s Sustainability Department, I strive to create content that dives head-first into the many aspects of climate change, while still making this information accessible and easy to understand. Topics have ranged from aquaculture to renewable energies, community gardens to coastal community resilience, and waste reduction initiatives to beneficial electrification rebate programs. Each has expanded my knowledge, while also helping me to connect all of our work back to a singular challenge - mitigating climate change. For much of our work, the direct correlation to climate action is inherent. Renewable energies help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the fossil fuels historically used to generate energy. Aquaculture (when managed sustainably) helps to create more sustainable food systems and enhances the economy of our working waterfronts. In some spaces however, creating that connection to climate change is our challenge. How we educate, advocate, and outreach is directly related to the impact our work can have. Coastal communities like South Portland are on the front lines of climate change, between rising sea level and temperatures, increased frequency of storm systems, and the changing dynamics of the geography our community has relied upon for generations. The interconnectedness of all our work isn’t lost on me, but also (thankfully) not on the community I serve.
100 Resilient Yards
A project I have spent much of my service term working on in South Portland is called “100 Resilient Yards.” As a coastal community, South Portland has focused on reducing the use of landcare chemicals - specifically synthetic fertilizer and pesticides - to protect the health of residents and natural ecosystems. The overuse and misapplication of fertilizers (whether organic or synthetic) on turf/grass cause excess nutrient loads to enter our waterways and ultimately, Casco Bay where they deplete oxygen in the ocean and create harmful algae blooms, increase ocean acidification, and degrade overall water quality. The health of our waterways and working waterfronts is paramount to the economic vitality of our coastal community, which is why projects like 100 Resilient Yards are so impactful. The project addresses key climate action initiatives by bringing together partner organizations to provide technical expertise, educational material, and the physical resources to transform 100 lawns and other underutilized green spaces into climate resilient and organic landscapes. For some, the association between a green space and climate change is unclear. However, by acknowledging our coastal communities as coordinated ecosystems, the connection between chemical inputs in our green spaces and the loss of native habitat demonstrates the negative impacts of climate change. By prioritizing building soil health, restoring ecosystems, and linking city-wide fertilizer and pesticide ordinances which limit the application and outflow of these products into waterways, 100 Resilient Yards creates a framework by which the entire community can become more climate resilient.
The Importance of Resilient Community Spaces
While the goal of the project is to facilitate a change in personal landcare practices to increase community resilience, the continuing outcomes of the project are more far-reaching and impactful. Organic and resilient outdoor spaces invite us outside year-round and incorporate healthy activity into our daily lives. These spaces require less management - limiting the use of gas-powered lawn equipment not only reduces fossil fuel usage, but improves air quality through reduced emissions. Pollinators and other native species which improve the overall health of the ecosystems we inhabit are able to return to resilient, native spaces. Further collaboration across coastal communities enhances holistic public health for all the reasons discussed.
To me, a project like 100 Resilient Yards ties together so many of the reasons why we as communities need to develop resilience in addressing climate change. My hope is that all of South Portland has ‘fair winds and following seas’ as we work together to address the resilience of our community-wide coastal spaces.
Check out the ‘100 Resilient Yards’ website here: https://tinyurl.com/100-Resilient-Yards
Steve was born in North Haven, CT, but calls Portland, ME home. He graduated from Western New England College in 2011 with a Bachelor's of Science in Business Administration with a focus in Accounting and is currently enrolled in MEEM - the Master of Energy and Environmental Management program at the University of Connecticut. He completed a post-bachelor certificate in Sustainable Environmental Planning and Management in 2022 and is excited to translate this education into actionable change through his Resilience Corps role. Steve served in the United States Peace Corps from 2018-2020 as a sustainable agriculture and economic development volunteer in rural southwest Tanzania and developed a passion for driving renewable energy programming and creating and maintaining thriving sustainable food systems as a result. In his free time, he loves to hike, travel, and try as many new foods as possible! Steve is excited about the Resilience Corps Fellowship with GPCOG because it combines so many of his passions in a place that he loves; the beautiful southern coast of Maine. He is looking forward to working with the city of South Portland to meet and exceed all of their goals in environmental communications, benchmarking, and planning.