Application of Readings: Sutton, Massachusetts

For the past decade, I have lived within Sutton, Massachusetts: A small, rural town about fifteen minutes from larger cities like Worcester, and 30 minutes from Boston. Prior to residing here, my family lived in a more urban, city-like environment. Although I cannot recall specifics in terms of community distinction, I can say that there are notable differences between the two areas that I have called home.

The relatively small size of the town is reflected in the attitudes of residents, as the community is fairly close-knit. It is suffice to say that everyone knows or has a relationship with their neighbors, or are part of some community organization. Most parents with children are part of local PTA or parent associations, and frequently organize or volunteer at community events. Many residents are also part of the historical society, as the town was founded in the early 1700’s. Each year, they organize civil war reenactments and events for locals to learn about the history of the town, while also maintaining the historical museum which was established in the center of town.

The town center itself is frequently referred to as merely “The Common.” It is comprised of a large greenspace, which is dotted with park benches, trees, and a notable gazebo in the middle. There are a few buildings lining this area, like the police station, public library, and a church. The common itself has varied uses, lending itself to “Pancake Sundays” put on by the church, annual flea market and book sales, prom pictures, and even the occasional wedding ceremony. For events such as these, the common appears perfect. The issue, however, appears to arise from the fact that when these events are not occurring, the common is used fairly infrequently.

Drawing from the reading, “Placemaking: What if we built out cities around places?” the author raises the point of the “Power of 10” in that within successful public spaces, there must be at least ten things to do. This idea essentially states that places will be frequented more heavily by members of a community if there are many different uses for a space.

In relating this back to Sutton’s town common, yes, the greenspace in and of itself is beautiful, but it does not necessarily have a wide range of uses. Aside from the grass itself, the common does not have too much to offer. There are no playground areas or even climbing rocks for children, there are a limited number of benches, and there is little parking. Another issue is that there is no distinguishable draw for the community to use this space when larger events are not taking place.

This space could likely be turned around if there was a reason for individuals to visit the area. The addition of a few small shops would give residents a reason to visit the common. A small cafe or eatery could also supply a reason for individuals to sit and stay while they enjoy a break. Although the common is used by residents, it is fair to say that it could be improved upon using many of the points raised by Placemaking texts.

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