Theo Gardner-Puschak’20

Throughout my upbringing in the rural Adirondack Mountains, nature and the outdoors shaped every facet of my life. I believe that my sense of and experience with the outdoors is different from many at Bowdoin who grew up with wilderness experiences interspersed into their lives, often in a recreational fashion. In the remote, impoverished Adirondacks, nature is a constant, and interactions between humans and the environment affect every decision, transaction, and regulation. Debates over land use, recreational vehicles, and waste disposal dominate community discussion and neighborly discourse in the Adirondacks. My awareness of conflicts over law, regulation, and environmental policy began early. Although we lacked resources, my parents made sure to instill my brother and I with a deep reverence and respect for the natural world. The endless days I spent in damp spring woods, and skiing with the town’s program, have absolutely shaped my deepest values and passions. Juxtaposed with raw natural beauty, though, was the region’s pervasive poverty, visible in the lives and homes of our neighbors, and my friends across the street. Northern New York overwhelmingly lacks the opportunities for educational and economic advancement found in more populated areas. My awareness expanded and my environmental concerns intensified. I was convinced that I would be able to make the most difference, in combating inequality and protecting the environment, with a career as a public servant. Both my parents work in the public sector—my father is a school librarian, and my mother is employed by a government-funded non-profit. Their example—that a life may be built, without compromise, on upholding and exemplifying the values that one holds dear—has inspired my goals for the future. The Town of Topsham Planning and Development Summer Fellowship will give me opportunity to hone specific and applicable environmental analysis skills, and immerse myself in the implementation of government at the most basic and vital level.

It is an exciting moment for Topsham and the Planning and Development Department. Formation of a significant update to the town’s “Comprehensive Plan” is well under way. The update will renew the plan and its stated goals for another ten years—shaping development policy in the town well into the next decade. The update process has been marked by exploration of and interest in forward-thinking environmental policies—investments in the future of the town, as climate change adaptation and mitigation become essential to responsible urban and environmental planning. My summer role would be closely tied with this larger initiative. Using GIS tools, my summer data analysis would inform environmental planning in the Comprehensive Plan process, and take stock of sustainable transportation in the town. Basic ArcGIS software skills developed in an Environmental Science course at Bowdoin will provide me with a good starting place, as I seek to increase my mastery and range of skills with the program. The interdisciplinary and broadly analytical approach to thinking about environmental issues imbued in me by Bowdoin’s ES Department will come into real use, too, as opportunities to strategize about Topsham’s future will be plentiful for the summer fellow. Acknowledgement by the town of the need for climate change resiliency measures is progressive and exciting. Research and thought about such topics— such as sea level rise, and solar implementation—will allow me to use the broad base of knowledge I have acquired through Bowdoin ES courses, and build concrete experience with subjects applicable to the environment globally.

I am inspired by the opportunity to promote conservation through urban planning at the local level. Urban planning is of the utmost importance in the 21st century as we seek to improve the quality of life for all and minimize the impacts of civilization on the environment. As is true for much of local government, public support will be instrumental to the Topsham Comprehensive Plan’s implementation and success. Interacting with the community in regards to the Plan is a major duty of the summer fellow position. My significant experience serving the general public, and my well-developed leadership skills, will allow me to engage community members and leaders at a high level. I welcome the chance to present my research in support of sustainability measures, and to learn from the Topsham community.