It’s one of the best things to ever come down the ‘Pike.
The Community Preservation Act, that is. Nearly every municipality on the SouthCoast has adopted it and it is responsible for doing badly needed work on everything from public parks to conservation areas to historic building preservation.
Much to the surprise of many, New Bedford easily adopted the CPA four years ago, and given the size of the city, there is now a healthy fund to do important work in exchange for a very modest tax increase. The program has worked great in Dartmouth and Fairhaven for years and now the urban center of the SouthCoast finally has a shot at these kind of improvements.
The good news is that this money cannot be redirected to other city spending. There is always a good reason to earmark general fund money to higher priorities than “non-vital” things like ballparks and walking trails and community theaters in former churches. That’s because the city and state will always come up short when earmarking enough money for things like pothole repair and state-of-the-art programming for the school system and more urban police officers. We only have to look to this year to see the City Council appropriately responding to pressure from city residents by taking money from other municipal spending to fill in more potholes.
To be sure, there will always be controversy with the Community Preservation Committee’s decisions about who gets the money. There is a process that is designed to be fair for all but you have to be a group that knows how to obtain and then use government information to be successful.
On the day this year’s awards were announced, we ran a letter-to-the-editor in The Standard-Times from members of The Cultural Consultants and Buttonwood Park Neighborhood Association that pointed out the application process would difficult for most grassroots groups to navigate on their own. The Consultants and Neighborhood Association’s proposal for a Buttonwood outdoor adult fitness project was not one of the successful applicants.
Still, overall the CPC seems to have done a good job with the projects it selected.
Some of the big awards went to the city’s three largest parks, Hazelwood, Buttonwood and Brooklawn, which have all had projects languish for years for lack of money.
Hazelwood Park in the South End garnered $374,400 for new lighting, ADA compliant paths and a small amphitheater near the Great Lawn. It is one of the heaviest used parks in the city, particularly in the warm weather and it hasn’t seen improvements in years.
Another big winner was the the Acushnet Sawmill passive recreation area at the head of the river. The breathtaking North End spot is one of the big conservation and recreational achievements of the past decade and is home to a beautiful herring run, pond and rural trails available to all members of the public. They got $350,000 for expanded parking and the creation of a community garden.
My personal favorite is the $275,500 won by the First Baptist Community Theater which after many years of trying will finally ensure that the the last remaining 19th century church on the city’s seal remains standing. First Baptist’s ministers were leading abolitionists in ante-bellum New Bedford and the church is, of course, where Robert’s Rules of Order were first founded during the Civil War.
But it wasn’t just passive recreation and historic preservation that won by any means. Significant money was also awarded for new basketball courts at Brooklawn Park, an upgrade to the baseball diamond at Buttonwood and $200,000 went toward expansion of housing at the Veterans Transition House. That money will help grow the Willis Street Apartments to 30 permanent units.
The City Council must still pass off on the CPC’s recommendations but the committee seems to have done a studious job of recommending deserving projects. The adoption of the CPA has been a good thing for the city.
In an era when individuality has been extolled to high religion, and where even nuclear families find it hard to do things as simple as eat dinner together, it’s encouraging to see a communitarian effort like the Community Preservation Act succeed.
Here’s a prediction. In 10 years, the adoption of the CPA will be one of the most important developments in New Bedford in the past couple decades. It will play a big role in making the city the kind of quality place that people want to live.