Magazine article The Masthead

Forums Spark Community Problem-Solving: Five Forums Help Shape Discussions of Regional Problems

Magazine article The Masthead

Forums Spark Community Problem-Solving: Five Forums Help Shape Discussions of Regional Problems

Article excerpt

Sometimes what is obvious can produce innovations. The Day's editorial board adopted that philosophy this year to address major problems confronting southeastern Connecticut.

For the past five years, our region has been in transition from a longtime dependence on military spending to a newer era of biotechnology, tourism, and major casino growth. Gary Farrugia, our editor and publisher (newly arrived from The Philadelphia Inquirer), believed that the newspaper could shape strong, effective discussions of regional problems, particularly concerning growth.

So in January, when the newspaper set its editorial agenda, we announced a series of five forums the newspaper would sponsor: downtown New London economic development, a regional water system, regional housing needs, transportation necessities, and home rule versus regionalism.

We deliberately set realistic goals. We knew we must avoid being a participant in carrying out the plans that developed. But The Day also saw its responsibility to start the conversations and to encourage cooperation.

The forums were honest, objective attempts to address the facts, and they have succeeded beyond our expectations. We reported the discussions in the next day's papers, and we published special four-page Perspective sections the Sunday following each forum.

By conducting successful forums, we did in fact produce creative ideas. We brought people together who had not been a cohesive force in the past. And we helped develop candid (not threatening) conversations between long-standing adversaries.

The first forum on downtown New London gathered a variety of groups all working for a common purpose, but containing factions that had been at odds. Frankly, a lot of the people there (20 in all) didn't like each other. We helped to defuse that problem by inviting the former mayor of Newburyport, Massachusetts, a successful small city, and a development program manager from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, another city that's on the move.

We made it clear to the New London participants that this was not an attempt to say, "This is the way you have to do it," but rather to say, "Here's what they did and it worked."

The following week, I invited back the New London people -- including city officials, development group administrators, business people, developers, and historic preservation organizations. The discussion went so well that the various parties met the next week on their own.

Bottom line: There is a better sense of cooperation as a result, and private investors are beginning to take a more serious look at New London. To a large extent, natural economic forces made possible that result, but our forums helped. Our housing forum run by associate editorial page editor Maura Casey made obvious how serious the shortage of affordable housing is. …

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