Thursday, June 21, 2007

Brookline Today

I've just finished reading Our Brookline Our Stories, the book put together by the Council on Aging for the Brookline 300 celebration in 2005 (was it really two years ago already?). What really stands out is how choosing Brookline as a home had a profound influence on the arc and fulfillment of people's lives. While it may not be true of other places to the same degree, Brookline's shared strengths and sense of community have supported and aided many individuals, helping them achieve personal goals and nurturing dreams. Brookline provides a complex web of interweaving supports, from the uplifting physical environment to the availability of intellectual stimulation and thereby continues to draw those who value these things. Thus creating a self-perpetuating cycle that brings continuity and commitment to our town. What everyone who chooses to invest their residential dollars here understands is we are buying more that the four walls of our home, we are buying a place within a special community.

And yet I also am left to wonder about the difficulties that new generations face as they chose to make Brookline home. Many of the families portrayed in the book seemed to be decidedly middle class, making a go of things in Brookline through hard work and determination. They were able to buy a house and prospered by staying put. They were invested in Brookline because they were building a life here and so were their neighbors and local business owners. They all knew each other and this built trust and a feeling of safety. Mobility and rootlessness are features of modern life and threaten to erode communities around the globe. Will those who can buy the best simply go elsewhere rather than staying put and working through the sometimes messy business of local governance? Does the value of a strong and supportive community mean the same thing to them? The vast income divide opening up in our world today widens the culture gap and makes the prospects of a truly harmonious diverse community more fraught with challenges. The haves demand luxuries and top of the line amenities, hiring out all domestic duties and living mobile information intensive lives, while the have nots struggle to make do with aging housing , limited access to technology and sky-rocketing transportation costs. Brookline is unique in its attempt to embrace a diverse population. As several stories in the Our Brookline book told, this was not always the case. While our values have banished discrimination, economic divides erect barriers just as divisive. Can we succeed in building a community where all of our residents are valued and given equal voice?

Involvement in public affairs is encouraged and valued in Brookline, but who are those that govern? I feel gratitude and respect for those that serve the town, and we are the beneficiaries of a great deal of talent and expertise given selflessly. But I also wonder how truly welcoming and accessible our political institutions are for those who are less familiar with its inner workings. I was dismayed at the dismal voter turnout for our last local election. In my precinct, near Coolidge Corner, which includes many condominiums and apartments, the turnout was around 5 % of registered voters. Are we really hearing from those living with less in Brookline? What impact does the more fluid rental population have on our neighborhoods? If individuals care so little for the future of their town that they can't be bothered to vote, will they be involved in other ways? Perhaps they simply believe things are going well enough that they don't need to pay attention, but apathy allows at best complacency and at worse corruption and just plain mismanagement.

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