At SomerVision Meeting, Residents Tackle City’s Future

At the first of four meetings to seek resident input on long-range planning for the city, attendees identified aging in place, youth programs and spaces, walkability and more as top priorities.

As part of the City’s “SomerVision Showcase” series, on Wednesday evening a dozen residents gathered in the auditorium of the Argenziano School to discuss the issues that matter to their quality of life.

The goal: for City officials to involve the community as they work on the Comprehensive Plan—a blue print for steps the City will take to improve Somerville over the next 2o years. More than 50 community leaders and City staffers have been meeting regularly since the fall of 2009 to create the plan. The current series of is the first step in determining whether the objectives outlined by the plan so far are aligned with the concerns of the community.

Armed with markers and a doodle-friendly table cloth sectioned into categories like work, home, play, and commute, residents entered into group discussions on the quality of life in Somerville and what they saw as important issues for the City to address—jotting down notes on the large sheets of paper as they went along.  

Student translators, fluent in Portuguese, Spanish and Haitian Creole were also available.

Of those in attendance, many had already been involved in the comprehensive planning process, serving on the 50-plus member Steering Committee which has been drafting and discussing the goals of the plan.

Around the room, posters and flyers outlined more than three-dozen goals that the City, along with the Steering Committee, has formulated, fitting into five categories: 

▪                Neighborhoods

▪                Transportation and Infrastructure

▪                Corridors, Commercial Squares and Growth Districts

▪                Housing

▪                Community Resources


As part of the exercise, attendees were then asked to place blue stickers next to the goals that they found important, or unimportant, to their quality of life. Across the board, only a few of the goals received dots in the “unimportant” column.

“I’ll be interested to see how they’ll use these kinds of results,” said Susann Wilkinson. “Everyone sees these as important things, but how it will be implemented is another question.”

Residents concerned about aging in place, youth programs and more

However, some residents expressed that their concerns were not immediately addressed in the goals or categories listed. Wilkinson, for one, said she was interested in the City’s support of the aging population, and if Somerville is a good community to “age in place.”

Many of the student translators expressed a need for youth friendly programs such as after-school clubs and spaces where young people could go and spend time without having to spend money.

Other attendees expressed distaste with the impact of City governance on quality of life, or the decline in values that they've seen over the years. Walkability, jobs and traffic congestion were also common concerns. 

Attendees also had suggestions for improving the meetings

As the meeting ended, residents voiced interest in learning about the policy initiatives related to the goals and suggested examples or case-studies be used to describe the goals in future SomerVision meetings instead of technical language and broad categorization.

Turnout was low, but three more meetings to come

Overall, turnout to the event was low, but organizer, Deb Gilburg hopes participation will increase for future events.

“I’m happy people are here,” she said. “Last time we did these, they built [in numbers] as they went along.” 

The next SomerVision Meetings will be held:

Tuesday, March 15, 6-9 p.m.: Holiday Inn, 30 Washington Street
Monday, March 28, 6-9 p.m.: TAB Building, 167 Holland Street
Thursday, March 31, 6-9 p.m.: Center for Arts at the Armory, 191 Highland Ave.

More info .

Barry Rafkind March 08, 2011 at 03:16 AM
"Other attendees expressed distaste with the impact of City governance on quality of life, or the decline in values that they've seen over the years." Can you elaborate on what was said about this?
Katie Lannigan March 08, 2011 at 05:38 PM
Hi Barry, Thank you for your question. I've gone through my notes and found a few examples of what I meant when I wrote that sentence. One of the women I spoke to at the meeting said that she felt there needed to be more communication between City leadership, City departments and community groups. An example she gave of this was that after a few neighbors who participate in a community group transplanted flowers from a park slated for renovation to another nearby, the plants were soon mowed over by park maintenance teams and ruined. She also suggested that there is a disconnect between City plans and the financial analysis offered around them. She said she would like to see "Net Fiscal Impact Analyses" done and made public as an ordinary practice when the City is discussing or undertaking new projects. As to the concern over a decline in values, another gentlemen, whose family business has been in Somerville for more than 50 years, said he has noticed that faith-based groups, churches, synagogues and the like do not play as strong a role in the community as they once did. Of course there were more viewpoints expressed, and questions over "quality of life" are very subjective--but in the interest of brevity, I tried to sum up what I heard in a few sentences.


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