Mayoral Musings: Making a List

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With Bridgeton’s current master plan was crafted in 2008, it’s time to check on 10-year goals.

As we enter into the holiday season, like Bing Crosby, I occasionally find myself dreaming of a white Christmas. Not so white that it snarls traffic for days at a time, depletes the road salt budget, and causes downed powerlines, but white enough to catch the spirit of the thing and at least hold it steady until December 26. With global warming, I’m not holding my breath, but it would still be nice to have a white holiday every few years. 

Holiday snow notwithstanding, the season marks the end of the year and for me, it is a time for reflection. Beyond the personal stuff with family, are reflections on and about the community and these tend to be of the “over the shoulder” variety looking backward. Like most folks, I try to list accomplishments, but I often don’t get far. As soon as I make a list and check it twice, I’m reminded of the things I meant to do, the things half finished, or some things simply left undone.

In those moments, I wonder if the reach exceeds the grasp. Yet as an elected official, I’d rather reach for more and come up short occasionally than to content myself with a set of low expectations for myself and the community. Maybe it’s my age and the fact that I have more seasons behind me than I do ahead of me, but with each passing year I feel a greater sense of urgency to get things done. The urgency is not just about the number of things, but the quality of things. This idea of “quality over quantity” was brought home to me recently when I happened upon the “implementation grid” at the back of the City’s master plan.

If you’re not familiar with master plans, they’re documents municipalities use to assess conditions at the time of writing but more importantly, these plans guide the energies and resources of local government into the future. Each master plan has “elements,” such as housing, neighborhood development, recreation, historic preservation, and land use. These areas are examined in some detail with strategies and recommendations set down to help guide local government in 5- to 10-year increments. In New Jersey, communities must update their master plans at least every 10 years.

Bridgeton’s current plan was crafted in 2008 and in addition to the elements on land use, recreation, and housing, it contains a grid that summarizes each element’s strategies and recommendations, as well as providing a timeframe for action. It was in starting the reexamination process in the last few months that the implementation grid was dusted off and examined to see what progress had been made, or not, since 2008.

I wish I could say that every recommendation had been implemented or that each had been successful, well-funded, or easy to execute. But that’s not the case. Some of the 100-plus items listed were redundant while others were left open or undefined. That’s not criticism, just an acknowledgment that many things overlap and the future is largely unknowable. Looking over the list, steps were initiated and action taken on roughly 70 percent of the items.

For example, under open space and recreation, the grid listed the need to increase recreational opportunities and provide ADA accessibility. From 2008 to the present, such things as the Splash Park, new basketball courts, overhaul of Johnson Reeves Playground, capping the landfill, re-opening Sunset Lake, and providing ADA accessibility in the park all mark a little progress.

In other areas, progress was marked by construction of slightly more than two dozen single-family homes as well as several hundred thousand dollars dedicated to home rehabilitation projects, the leveraging of local and State resources to complete 43 road paving and resurfacing projects, creating neighborhood mini-parks, adding public art to some streetscapes, completing historic preservation on key contributing buildings, and adopting new tools for more robust code enforcement. 

It’s our list and while we haven’t completed everything we’d intended, we also haven’t been complacent. As the year concludes, I’m reminded that it’s not about checking off items on a list, it’s about quality and motivation. The New Year will come and it will bring a new list and an even greater sense of urgency. But for now, it’s the holidays, a time to rest and reflect and enjoy family. Here’s to wishing you the very best this holiday season.

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