Why exactly do you like Belfast and what keeps you here? These questions and more were put to young Belfast area professionals, business owners, farmers, artists, clerks, technicians and musicians in a Jan. 29 forum organized by Belfast Mayor Samantha Paradis.

"It's not too big to be overwhelming," was a sentiment shared by many. The ability to walk to everything was also important.

"Knowing people's names reminds you that you're in a community."

"It's a great place to grow up and also start a family."

"It's a safe community."

"City Park, Rail Trail, Belfast Common."

"The ocean and community boating."

All are big draws to this area, according to those who participated.

Many in attendance were originally from the Belfast area, moved away and returned. This was a common thread with many people. "My family keeps me here," with multiple generations having lived in this area.

Rep. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, was in attendance. "I developed a strong sense of self (from this area)," she said. "This area has so much potential."

Belfast is "politically accepting" and "people want to see me succeed," were comment echoed by several people.

"The contra dance movement is the best in New England, perhaps the country — it's an amazing experience — that keeps me here!" was another comment.

Why would anyone want to leave? One young man suggested the city's lack of diversity, both cultural and economic, describing Belfast as "homogeneous" and "mostly white."

Still others said they would leave for job growth and better-paying positions, for shorter commute times, and to pursue more opportunities to collaborate.

Belfast is a "challenging place to be a single person," one woman said.

Suggestions on how to retain young people and make Belfast better included supporting small businesses, improving public transportation, working against gentrification and increasing affordable housing.

Someone suggested "The city should have a fund to match down payments on the purchase of a new house," as an incentive to attract and retain young people.

Make civic organizations "young people friendly" and remove barriers. Also suggested was "help young people find mentorship/apprenticeship positions" that could lead to permanent, stable jobs within the community.

Ward 2 Councilor Neal Harkness invited everyone to attend the Belfast City Council meetings, which are open to the public, to stay on top of happenings within Belfast and to address any concerns people may have. Meetings are also online at https://tinyurl.com/y8bcynn9.

"Talk to us — we want to hear from you," Harkness said.