What do people really want in OUR town?
By Robert Lovenheim
Yes, I know everyone will say “fix the roads.” We try to do that with the money we are allotted each year by PennDOT, plus a portion of monies from our budget. But beyond roads, what civic improvements would we all like?
I once saw a documentary about a town in Chile named Punto Arenas. It is the southern-most city in the whole country, not far from the Antarctic. Despite its far away location, the municipal leaders came up with an innovative plan to answer the questions, “What do people really want in our town?”
Each year the town puts a fixed amount in the budget for civic improvement like parks, art exhibits, festivals, and playgrounds. Then, they let the voters decide how to best spend the money. Groups are invited to present project ideas to the town board and all of the residents. They can promote it however they wish, through news stories or public meetings. Each year on election day, the whole population (126,000) gets to vote for the project they want.
The catch is this: the people who promote each project are responsible, if it wins, to follow through and supervise the project to completion. If a group of mothers campaigns for a new playground, they are the ones responsible for making sure it is built and completed. I think this makes a lot of sense, and might be something we should consider for Smithfield. Just for example, we have wonderful park space but not enough in it. Not enough playground equipment, not enough variety in activity.
Your three Supervisors try as best they can to anticipate what you might want and to start new parks projects. But there are only three of us and a small permanent staff. Just for example, at about the time you read this, a work crew should be days from starting construction our new fishing pier on Marshalls Creek at Waterfront Park. It has taken two years, one grant from the State, the services of our engineering firm, clearance from the Fish & Boat Commission, modifications to satisfy conservation concerns, public bidding with sealed bids, awarding the contract, confirming the contract with the State and—finally seeing construction begin. Construction might take three weeks, but the process to get here has taken two years.
How wonderful it would be if a civic committee formed to build a fishing pier had started this effort and had followed through with all the delays and frustrations stated in the paragraph above. With support from the community, we could start many more projects.
Maybe Punta Arenas’ idea is a good one that could work here. At least it’s worth a try. Does your community organization have a great idea for a project that could make life more enjoyable for everyone? Are you prepared to make that idea a reality? We want to hear from you!