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Melrose reflects pride in "Our City," but still want improvements

Posted by Kathy McCabe  September 18, 2012 08:19 AM

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Melrose residents love the period lighting that gives the downtown a Victorian aura. But they want the city to Tweet more info about what's going on.

As if posting on Facebook, they give a "thumbs up" to the early childhood programs and elementary schools, but believe the middle and high schools should shine more. And they'd like more detailed info on test scores, student-teacher ratio, and other school data.

They feel Melrose is safe, but want more traffic enforcement, particularly a crackdown on speeders.

These are some of the findings of "The Our City Series," a six-month study of quality of life issues in Melrose. Residents were asked to give their opinions and expectations for the city of nearly 27.000 people.

Click here to read the preliminary report.

The findings revealed a proud citizenry, determined to keep the Victorian City on the move.

"Today we are looking at a new Melrose, " Mayor Robert J. Dolan told the Board of Aldermen on Monday. "People want the old Melrose with a modern twist. They want a 21st century city."

"Our City," was conducted by Dolan, Mike Lindstrom, a Dolan aide who oversees community services, and Gary Romano, a resident who owns Civitas Strategies, a firm that advises communities on economic development, communications, marketing and other issues.

One-on-one interviews with community leaders, and forums held with residents ranging from parents with young children to singles to senior citizens were used to take the pulse of Melrose.

"The idea was not to survey the entire city, but instead have the opportunity for a deep conversation," said Romano, who volunteered his services.

Ward 2 Alderwoman Monica Medeiros was among those who took part in one of the resident forums. "You made it fun," she said, praising Romano and Lindstrom. "I know the people I was there felt very appreciative that their opinions were valued."

On the upside:

Residents like the pedestrian-friendly downtown. Empty retail spaces appear to fill up quickly. Melrose has a strong identity and volunteer spirit. Parks are maintained and property values remain high.

On the downside:

Melrose schools are not viewed as a leader in the region. The city must strengthen the middle and high schools. More data, such as student-teacher ratios, should be published along with test score data. And, the city must embrace social media, such as Twitter and Facebook to communicate information -- such as snow plowing schedules, street closings, and meeting notices.

"We've created a pipeline for online information," Lindstrom told the aldermen.

Melrose already has taken steps to address residents' suggestions. Police Chief Michael Lyle has planned neighborhood meetings to discuss public safety. School Superintendent Cyndy Taymore has launched a 100-day plan, which addresses everything from student performance, to teacher evaluation, to the use of data to develop teaching strategies.

In other areas, the city has started a Teen Center, aimed at kids in grades 6 to 8; expanded adult education programs and declared October as "Melrose in Motion" month to promote good health. Bike racks will be placed around downtown to make it more rider-friendly.

The city also is considering ways to draw interest from high-tech and engineering firms who may be in the market for office space.

City officials also are working to improve the website, www.cityofmelrose.org, develop a Facebook page, and sending out info @cityofmelrose on Twitter.

"We have a plan of action to address what we've heard from people," Dolan said after the meeting.

Aldermen were impressed with "Our City."

"I think it's nice that we're seeing immediate action," said Ward 5 Alderwoman Gail Infurna.

"I agree that communication, letting people know what's going on is important," said Ward 3 Alderman Francis Wright. "They don't like to be in the dark."

Kathy McCabe can be reached at kmccabe@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe.


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