Friday, May 18, 2007
What we can learn from Bedford
We can learn a lot about affordable housing from Bedford, our neighboring town to the southeast, and we can also learn about how the choices a town makes will shape its future. Two Bedford officials, Irma Carter and Mark Siegenthaler, gave up a beautiful Saturday morning on May 12 to attend Carlisle's Affordable Housing Summit and describe how their town has worked to increase its affordable housing to more than 14% of their total housing stock. (See "Summit shows path to becoming an affordable community," page 1.)
Carter said that Bedford's first affordable housing development was built for veterans in the 1950s. The conscious decision to construct affordable housing took off "big time" in the 1990s, she said, when the Bedford Housing Trust was formed. They are committed to increasing Bedford's economic diversity, and continue to create more housing opportunities for low and moderate income families even though Bedford is no longer threatened by the state's Chapter 40B law, having far exceeded the 10% state-mandated target.
Bedford differs from our town in several ways. It is more built up than Carlisle, with 13,000 residents living within 14 square miles, compared to our 15.5 square miles and population of 5,350. Their municipal water and sewer services make it easier to build high density housing without worrying about affecting abutters' wells. Their larger tax base means they collect more revenues into their Community Preservation Act Fund, which can be used toward affordable housing projects.
Yet before the 1950s, Siegenthaler said, Bedford was an agricultural community much like Carlisle was. Then, given their proximity to Hanscom Field, Lincoln Labs and the MITRE Corporation, he said they "allowed themselves to be transformed" into a different type of community. According to Siegenthaler, Bedford is still more a town than a city, with good schools, lots of trees and playgrounds — a place families come to raise their kids.
Carlisle has allowed itself to be transformed from a farming community into a somewhat different type of suburban community. Because of private wells and septic systems, Carlisle's voters passed two-acre zoning decades ago, and the large lots, rising land costs and market forces eventually led to the increasing large single-family homes that have dominated new construction in recent years. Now that it has become economical to create high-density 40B projects in Carlisle, the state law and market forces may quickly reshape our town once again.
We will have more economic diversity in the future. Chapter 40B will insure that. The question is whether we will help manage our transformation. By creating affordable housing that is well-designed, sensitive to our environmental concerns and timed to avoid sudden jumps in the school-age population, Carlisle may grow into a town in 20 years that we would not only still recognize, but would be happy to call home.
Ramblings from the Magic Kingdom
We're writing this from Orlando, Florida, in the midst of frolicking at Disney World with the kids and grandchildren. It's an experience that prompts much introspection. Watching the throngs of people is akin to being a peeping Tom. Families from everywhere are on unguarded display as they decide, plan, argue, laugh, cry, eat, talk, sleep, persuade, smile, scold, hug, kiss, and wait on line. Many languages are represented, as are many skin colors, but it is striking how similar we all are as families. Looking past the sneakers, shorts, sunglasses and t-shirts, the families seem much more similar than different. Part of this surely has to do with the roles we play as Moms and Dads, first-born and rival siblings, but our similarities are mainly a function of our economic status. Most Disney World visitors are probably part of the top 1% of the world's population in terms of economic means.
One of my most memorable experiences from prior visits to Disney World as an adult has been the Hall of Presidents, where we hear a contemporary message from the current President and a message for all ages from Abraham Lincoln. This year, we heard from George W. Bush that "Freedom is a land that has no boundaries." I am sure each of us reacts differently hearing this message from this President in this time, but regardless of how one feels about our President, I am always struck when I hear someone on the world stage use the word "freedom." Having enjoyed living in the freest society mankind has ever known, I take much for granted. But having lived in Moscow in the mid-seventies, I might have a better appreciation for freedom than many Americans.
I recently traveled to the Pentagon to witness my nephew formally receiving his promotion to Colonel in the US Army. He retook his oath to defend our freedoms, and it was striking how seriously all his buddies and the assembled brass took their responsibilities. While in Northern Virginia, we stayed with Jim and Jackie Frey, our former neighbors in Carlisle. They've lived in McLean for the past ten years or so, and commented on how fortunate we are in Carlisle to have our form of town government. They lamented that they knew almost nothing of the inner workings of Fairfax County, and had little or no access to any of the decisions made on their behalf. They just pay their taxes and try, often in vain, to understand what they are getting in return. They kept reminding us how fortunate we are to live in Carlisle. For our part, living in Carlisle is just one other thing we mostly take for granted.
Since we're in Central Florida, we didn't participate in this year's town elections, thus relinquishing one of our freedoms. We phoned the Mosquito office to hear the results, and learned that we were not the only ones who relinquished our freedom to vote. Only about a thousand of a registered list of around 3,300 voted. Less than one in three. Maybe thirty minutes is just too much of a sacrifice for some of the 2,200 souls who stayed away last Tuesday. Or maybe one of our freedoms, at least for now, is to choose to stay home.
© 2007 The