The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 1, 2007


An aging Carlisle looks to the future

On May 22, A Liveable Carlisle Community (LCC) appeared before the Selectmen to explain their charter and goals. Marlene Fine noted the group formed after the last gubernatorial campaign to look at the implications of "a growing senior population with issues we're not dealing with." It was found that other constituents in town also have unmet needs, and the group decided to look at schools, housing, pathways, transportation, and meeting places in terms of providing "connection to each other." LCC now defines itself as "an independent, open group of town residents who want to support vitality and connectedness in the present Carlisle community and to plan for a future Carlisle community that will have stability within projected demographic and economic stresses."

More empty nesters

John Ballantine noted a key goal is "keeping the fabric of the community together" as demographics change and infrastructure needs increase. One challenge is that school buildings are reaching the ends of their life cycles as the school population shrinks. This is occurring throughout Massachusetts, and Carlisle reflects this trend.

In Carlisle, the child-bearing population of 25-to-40-year-olds has plummeted 70% in 15 years, from 1,621 in 1990 to 476 in 2005. During that time, the Carlisle Public School (CPS) population grew from 548 students to a peak of 844 in 2000. But if current trends continue, the CPS population in 2010 will be 10% less than it was in 2005 (730 students versus 814), so school infrastructure improvements will benefit a smaller percentage of the overall population. "Keeping the town family-friendly is as important as overall policy," said Ballantine, noting the same challenge faces the state and the New England region. Last year saw 25 births to Carlisle citizens; in 2002 that number was 54. This year only five new families moved into town bringing children into the Carlisle School after kindergarten, versus 15 to 20 during the peak years.

Those residents who were in their 30s in 1990 are now approaching their senior years, and this is also reflected in town demographics. Over 50s were 35% of the town's population in 1990; that number is now 45%. Growth in the number of citizens over 65 was 82% from 1990 to 2005 (313 to 570). This group "has a different set of demands and needs," said Ballantine, and the town needs to adjust to meet those.

What makes community

The LCC hosted two meetings in March (see Mosquito, April 6, "Brainstorming About Carlisle's Future) at which townspeople could weigh-in on what Carlisle's future should look like. Said Fine, "A lot of people came" and that shows that "people want to be engaged in the process." In addition, the program "touched a nerve. People are seeking community and a sense of connection."

The Selectmen responded positively, but with some skepticism that all parties could be made to agree. Doug Stevenson noted a vibrant town center may "mean different things to different people" with some wanting more of a center of commerce and others wanting less. He cautioned there may also be some inconsistency in peoples' desires to "get away from things and maintain privacy" with wanting opportunities to connect with others. "Your challenge will be to decipher that."

John Williams noted, "I want to live here my whole life and don't want a community of geezers," and pointed to the "richness in diversity." But he cautioned the group to "listen to what the needs really are" and avoid "trying to artificially create community."

"This work is important," he said, but should not include "driving [the town] in a certain direction."

Hult picked up Stevenson's point that balancing perspectives is tricky.

"One person's desire for a town common where everybody comes is someone else's nightmare, and one person's excellent school is someone else's no room for the elderly." He thanked the group and noted one of his goals is to update the Master Plan for the town, and that the LCC could "give texture around what the community is and could be."

Going forward, the LCC intends to meet with various town constituents, from parents of pre-schoolers and school-aged kids, to teens, to senior citizens. More community meetings will be planned in the fall. It is the group's intention "not to advocate for particular projects, but to solicit as broad an input as we can get," said Fine. "Our concern as a group is that Carlisle look pro-actively toward the future rather than having groups fight for a share of the pie."

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito