Photo: “Attend meetings of local committees and make your voice heard at them.”
By Paul Roberts
Imagine a Belmont in which foreign language instruction and instrumental music commence in kindergarten; courses on robotics and AI pepper the high school curriculum; and students have rich, in-district choices for technical and vocational education.
Imagine a Belmont that no longer obliges families to pay hundreds of dollars each year in fees for their children to ride the bus, participate in athletics or join a school club.
Imagine a Belmont that gives aging residents more options for staying in their homes and extends a helping hand in dealing with problems related to transportation, nutrition, and loneliness.
Imagine a Belmont in which children, seniors and professionals frequent a well equipped and modern library with liberal operating hours to study, work and learn.
Imagine a Belmont in which we use our smartphones to report a pothole or heaved sidewalk, get a text message that lets us know when the DPW has scheduled a fix and then another to confirm the work is done.
Imagine a town with bustling recreational facilities: a renovated skating rink; a bike and skate park for our kids and a dedicated youth center where kids can hang out, get tutored and socialize after school.
Imagine a town built to meet the needs of modern families and professionals, not those of 50 years ago – a town in which residents can move about town by foot, bike, or car safely using dedicated routes that prevent injuries and deaths.
This is Belmont’s bright future and it’s well within our grasp.
This vision of our Town of Homes may sound strange to you. If you’re a regular reader of local media opinion pages, you have been treated in recent months to an entirely different view of our town: one far more cynical and pessimistic about our shared future.
According to this view: Belmont’s elected leaders are inept; our town professionals are incompetent; our school officials are liars and cheats; our library, roads and recreational facilities are beyond our ability to repair. Belmont’s best days are behind it, by this account. Our only recourse is to retreat: deny an unworthy government the resources it needs, make do with less and shrink from the challenges of the future.
A quick review of the record says otherwise. In the last decade Belmont has accomplished quite a bit. We’ve re-paved dozens of roads and sidewalks; renovated our playgrounds and parks; updated and expanded our historic town pool and our police station. Following a successful Proposition 2 ½ override in 2015, Belmont’s Public Schools reduced class sizes and hired new teachers across grade levels. Last, but certainly not least, we recently completed the first stage of a brand new 7-12 school on time and on budget. Naysayers and doomsayers aside: Belmont gets things done.
Of course, neither of these visions of Belmont’s future – one optimistic, the other dire – are inevitable. Both require a commitment on the part of Belmont residents and our leaders to realize.
I would argue that no community ever shrunk its way to greatness. To realize a brighter future, we need to embrace a vision for what our town can be, and do the yeoman’s work to make that vision reality. This almost certainly will require investment: more resources, not fewer. But Belmont also needs to make our government more efficient and accountable. We need to make better use of technology to reduce inefficiency and increase agility and transparency. We need to double down on our commitment to excellent public education and a high quality of life by pursuing policies and investments that make those commitments more than just words.
What can you do? Start by paying attention to what’s going on. Attend meetings of local committees and make your voice heard at them. Town elections are in April, 2022. Listen for candidates’ vision for our community. Is it one in which Belmont improves the quality of life for its residents? Or do you hear a litany of complaints with cuts to services as the cure-all? Finally, don’t be afraid to dream big for our town, and then to work hard to make those dreams a reality. Belmont needs you now, more than ever.
Paul Roberts is a Town Meeting Member from Precinct 8 and Chair of the Town’s Information Technology Advisory Committee (ITAC)