April 23, 2005

Nine Mass. ‘Smart Growth’ Communities Honored

It must be nice to do planning in a community where a few vocal downtown-area Town Meeting members aren't perpetually battling with the rest of the town.

The Massachusetts Office of Commonwealth Development named nine communities winners of its "Smart Growth Innovation" award: Salem, Easthampton, Lawrence, Marlboro, Newburyport, Newbury and Brockton. Cambridge and Montague received honorable mention.

Those communities are "revitalizing downtowns, preserving open space and bringing back village-style zoning," according to OCD Secretary Douglas Foy.

Interesting list. Marlboro, Newburyport and Salem all have fewer people than Framingham, but have adopted a city form of government. This certainly seems to give more ammunition to those who argue that a Town Meeting form of government makes it more difficult to do community-wide planning initiatives in a place the size of Framingham.

Marlboro was recognized for efforts such as a major study on downtown and neighborhood redevelopment (note to Framingham: they're paying attention to investments in both their downtown AND other areas of the community, quite unlike Town Meeting here, where a minority of members successfully blocked what would have been a fabulous investment in Saxonville, in part because they felt it threatened downtown), zoning to allow denser development downtown, affordable housing efforts and work with neighboring towns "to develop a greenbelt of protected open space around the city to provide a buffer to sprawl and preserve natural resources," according to the MetroWest Daily News.

"The neighborhood plan and the open space plans have advanced Smart Growth Principles by encouraging the redevelopment of the core of Marlborough and preserving outlying open space that will result in the halting of sprawl on the city's edges," city officials wrote in their award entry.

If someone dared to say that in Framingham, I suspect they'd simply be accused of dumping more development on the South Side while giving all the open space and parks to the North Side. And unfortunately, some of the people who only care about their own neighborhood, not the town as a whole -- or think "the town as a whole" actually means only downtown -- have voting power over how all of our tax dollars are spent.

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