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Dreaming the Future: Community Vision Planning

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... As consultants, Mollie Babize (a landscape designer/planner) and I worked with the Wendell Committee to design a community survey to gather residents' ideas for a "community vision for the future." Our goal included identifying both the more obvious physical places such as the town hall, town common, state forest, and several town ponds, and the more subtle, hard to quantify aspects such as historic continuity, which was felt most strongly near the town common or town cemeteries, or the pride felt when using the local library. This survey was later labeled a "Places of the Heart Survey," a phrase attributed to California landscape architect and community planner, Randolph Hester.

We had taken seriously the need for broad-based community involvement, fully aware that planning for a vision that does not spring from such involvement is doomed to a dusty shelf. It was clear from the outset that Wendell, with its independent citizens holding sometimes divergent or even conflicting views on what was important to the town and its future, was not unique. It was equally evident, however, that the residents deep caring for this small Massachusetts rural and wooded town was connected to common and widely shared perceptions of what was important. ...

We offered two principal ways for residents of Wendell to participate in the study: by completing the "Places of the Heart" survey, and/or by attending a "Vision workshop." To further aid in soliciting participation we offered a community raffle with a diverse assortment of prizes that included, among many others, a cord of firewood, a full body massage, a turkey, a watercolor painting, a course in herbs, and passes to the local coffee house.

The project had two basic components:

(1) taking stock of the existing situation -- physical facts, as well as citizen perceptions and sentiments; and

(2) projecting a vision for the future -- based on an understanding of the discovered facts and sentiments. ...

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