Wickford Envy? Maybe Not... And Planning Beyond The Status Quo

What to love and loathe about living in East Greenwich this week.

RAVE: I am going to admit this upfront: I have Wickford envy.

It hits me every time I walk up Brown Street (they’re too swank to call it Main Street like the rest of us poor schlubs). The town is just so darn quaint.

Well, I’m over it now.

Walking in Scalloptown Park the other day, my husband, in a rare expansive mood, swept his arms wide and declaimed, “Where else can you get such a pristine view? No billboards or traffic noise and we’re right in the heart of downtown East Greenwich.”

The fact that the Acela blew past at that moment sort of ruined the moment, but I understood his point. However, still under the thrall of Wickford, I answered just that: “Wickford. It has Wilson Park and,” I slyly added, “no train.”

“Wickford!” snorted my husband. “There’s hardly any place to eat there and certainly no place to do a pub crawl.”

This got me thinking.

What makes a small town great anyway? According to an article titled 11 Great Places You’ve (Maybe) Never Heard Of  published in a 2009 Mother Earth News that I stole from my doctor’s office, the components of greatness are:

  • “…a cadre of dedicated citizens with creative ideas and the energy to implement them…”  Check – we have the Main Street Association, the East Greenwich Merchants Association, the Odeum Board, the Friends of East Greenwich Library, Citizens Who Care, the Cindy-Wood Garden Club and the East Greenwich-Warwick garden Club, the New Neighbors Club, the East Greenwich Preservation Society, The Summer Arts and Festival Organization* (read the Summer’s End folk), and I am sure a few dozen more groups and organizations that I am missing.
  • “…a progressive government willing to meet them halfway…” Check – see the Farmer’s Market, the Turkey Trot, the tax discussions vis-a-vis the reopening of the Odeum, the Festival Fete Art Show, the Summer’s End concert, the holiday parades, the Main Street strolls – all of these require zoning approval, Town Council and management support, and assistance from the emergency services departments, to name just a few.
  • “…opportunities to get close to nature….” Check – Scalloptown Park, Greenwich Bay, Frenchtown Preserve, Bleachery Pond, the trails at Boesch Farm, the trails around Carr Pond are all wonderful places to hike, bike and/or boat.
  • “…arts and cultural programs to feed the soul…” Check – the multitude of programs at the library (many supported by the Friends*), the Cultural Organization of the Arts* which exists solely to bring performance arts to East Greenwich students, the Odeum, Showcase Cinema – which presents opera, dance, comedy and performance pieces as well as current blockbusters, the Summer Arts and Festival Organization, the Festival Fete Art Show – and again, I know I am missing lots.
  •  “…a desire to meet the challenge of transitioning to renewable energy...” I think we could be a little more effective with this last one – for instance, recyclable containers at all sports fields, a central composting center, a vegetable oil recycling center, a ferry that connects us to the East Bay and beyond. However, the possibility of a train depot is still actively on the table, our Public Works Department is very hands on and we did have the recent updates to waste disposal pick up.

All in all, while the above sounds like a big order to fill, we come pretty close in most areas. It’s interesting to note that of the eleven great places noted in 2009 and the six in 2010, six in 2011 and eight in 2012, the town incomes and town population were all over the board. What was consistent were things like bike trails, community theater, arts centers, local food, gorgeous scenery, a strong will to preserve the town’s local focus, great climate, civic mindedness, and high-spirited do-it-yourselfers.

And I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if you can tell me that all of that doesn’t sound a lot like us. OK, maybe it sounds like Wickford and a lot of other towns in Rhode Island as well, so now I am going to selectively add to the list.

A great town also needs:

  • A place to buy delicious artisan chocolate
  • A skateboard shop – or any place that is cool with teens to hang out and not get into trouble
  • At least one ice cream store
  • A mom and pop shop of any kind
  • 4G
  • A variety of places to worship
  • A bookstore
  • An old-fashioned diner
  • A decent place to get a sandwich
  • A good coffee place
  • Farms, marinas, mills or some sense of the town’s history

OK, I’m done but feel free to add your own to the list.

One more thing, though. Nothing thrives without attention. One of the things we can do, especially now in the holiday season, to keep our town vibrant (and better than Wickford) is remember to shop locally. The Northwest Earth Institute tells us a dollar spent at a locally owned store is usually spent 6 to 15 times before it leaves the community. So from $1, we create $5 to $14 in value within that community. If we spend $1 at a national chain store, 80 percent leaves town immediately. Our dollars do make a difference. The more money that stays here, the better off we all are. Though it seems a small act, the consequences of it are just as important as the creation of a bike path, the support of an arts center or the preservation of an old building and is a truly effortless way to keep our town vibrant and strong.

RANT: I love that our town is putting together a comprehensive plan. It reminds me of when I was a kid and the Sears catalog would come around November. I would diligently go through each and every page and check off everything that caught my eye, from couches to (girl geared) Easy Bake Ovens. It was the mother of all Christmas lists – never mind that I am Jewish, we did not exchange gifts of any kind even for Hanukkah and my parents never looked at my work. A girl can dream, can’t she?

So apparently can the Planning Board.

Apparently, the Council is now balking at enforcing some of the items in the plan. OK, the thing is huge – almost 200 pages huge. That’s a lot of planning to get through.

But the Planning Board and the Council met occasionally as this ream of ideas was being drawn up. So presumably the thing shouldn’t contain any surprises.

What it does have, apparently, are timelines to follow. So surely it would have made sense to have come to some sort of consensus on the contentious issues before putting them in the plan. If the idea is to highlight these concerns in order to generate discussion, then why construct them in a kitchen sink format that throws everything into the plan and then limits discussion to a deadline and possible amendments down the road?

This seems like such a convoluted way of getting things done that I am sure I am missing something here. Or is it politics as usual?

Rose December 15, 2012 at 01:39 PM
We need a bakery--preferably a good old-fashioned Italian bakery. You know what I mean--the kind where you can buy pizza strips, spinach pies, fresh Italian bread, egg biscuits. Why do I have to drive to Cranston to find these? PLEASE, someone, bring one here to EG!
Jeff Cianciolo December 15, 2012 at 03:26 PM
Rhode Island General Law § 45-22.2 sets the rules on how a Town adopts a comprehensive plan. Typically, the Plan is adopted by the Planning Board and then passed on to the Town Council, which then has the authority to accept it, reject it, revise it, etc. Last week, the Town Council met with the Planning Board prior to the Planning Board’s formal adoption of the Plan in an effort to streamline the approval process. Although the Council has received working drafts of the Comprehensive Plan and periodic updates on its status, the Town Council has not been involved in the details of the Plan or its conclusions/recommendations. In other words, the Town Council allowed the Planning Board to do its job. It is now the Town Council’s turn. Whether you want to call that politics or the status quo, its how state law tells us to make the sausage … Jeffrey Cianciolo EG Town Council
Pat Young December 15, 2012 at 03:55 PM
Thanks, Lisa, for reminding us why we live here!
Elizabeth McNamara (Editor) December 15, 2012 at 07:33 PM
Rose, you might give Wild Harvest a try.... They may not have everything you're looking for, but they do fresh bread, egg biscuits, and I think they have spinach pies.


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