Friday, May 21, 2004
Growing more tolerant
Carlisle is not known as a trend-setting town, but this week, simply by obeying the law, we became part of a landmark event in civil rights — on Monday morning Carlisle issued its first marriage licenses to same-sex couples (see article on page 1.) Society's views on marriage have changed quite a bit over the years, and no doubt this will continue.
A century ago the expectations of marriage were definitely more rigid, and those who did not follow the rules were not tolerated. Married women were expected to concentrate their attentions at home, and most forms of outside employment were closed to them. For instance, in many parts of the country women teachers were fired as soon as they got married. Seventy-five years ago divorcees were shunned, and marrying outside one's culture or race was vigorously discouraged.
Attitudes have evolved, with rapid change during the sixties and seventies when the entire concept of marriage was questioned. Today divorce, remarriages and step-parenting are common, and families come in many configurations.
Same-sex marriage will no doubt face legal challenges in the next few years, but for the present, at least, there are many people in this state who are very happy they can finally exchange marriage vows of love and commitment.
Granted, addressing party invitations was simpler generations ago, but who would really want to turn the clock back?
Time to regroup
One might be tempted to ascribe the general lack of interest in comprehensive land planning in town to everyone being a bit overwhelmed by the trials of dealing with Benfield Parcel A. But commitment to land planning has been fading for quite some time. The Benfield proposal, initiated by the Carlisle Conservation Foundation, was such a shock to the system partially because the system hadn't really been paying attention for a while.
The clearest sign of this problem is the mysterious disappearance of the Carlisle Municipal Land Committee (CMLC). Established by Town Meeting in 1997 to "assess, plan, and put forward recommendations regarding the future needs and use of municipal land," the CMLC appears not to have met for the past two years. I have personal lack of experience with the CMLC as the designated representative of the Planning Board. When I accepted this role I was told, somewhat in jest but with serious implications, that I needn't worry about the time commitment since the committee wasn't likely to meet any time soon.
It used to. It had the foresight in 1999 to seek serial bonding authority for $10 million from Town Meeting for a municipal land fund to facilitate land purchases. Presented at the time by chair Burt Rubenstein as "not nearly enough," nonetheless the request was reduced by half and then eliminated altogether as a tradeoff to secure Finance Committee support for the Wang-Coombs purchase. Mr. Rubenstein opined at the time that serial bonding was "not dead, just resting."
The CMLC reached its zenith with what was called its "first" Municipal Planning Day in early 2001. More than 80 residents attended this event, concluding that Carlisle faced "hard choices" and needed at least 70 acres and as much as 180 acres in municipal land to meet anticipated needs for education, recreation, and housing, among others. Further specifics from this gathering appear confined to the fading collective memory of the participants. A year later, the CMLC itself had also faded from view.
The Housing Authority was also quite active then, as was its nonprofit arm, Carlisle Affordable Housing, Inc. But after heroic efforts failed to gain town support for developing affordable housing on the Conant land or the Town Forest, the nonprofit decided to disband.
To their credit, the Selectmen tried to help resolve the Town Forest conundrum, but they and much of the town seemed somehow relieved when the committee sent looking for the Town Forest over two years ago couldn't find it. The Selectmen disbanded the committee and that was that.
Land is considerably more expensive now than it was in 1999 when serial bonding was put into a coma, so reconsidering town-owned lands for town use is even more critical. As the Benfield proposals demonstrate, unless one can remove land costs from the equation, it is difficult to accomplish much. It is time for the Municipal Land Committee to regroup (and look again at the Town Forest). The Housing Authority, seeking a new member, might take another look at the Conant Land. Tellingly, the open position found no takers at the recent Town Caucus. And they might consider establishing a new nonprofit housing corporation, if for no other reason than to be available for funding any affordable housing planned for Benfield. Some have given all they have to give to these causes. Others are ready for another go. New volunteers are desperately needed.
These issues will not go away if we pretend they aren't there. Let's get our heads out of the sand, intently look around to see where we are, and intentionally move forward.
© 2004 The