October 2, 2014: Taking at peek at Belmont’s Heart and Soul

October 2, 2014: Belmont Citizen-Herald

What do cigarette smoking at Belmont’s soccer fields, preservation of Belmont’s historic Clark House, and a road race to promote innovation in the Belmont Public Schools all have in common?

If I added Belmont’s Habitat for Humanity House to the list, does that help?

The Payson Park Music Festival belongs in the mix as well, as do many other activities.

They are all part of Belmont’s “community capital,” that web of relationships, activities and resources that make a town a community. Ranging from an individual who successfully lobbied Town Meeting to ban cigarette smoking on soccer sidelines, to those persons who organize the annual Dan Scharfman run, to those who sought (even if unsuccessfully) to preserve the historic Clark House, these efforts all share a common trait.

The Vermont-based Orton Family Foundation recently released the most recent publication in its “Community Heart & Soul” initiative.  And, while there is certainly much we can do to improve here in Belmont, by almost any measure, Belmont does well.

A bit of background.  The mission of the Orton Family Foundation (www.Orton.org/Heart-Soul) is to improve local decisionmaking by “creating a shared sense of belonging, and ultimately strengthening the social, cultural and vibrancy of each place.”  Other than being an admirer of their work, I have no relationship with the Foundation.

A place with Heart and Soul, Orton says, “fosters a sense of community. . .characterized by a feeling of the emotional connection to a place and its residents.” What Orton really talks about is building community capital, sometimes called social wealth. Social capital is the connections in a community—the ways in which people interact and relate to each other.

Orton provides a check-list of actions that a community can take to develop social wealth.  Let me review just a few of Orton’s suggestions as they relate to Belmont.

  •  Promote sociable downtowns (have you walked past Ranc’s recently on nearly any evening in Belmont Center? Do you patronize our Belmont Farmer’s Market in Belmont Center (www.BelmontFood.org)?).
  • Make neighborhoods more walkable (do you have your own map of walking routes in Belmont (www.WalkBoston.org, click on “Belmont”)?).
  • Throw neighborhood/block parties (Warwick Road just had its 23rd annual block party; even former neighbors come back to attend).
  • Encourage community festivals and parades (did you attend the Payson Park Music Festival this summer (www.ppmf.org)? Did you take your puppy and kids to watch the combined BHS/CMS marching band strut their stuff on Memorial Day?).
  • Support public art (have you visited the Belmont Art Gallery on the top floor of the Homer Municipal Building (www.BelmontGallery.org? Do you attend the Belmont Dramatic Club performances at Town Hall (www.BelmontDramaticClub.org)?).
  • Identify and protect places of cultural significance (have you visited each historic marker on the Waverley Trail recently (www.WaverleyTrail.org)? Do you belong to the Benton Library (www.BentonLibrary.org)?).
  • Build sociable neighborhood parks (have you visited Joey’s Park recently? You may have even helped build it!).
  • Create an online-forum (do you belong to the Belmont list-serve? To the Belmont Moms list-serve? Have you visited BelmontBudget.org, the on-line community forum relating to our community’s budget?).
  • Hold a volunteer day (do you plan to participate in Belmont Serves, the Columbus Day community service event (www.Belmontrc.org)?).

No list like this can be comprehensive.  It’s impossible.  I do hope, however, that the next time you find yourself grumbling and grousing about the condition of the streets, about one of your kid’s teachers, or some such thing, visit the Orton Family Foundation web page on “Community Heart & Soul.” It provides a roadmap for creating and preserving community capital in our little town. It is a map worth following.

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