Thursday, January 19, 2012

Let’s Waste More Time and Money

Ken O’Brien
“Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.” ― John Lennon
In January 19th’s Southbridge Evening News the headline read, “Seeking vision, town needs people for master plan process”.
The article went on to say, “To Economic Development Director Sandy Acly, ‘The master plan is definitely a visionary process.’ As such, it will need as many people to be involved as possible.”
It added that, “In Southbridge, the ads seeking a consultant to coordinate the process are being published now, with consultants’ proposals due by Feb.16. The Planning Board has already chosen to handle the “steering committee” duties rather than delegate them, and will interview applicants in March, Acly said.
The project is being funded by $110,000 of Community Development Block Grant money.”
I want to be clear that I have no objection to making plans. But there comes a point where making plans has become an end unto itself, what Woody Allen called “mental masturbation’.
Plans are meaningless unless they result in some real action.
As I’ve pointed out in several recent articles, our Office of Economic Development and Planning hardly has a stellar record of translating ideas into results.
Now we’re going to engage in another round of “planning’.
We’ve been here too many times before. I lived through the waste of time that was Councilor Livengood’s obsession with his “White Paper” for economic development out of the Council’s subcommittee on Planning and Development.
I remember having to learn what a charrette was the last time we went through one of these community-wide planning distractions.
The fact of the matter is that these exercises have become a justification for a department that has grown in 12 years from one to four people while doing little more than putting up signs and awnings (most of which for businesses that no longer exist), planting flowers and deciding which sidewalks to fix.
But we’re not supposed to worry because the money is coming from “Community Development Block Grants”. Well, that’s still tax money. At some point we have a right to expect something more than the beautification of a downtown that could aptly serve as the set for a depression era movie melodrama. In the meantime taxes and fees go up, population and property values decline and town government expands with employees (many from out of town) enjoying increasing salaries.
Lest you think I am exaggerating, I have collected a small sample of news headlines from the last ten years to illustrate my point:
Southbridge mulls growth in stages
 Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Published on November 14, 2006
SOUTHBRIDGE - Southbridge is taking another look at growth - in stages.
Officials are considering five-year, 10-year and longer term plans for the town. They've discussed creating the town's first master plan since 1965.
With that in mind, they have invited the public to attend the next Town Council Planning and Development Subcommittee, slated for 7 p.m. Dec. 7.
Focus on downtown planning
Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Published on October 20, 2005
SOUTHBRIDGE - Officials say a meeting this weekend on a redevelopment plan continues the work of other meetings and plans over the past decade to revitalize the downtown area.
"But this is going to go further, because now we are actually working on a plan for redevelopment, a master plan for the downtown area," Economic Development Director Cassandra M. Acly said yesterday.
"What we will get from this plan is the designation as an urban renewal (Worcester Telegram & Gazette (MA), 386 words.) Read the complete article ($1.95 per story)

Southbridge asks for schools study on uses for new and old buildings
Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Published on December 18, 2004
SOUTHBRIDGE - A study of possible uses for the present high school could be done by late spring, opening the way for the School Building Committee to begin new school plans for the town.
Town Manager Clayton R. Carlisle expects to advertise in February or March for a proposal to study uses for the high school building. He said the study could be done over the next two or three months.
Mr. Carlisle received a request for a proposal for the study more than a year ago from the School (Worcester Telegram & Gazette (MA), 536 words.) Read the complete article ($1.95 per story)

Plans on growth and needs require feedback
Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Published on October 9, 2003
SOUTHBRIDGE -- Residents who wonder about the impact on the town of a 150-house subdivision are among those being urged to attend the Long-Range Planning Steering Committee meeting at 6:15 tonight in the McKinnon Council Chamber at Town Hall.
The meeting will review ideas the committee has developed over the past year to address the town's economic, housing and recreation needs through a community development plan
Southbridge told to plan for its future
Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Published on November 22, 2002
SOUTHBRIDGE -- The town's strengths are its affordability, public services, open space, highway access, housing diversity and historic, walkable downtown.
What Southbridge lacks is jobs for less-skilled workers, an access road to a proposed industrial park, diversified retail businesses and tough enforcement of codes on deteriorating housing.
Those were among the findings of about 30 residents who met last night at Mary E. Wells Middle School ….

Meeting on town's growth tomorrow
Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Published on November 20, 2002
SOUTHBRIDGE -- The Economic Development Department will hold a ``community visioning meeting'' tomorrow night to begin planning how to deal with the residential growth expected over the next few years.
``We know development is coming, so let's have it go our way,'' Economic Development Director Cassandra M. Acly said yesterday. ``This is a chance for us to decide what we want our town to be like.


  1. Stephanie DeMartinoJanuary 20, 2012 at 8:32 AM

    The only way the downtown will revive again is from a major business moving in. And I'm not referring to Casella. Until that happens, you get what you get w the downtown. I don't need to spell it out.

  2. Stephanie DeMartinoJanuary 20, 2012 at 8:32 AM

    Someone needs to send Michael Keaton to Japan to bring the Car industry to Southbridge.

  3. You can get free access to full versions of the Telegram articles you searched via Go to Online Resources > Reference Databases and then choose "Massachusetts Newsstand." Check it out sometime, it's a great resource.

  4. That's always a problem with "planning," and a major reason a LOT of people need to come out of the woodwork to participate in the process. (Sturbridge recently finished one, too.) Historically, such efforts have mostly involved comments from a relatively small segment of the community (I recall the charrettes you refer to as well) -- typically businesses, who certainly should be involved, but notably lacking much from the minority communities, the arts community or those interested in environmental concerns. It doesn't help that most of the proposals such as the Downtown Redevelopment require millions of dollars we don't have. We realy need to clearly ID what we DO have and what everyday people really want, then build on that.

    Given how uncertain our longterm economic and climate situation is, we really need to make sure this plan addresses such things as food, energy, rebuilding diverse local business AND is implemented effectively. I strongly disagree with Stephanie that we should grab one big business; we all know where that got us with AO, and it has killed too many similar communities to count in the current recession.


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