“It’s the rare municipality that has a large enough planning staff to deal with all of its issues on its own,” Keith Bergman, a past president of MAPC and former Littleton town administrator, said at a MAPC workshop earlier this year. “They need to tap into a greater resource.”
For many cities and towns, MAPC is that “greater resource.”
In order to best serve these cities and towns,, MAPC invited a group of four “local champions” – people who work for change in line with the vision of MetroFuture (and now MetroCommon 2050) – to describe to MAPC staff what makes a good planning partner and what MAPC can do to set the municipality up for success. What we learn from local champions and other sources will inform tools and strategies that support implementation of both local plans and MAPC’s regional plan.
In the video below, local champions detail successful planning processes and share lessons from less successful planning processes.
- For a written summary of the video, please continue reading.
- For more about addressing concerns raised during planning processes, check out "Strategies for Addressing Common Concerns During Planning Processes" and the accompanying best practices guide
- State representative for the Third Plymouth District, which includes the communities of Cohasset, Hingham, and Hull
- Served two terms as a selectman in Hull
- Served as Hull’s representative to MAPC and was elected by her peers to its Executive Committee for 10 years
- 40 years of experience in local government, 37 as a chief appointed municipal official in Massachusetts
- Littleton’s longest serving town administrator (11 years) and Provincetown’s longest serving town manager (17 years), also served in Scituate, North Andover, Nantucket
- Served the Metropolitan Area Planning Council as its president from 2016 to 2019, its vice president from 2014 to 2016, and on its Executive Committee since 2010
- Served as the town planner in Duxbury, Orleans, Marshfield, and, currently, Norwood. Former economic development planner for Weymouth
- Worked as a consultant to the wireless communications industry, developing wireless networks on the Cape & Islands
- Has been working with MAPC on various planning projects since 1987
- Managed a $24 million portfolio of new construction and rehabilitation developments for clients in the Boston metro area.
- Co-founded the Stoneham Community Development Corporation and the Stoneham Transportation Advisory Committee
- Chaired the 20 member advisory committee of the Stoneham Square Strategic Action Plan and served on the Stoneham Finance and Advisory Board where she advocated for best practices of modern town budgeting.
Local champions emphasized two key elements of the planning process: Town Meeting and community organizing. In many Massachusetts municipalities, Town Meeting makes-or-breaks plans.
Joan Meschino is presently the Massachusetts State Representative for the Third Plymouth District and previously served two terms as a Selectman in Hull, Massachusetts.
”It really is 100 people that will decide a $45 million dollar budget,” she said of Town Meeting. “You cannot go into Town Meeting and expect that everyone has paid attention, that everyone cares, and that everyone is willing to listen and hear the value of what you are proposing.”
That is why, the champions made clear, community organizing is so important. Bergman recalled a time when, at Town Meeting, a resident tried to stop a plan from being adopted.
“I had [other] citizens standing up and saying ‘No. This is what we want. This is the plan that we came up with,” he remembers.
MAPC believes in engaging the community to inform the content of plans, but this anecdote points to the value of rallying residents to support plans when it’s time to vote on them.
Paul Halkiotis, director of planning and economic development for the Town of Norwood, listed the barriers to implementing a plan. Funding is most critical. A plan can be adopted without any money to implement it. He and others suggested that it would be helpful if MAPC kept an active catalogue of funding opportunities and supported the municipality’s application process.
Meschino remarked that plans get implemented when someone feels responsible for implementing it and is held accountable for doing so. She described a Harbor Management plan that MAPC did for Hull, Massachusetts. After the plan was complete, a Harbor Master took the plan and used it like a work plan for the next five years.
“[The plan] had dedicated staff time, someone whose sole responsibility…was [to think] about the waterways," she said. "He was operating with autonomy because he was the harbormaster, and he had money.”
MAPC cannot assign tasks or create accountability, but we can advice our partner municipalities in developing an implementation plan with clear lines of responsibilities. .
Rachel Meredith-Warren, co-founder of the Stoneham Community Development Corporation, said that Stoneham, where she lives, is still working to implement a plan that was approved years ago.
“The community organizing after the plan takes five times as long," she said. "It’s been way more work to do the community organizing after the plan.”
Meredith-Warren helped found an organization that would take on some of the responsibility for implementing the plan. While MAPC might not be able to provide long-term intensive implementation support, we can suggest that municipalities develop structures like the one Meredith-Warren created in Stoneham.
Indeed, Bergman said, “One of the great advantages of working with MAPC…is that we have an ongoing relationship after the plan gets done.” MAPC remains accessible to communities after planning processes. Soon after finishing one type of plan, a municipality can apply to partner with us on another or an initiative to support the plan that we recently completed. Second, municipalities are consistently engaging with MAPC through our subregional meetings, which is a great time to reflect on who’s doing what in the area and what MAPC can support.
MAPC will continue to look to local champions as key informants on effectiveness. Project managers are experimenting on strategies suggested to them by Local Champions.. One set of experiments is to more intentionally include local boards in the plan’s adoption/implementation process and how MAPC can improve communication with them. Another introduces post-plan support for municipalities seeking to implement plans. Keep an eye out for our findings from these experiments in subsequent blog posts.