The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 28, 2009

Town survey finds few in Lonelyville

Most satisfied with community connections

John Ballantine and Jim Elgin appeared at the BOS meeting on August 11 to discuss aspects of the Town Needs Survey pertaining to social networks and community. Most Carlisle residents are satisfied with their social networks, although more than one-quarter seldom socialize with others. The library is the most important participatory institution in town, even for seniors, and there may be a need for more venues that similarly encompass a range of ages and interests.

The Town Needs Survey was mailed to all residents in the winter and has been analyzed by a committee consisting of Ballantine, Elgin, Alan Cameron, Verna Gilbert, Camelia Rosca and COA director Kathy Mull. Ballantine noted the goal is to promote discussion of the question, “Where does Carlisle want to be in ten or 15 years?” An earlier analysis concerned housing needs as the community ages. Now the committee has turned to assessing social connectivity and whether more should be done to defeat “Lonelyville,” a state in which distance between houses makes strangers of Carlisle neighbors (the term was first coined in 2003 at a Planning Board meeting).

Ballantine observed that, throughout America, there has been a steep drop in measures of civic health, including trust in other people, attendance at club meetings and participation in community projects. Americans report fewer close friendships - 43% now discuss important matters with no one other than a spouse. The result is social isolation, especially as people age and no longer have spouses or nearby family members.

In the Carlisle survey, response to the question, “How often do you socialize with others?” netted the following results: 19% “daily,” 22% “a couple times a week,” 32% “weekly,” 17% “monthly,” 10% “rarely” and 1% “never.” Those in their 50s were the least likely to socialize, with “no time” cited as the reason, according to Gilbert. Those in their 90s were the most likely to socialize weekly or more. Overall, 28% of residents socialize monthly or less. Those are also the respondents most likely to report a lower quality of life.

Another question probed opportunities for meeting others, with 78% finding adequate opportunities to meet those in their own age group and 69% finding opportunities to socialize with those sharing an interest. These numbers increased with age, with over 80% of seniors reporting adequate opportunities, versus less than 50% of those in their 20s. However, 90 respondents representing about 5% of the population, or 200 townspeople, reported no socialization opportunities at all.

A question about the importance of town participation produced an overwhelming endorsement of library programs. Over 60% of respondents considered the library an important or very important source of participation. No other venue surpassed 35%, including church groups, town recreation, school groups and cultural activities. Even among those over 60, the library was valued by 64% versus 22% who considered the COA important or very important (the COA percentage doubled for those over 80.)

Selectman John Williams observed, “I find some of this interesting and not very compelling.” He noted, for example, that many people are working harder and longer, and their lack of a social life may not be a problem the town can easily solve. Is it meaningful that 5% of residents never socialize, or is that just the way it is?

Chair Tim Hult, however, called the results “excellent information” that might help direct the Selectmen in planning town investments. Unfortunately, no questions were included that would shed light on why the library is so popular. Elgin surmised that Carlisle is a book-loving town and the library has a variety of activities that appeal to all interests and ages.

In a later email, Ballantine noted that Carlisle mirrors the U.S. on trust and is slightly below on civic participation. “It’s still a happier and better quality of life than many towns,” he adds. Once the survey analysis is complete, the committee will plan a public forum to discuss Carlisle’s needs based on the results. ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito