The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 4, 2005


Can Carlisle plan "smart growth"?

Carlisle should explore any state programs that might allow us to better manage our town's growth. New 40R legislation encouraging "smart growth" might be one possibility, especially if coupled with the proposed 40S ammendment that would help defray the cost of educating children who move into new 40R housing. For details of the legislation see State Chapters 40R and 40S offer zoning options for housing on page 1.

Carlisle ranks seventh among towns with the most expensive single family homes in the state, behind Weston, Brookline, Lincoln, Dover, Wellesley and Sherborn. If we did not already own a home in Carlisle, how many of us could afford to move here? Many could not, according to The Greater Boston Housing Report Card 2004, prepared by the Center for Urban and Regional Policy (CURP) at Northeastern University. In 2004 the estimated median family income in Carlisle was $148,984, and the median home price was $730,000, or about $53,000 above what estimates showed the median family income could afford. First-time homebuyers (with the same income but without assets for a 20% down payment) could not afford homes above $449,000.

The affordable housing shortage is worsening statewide according to CURP. In 1998 most towns and cities in greater Boston (92%) were affordable to existing residents, but by 2004 only 17% remained within reach. How will our children ever be able to afford to raise their families in a town like ours?

Given this increasing need for affordable housing, it is not surprising that the state continues to allow developers to file comprehensive permits under Chapter 40B. But one of the problems of 40B is that it cripples local oversight and encourages unplanned suburban sprawl. The 56-unit Coventry Woods development on Concord Street is an example of a 40B project.

40R zoning overlay districts might help Carlisle guide development towards those areas of town better suited for higher-density housing. It is not obvious that Carlisle meets the criteria of the 40R zoning, because it does not contain any mass transit sytems, one of the priorities of "smart growth." However, the only way to find out if 40R could help us is to investigate it further. But who in town government has the time to tackle the details of 40R legislation? Planning Board Administrator George Mansfield said that help is available — the state has a grant program in place, called Priority Development Fund (PDF) grants, which can help towns hire technical assistance to investigate and implement the adoption of 40R.

Given the drawbacks of 40B housing projects and the difficulties the town is experiencing with constructing affordable housing it would be worthwhile for the Board of Selectmen to research 40R zoning districts. This might give Carlisle a new tool to manage growth.

* 40B projects are exempt from local zoning density restrictions as long as at least 25% of the new housing meets the state definition of "affordable." For more information, see and click on "40B FAQ."

My next project

When I moved here from the big city, it was with the assumption that living in Carlisle would somehow insulate me from the intensity of the world I was leaving behind. I was wrong. Computers and the Internet have so transformed the way we work and communicate that the intensity is practically inescapable.

Although the saying, "There is no there there" may apply to Carlisle, it doesn't matter — through the Internet all the theres and all the whos everywhere else are here on my computer 24/7. And too many of them are clamoring for my attention and making demands on my time.

The idea was simple: simplify — leave the hustle and bustle of New York City and move to a home in a small town with lots of trees out back that would change with the seasons, lots of birds to look at and listen to, and stone walls to walk along and emulate in my own wall building projects. Well, all that is here, but it all feels too peripheral. It's like a tease: I can see it out there, but I'm too busy to enjoy it. What can I do?

An article in the NY Times Magazine a few Sundays ago ("Meet the Life Hackers" by Clive Thompson, October 16) addresses the dilemma faced by those who, like me, do the bulk of their work on computers. Today's computer screen is like a microcosm of my cluttered office, with layers of files, e-mail windows, messages, text documents, spreadsheets and Web browsers. To describe how we act when faced with this mess, Thompson uses a term he got from a software exec: "continuous partial attention." Thompson adds, "We are so busy keeping tabs on everything that we never focus on anything."

The article includes several examples of "life hacks," insider tricks various people use to try to deal with the overload from being overconnected. Unfortunately the solutions discussed, including strategies corporations are developing for their workforces, all revolve around managing the flow of interruptions (yes, it is called Interruption Science) to minimize the time it takes to get back on task after each interruption.

But I'm not looking to multitask more efficiently; I'm looking to escape the multitasking monster itself. I've come to realize there's a paradox here. The natural world around me is passive; it's just sitting there ready for me to enjoy (or better yet, immerse myself in). But to get out there requires action. I'm pretty much a type A personality so we're talking about a supreme act of will here. I have to figure out how to change my approach to the world and consciously make the time for regular (and sustained) R&R.

Nature may be passive, but it is also passing me by. Every day I'm not taking advantage of the world outside my window is a day I won't ever get back. No do-overs.

I hope it's not too difficult because I really want to make this work. On the plus side, I don't go around with a cell phone stuck to my ear; I rarely ever use one. And I don't even own a PalmPilot or a Blackberry.

Like all journeys, this one will start with a single step. Let's see — too much to get done today so I can attend Parents Weekend at my daughter's college. Maybe next week.

If all goes well, when you next send me an e-mail I won't be working at my computer and won't hear its insistent ping. And you may not get a reply for a little while. I'll be outdoors, busy doing nothing.


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2005 The Carlisle Mosquito