Manchester 2020 Quadrant Summit
Manchester 2020's Quandrant Summit occurred tonight at the Manchester, CT country club and brought together all the ideas that Manchester residents have proposed in the previous quadrant meetings in order to look at town's redevelopment plan in a holistic way. The overall results of the meeting were identified as natural resources and green infrastructure, conservation and restoration of cultural and historic resources, redevelopment of commercial and mixed use areas, transportation, and housing. What I'd like to do here is briefly talk about the committee's ideas while also offering mine.
One of the major trends that I observed at this meeting was that people want walkable neighborhoods. The plan is looking at commercial areas that people can walk around in. While this task seems easy, it is going to be a much more complex goal to accomplish. If people want to walk between businesses, we have to pick and choose the businesses that are located there. For example, if a commercial area is occupied by mostly restaurants, this goal will not be accomplished because people will choose one restaurant to dine at and not walk from one to the next. But having an area that has say a post office, bank, dry cleaners, corner store and pharmacy may because those types of places make sense for someone to go to all places at once. This poses a difficult task as it is really up to the landlords and entrepreneurs to dictate the businesses that go in; not the planning and development committee. Another point that was not really touched on was walking in one's own neighborhood. They identified the need for people to have a place to walk to, but what about focusing on private neighborhoods for people to walk, jog or take out the dogs in. It seems to me that Manchester lacks this because there is so much commercial space rather than areas that are strictly residential and promote that sort of quaint community.
The transit issue was another that sparks interest with me. Residents want an inter-town transit system which I think is a great idea. But I would also like to see it expanded on to include neighboring communities. Currently, CT Transit's hub and spoke system requires commuters to go into Hartford and then reroute to other areas. But why not have transportation to places like Windsor and Bloomfield where many of Manchester residents commute to work everyday? Why not have transportation to some of the neighboring towns? Not only does this offer great possibilities for Manchester residents, but it also drives in some tax revenue from other communities coming to see what types of places we have to offer in town.
Next they spoke abut housing and the hopes to provide housing for all types of residents. However, the major piece I saw missing here was newer construction and higher income housing. If we want to develop the town to fit an overall vision, we need to have the residents sticking around. The current "transit town" trend that is happening seems to make the whole idea of development redundant. If we want a vision we need to try to retain residents as they move up in income brackets. Adding more affordable or low income housing to the town just adds to the pattern of people moving in temporarily and then buying homes elsewhere in nicer neighborhoods. Why make a plan if the people that we're trying to bring in won't stick around to see the vision happen or enjoy the benefits? I might also add that new construction generates jobs.
That ties into the next topic that residents brought up at the end of the meeting: Manchester's school systems. Residents see that nobody wants to move here and settle down because of the school system. They also feel that the Board of Ed needs to be involved in the plan. I disagree. I think that if we want to improve the school systems we need to focus this 2020 plan on a different target demographic. What they need to do is develop plans for housing and cultural aspects that appeal to the young professional. Not to offend anyone but focusing on low income and affordable housing draws in people from poorer neighborhoods which most likely have poorer quality schools. As the kids start school in Manchester, the teachers have to slow down to accommodate them and so starts the declining school system we are seeing now. If we want to change that, we need to get market to the young professionals and get them to move here, fall in love with the town, buy homes and have babies. Overtime, the school systems will have to conform to the needs of the students.
Overall, the meeting identified some good ideas and I think it is great that residents were able to voice their opinions as to what they'd like to see happen in their town. What I wonder though, is how we make those ideas become reality. The planning and development committee would like to focus on the areas in town where many of these ideas overlapped. But will they work? I'd like to see some case studies done and research other towns that have made these same moves to see what the outcome was before wasting the town's resources. I also think that before any moves are made we need some more meetings. Reason being, that everyone in the room could tell that the meeting was not equally representing the town's demographics. The meeting was made up almost entirely of older white residents. There were hardly any minorities or young people in attendance which are two of the major demographics in town.
Call me a hippie, but I would like to see society return to the days of the late 60's and early 70's in Manchester. When college aged kids were activists and people got involved in things like community and politics. What happened? The civil rights movement was a success and all of a sudden people stopped caring. It's as if the young are now unappreciative of their right to voice their opinion and get involved. Is it because they've had that right all along? Maybe so but either way I think this age group needs to take a more active stand in their communities. Maybe we need to reorganize the meetings to draw in the college kids, young professionals, and young couples. My other half disagrees with me here but I think we can get that demographic present if the meeting was more of a networking/mingling event rather than a presentation. Offer a cash bar and let people talk freely and exchange ideas. A more casual environment that allows people to come to a consensus together on what they want may get the young crowd in. I think a lot of them feel like they don't belong there or that their ideas will not be welcomed. Allowing them to present ideas as a group and feed off one another could work.
I guess what I'd like to end this with is a positive recommendation and a call to action. Go to a meeting! This is your town we're talking about Manchester CT, why let others make all the decisions? It benefits you to get your ideas heard.
What are your ideas on the Manchester, CT 2020 Plan? Leave a comment. Or two.
For more info check out 'other helpful sources' in the right toolbar, Manchester's 2020 plan is listed under 'Manchester's Future'