14. Implications for the Future
The population and housing trends discussed in this chapter have numerous implications with regard to how Conway will function as a community in the future. Conway’s dramatic surge in population growth during the 1970s and 1980s and subsequent slowdown in growth during the 1990s, coupled with being a resort destination, has highlighted issues which are common with similar resort destination communities. These issues include the character of population growth, changing demographics of the community, the pressure placed on municipal infrastructure and services to handle the influx of seasonal residents, and the lack of affordable housing.
Although population growth has influenced the type of development that has historically occurred in Conway, the nature of the population growth in the future will probably have more of an influence on the character of Conway. For example, Conway’s population growth has changed from one based primarily on natural increase to one that is based more on in-migration. This type of trend, if it continues, has already affected and will no doubt continue to alter land use patterns and future development initiatives within the town.
A significant element of the changing nature of Conway’s population growth are changes in the demographic characteristics of the town’s population such as the shifts in age groups, decreasing household size, the reductions in the number of young singles and families, and the growing number of near seniors and seniors. Accommodating the various needs of these different groups will likely require a broadening and/or shifting in municipal services and infrastructure, as well as an evaluation of land use regulations and policies in order to ensure that these changes are addressed in future development efforts.
Conway’s position as a regional hub, as well as a tourist destination, is an economic benefit in that tourism provides considerable economic support to the community. However, the downside to being one of the foremost shopping and outdoor recreation destinations in northern New England is having to provide infrastructure and services for a population base that swells to approximately three times the resident population during peak tourist periods. In order to maintain a balanced context sensitive approach to development, future land use regulations, design guidelines and policies will have to consider town-wide environmental, social, fiscal and economic impacts in evaluating land use development proposals. This type of approach has been incorporated in other resort destinations to mitigate the double-edged sword associated with a tourism-based economy.
Finally, with the steadily increasing demand for housing caused by the popularity of Conway, coupled with a lack of housing units within lower price ranges, the town will have to consider changes in local policies in order to encourage the future development of affordable housing alternatives for residents. Failure to adopt measures that encourage the development of affordable housing could constrict the availability of labor that might in turn negatively impact local economic activities.