As the summer approaches and we mark the halfway point of 2019 I think it as good a time as any to ask this question.
What kind of town are we?
This is being asked in the context that over the past year Mansfield has made it to the big news sources for far from flattering stories. It is also noteworthy that we are in fact going ahead with a Master Plan Update. This is not to be overlooked but instead embraced as a great opportunity.
I’ve been very busy over the last two years digging into all that is Mansfield. My findings run the gamut but the sum total tallies out as less than stellar.
I’m convinced more than ever that our elections process and governance is out of touch. This is not a dig at those who step up and stand for elections, to those individuals I say thank you. No it is the electorate that represents the big problem. Mansfield voters come out strong for our November elections for state and federal offices but not the Town elections. Our Open Town Meeting also has anemic turnout and if we were to vote the special interest Articles first I am sure we wouldn’t have a quorum for the multi-million dollar budget items.
From a pure mathematical standpoint ATM is a fail out of the gate. With over 17k registered voters ATM can never hope to encourage or accommodate over 10% turnout, arguably it couldn’t serve even high single digit %’s effectively.
Although Town departments, officials and Boards operate in compliance of the state Open Meeting Law and are very open to questions and comments there seems to be a disconnect regards the level of engagement. Mansfield in the 21st Century is advanced enough to foster strong engagement. Chance comments in a hall, on a street or social media blurbs may initiate good discussions but they don’t truly get the process of change to occur. All too often these types of engagements handcuff those who would like to do something since Mansfield needs to be transparent, fair and purposeful in its official actions. Start something on Facebook but it kind of doesn’t work if you don’t bring it to Park Row eventually.
Mansfield has experienced a number of flawed developments, many out of its own control that has physically divided the town. Some of our infrastructure generally meant to connect and move us has in fact built walls. This reality stands in direct opposition to the ages old development process communities thrived under. No matter what you think of Mansfield you need to learn this truth.
Our schools are perhaps the strongest catalyst for a sense of community here in town. This is a good thing but isn’t without a number of shortfalls. Our school population has declined from its lofty peaks and will likely not reach the heights it once had. Our housing stock and our regional economy does not offer a lot to younger folks and our current development process heavy on promises is scientifically incorrect. This dilemma is also at play when we look at our senior residents.
Our public spaces are all too often neglected. There is a wide spectrum of reasons for this. Mansfield like any other municipality has limited resources and must prudently prioritize these. Like any other community we unfortunately have no lack of folks who willingly vandalize public property. Of course we cannot leave out that in the auto-centric culture shared common space has been discharged as unimportant secondary to for profit recreation outlets and our own back yards. Our public spaces were crucial to our growth and stability in the past and will be needed again if we are to move forward on a path of sustainable resiliency.
What kind of town are we? We’re a town with a lot of issues and a limited amount of time to act. We’re a town that is going to need to make some big decisions as a community. We have the opportunity to answer this question I sincerely hope we’re up for it.