#4 – Shared Community Areas, Green and Open Spaces

Falmouth residents place high value on shared community areas, green, and open spaces. Shared community areas or public space is seen as a valuable way to cultivate greater community identity, social cohesion, and sense of belonging. These areas often share common traits, including comfortable and accessible recreation features that promote social interactions and physical activity. Public space comes in a range of sizes, programming, and zoning types. Town centers, public greens, plazas, and community hubs are examples of different types and scales of public space.

What we know so far (from the Community Survey results and background research work):

HISTORY

  • As early as the 1920s, the Town of Falmouth began to establish parks and fund community celebrations such as Old Home Days.
  • Significant growth in the 1950s led to the development of new public recreational opportunities. The public pier and beach at Town Landing were improved and parking expanded. Falmouth Memorial Library opened its doors in 1952 and originally had multiple branches in town.
  • In 1956, the Falmouth Playground Association formed to create a central area for sports and recreation. In cooperation with the American Legion, approximately 27 acres on Depot Road was transformed into baseball fields, tennis courts, and surface area for badminton, volleyball, and basketball. Today, this is known as the Legion Complex and is managed by the Town.
  • The 1963 Town Plan, Falmouth’s first, recommended the acquisition of land for future recreational and conservation areas.
  • The Falmouth Land Trust formed in 1981 to protect open space in Falmouth in order to help preserve the rural character of the community.
  • Falmouth’s Open Space Acquisition program resulted directly from the Town’s 2005 Greening of Falmouth Report and a referendum vote in 2007 authorizing the Town Council to expend up to $5 million for open space acquisitions.
  • In 2013 the Town Council approved a comprehensive set of zoning ordinance amendments to create a more village-like district for the Route One corridor and Falmouth voters approved an $11.7 million Infrastructure Plan for the same area.

RELATED MACRO TRENDS

  • A macro trend highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic is to refer to shared community space or public space as social infrastructure. Like hard infrastructure (often referred to as roads and bridges) the quality of existing social infrastructure is critically important to communities nationwide. Parks, trails, sidewalks, open and common spaces, and other places or organizations that bring people together such as schools, clubs, libraries, barbershops, and restaurants, are considered social infrastructure.
  • Treating shared community areas or public space as key infrastructure increases cities’ abilities to prepare for, address, and recover from natural hazards. Recent climate extremes such as flooding, freezing, and wildfires all call for mindful planning of community areas, green, and open spaces. Multipurpose spaces provide benefits before, during, and after disaster. Park facilities for example, can be designed to allow residents to shelter in place in case of flooding, tornados, windstorms, or other natural hazards.
  • A common trend in urban design is to develop shared community areas, green, and open spaces that promote more healthy, livable, connected communities. Also called community hubs, these areas act as focal points for a community and serve all different types of cohorts.

WHAT IS CURRENTLY HAPPENING IN FALMOUTH

  • Falmouth Parks and Community Programs oversees the majority of Falmouth’s parks, recreational facilities, trails, and open spaces, including:
    • 6 playgrounds and 4 picnic pavilions
    • 1800 acres of open space on 17 open space properties
    • 4 community forests
    • 55+ miles of trails
    • 13 parks comprising 206 acres
    • 8 multi-purpose fields
    • 5 baseball diamonds, 9 tennis courts, 4 pickleball courts, 2 basketball courts
    • 2 canoe/kayak launch sites and 1 ice rink
  • Mason-Motz Activity Center, includes the Presumpscot Senior Room where senior programming is regularly held, offers a place for indoor walking in inclement weather, and provides meeting space to community groups.
  • Falmouth Parks & Community Programs offers an annual slate of programming, classes, adult education, field trips, and summer camps. They also host a popular Concerts in the Park series each summer at Village Park and the much-loved annual Tree Lighting.
  • Falmouth has the largest recreational anchorage/mooring field north of Marblehead, Massachusetts, offering some 1,200 moorings. At Town Landing there is a public beach and boat launch.
  • The Town partners with local organizations to hold several community events each year, including, the Falmouth-Cumberland Community Chamber and Falmouth Memorial Library to host a multi-day holiday event (Very Merry Falmouth) and the American Legion to host the Memorial Day Parade and Veteran’s Day observations.
  • Falmouth Memorial Library recently reopened after an extensive expansion project adding some 8,000 square feet to the facility. Pre-pandemic the library welcomed over 100,000 visitors each year, 9,000 of whom attended an average of 600 programs annually. The new library offers multiple meeting and gathering spaces for the public.
  • Falmouth Land Trust preserves approximately 1500 acres and provides public access to most of it via an extensive trail network.
  • Mackworth Island State Park and Maine Audubon offer additional trail options.
  • Family Ice offers an outdoor ice rink and free skating to Falmouth residents.
  • A farmer’s market is held weekly during the summer season in the parking area near Village Park.
  • Falmouth Historical Society runs the Falmouth Heritage Museum on Woods Road.

WHAT THE COMMUNITY SURVEY RESULTS SHOW

  • Falmouth Community Survey participants were asked to indicate how important they believed the following social infrastructure and environmental topics will be in shaping the future of Falmouth. Using a scale of 1-3 (not important), 4-7 (neutral), and 8-10 (important), below are the results:
    • Creating corridor connections between open spaces: 8% not important, 36% neutral, 56% important
    • Creating and protecting open space: 2% not important, 13% neutral, 84% important
    • Preserving lands for habitat and recreation: 2% not important, 12% neutral, 86% important
    • Preserving rural areas and rural feel: 6% not important, 26% neutral, 68% important
    • Enhancing coastal protection: 2% not important, 17% neutral, 81% important
    • Creating buffers between development areas: 5% not important, 30% neutral, 65% important

CONSULTANT’S INSIGHTS and POTENTIAL TRADE-OFFS

  • Falmouth is blessed with an abundance of greenspaces, and shared community areas, including the coastline. In part, this is a function of good planning in the past, and the decision to set aside and protect green spaces. There is the potential to better interconnect these spaces, as part of creating a communitywide network of trails and shared spaces.
  • Shared public spaces are likely to be more important in the future, especially if the trend to hybrid ‘work at home’ models continue. This will require more investment and increased maintenance costs.
  • Green spaces are likely to become more important, as part of the overall climate change adaption strategy. These spaces can offer important environmental buffers and help in mitigating the effects of more intense and extreme weather events.

We would love to hear your thoughts!

It is clear from the Community Survey, that Falmouth residents value their shared community areas, green, and open spaces. There is an opportunity to plan for and to create more of this infrastructure in Town.

What types of shared community areas, green, and open spaces do you think will best serve the community of Falmouth in the future? What would you like to see more of; and where?
Comments made via this portal are public. We expect conversations to follow the rules of polite discourse. Messages containing inappropriate content or language will be removed at the discretion of Future iQ.

12 Comments

About 1 percent of Falmouth s dedicated open space (around 1800 acres of 18816 total). Would it be nice to have that number be 2 percent? or 10 percent? or more? Absolutely; however, I can see that is possibly an unrealistic expectation. I think working on connectivity and development of shared multiuse trails to be a more likely/better use of the town’s time.

Well maintained and up-to-date facilities in outdoor areas (trails, ball field launches, ramps, restrooms, water fountains, and the like) are important to attract both repeat and first-time users.

Additionally, with the real estate market continuing to be robust, tracts of open space are getting to be less commonly available either for purchase or donation.

As I mentioned in my earlier post (and, yes, I am surprised it is the only post in this thread after almost two weeks), I am a fan of open spaces. The type of space does not matter a great deal to me; I see the value in a ball field, cricket pitch, two or three acres neighborhood park, and several hundred acres of preserved woodland.

Falmouth does have a place called “community park;” however, they don’t really have a community gathering space (at least not in my perception). Traditionally towns in New England had a commons ( a shared community space, if you will). The commons would be centrally located with easy access for residents and served a wide range of needs.

On the 4th of July, we gather along Route 1 in business parking lots; as a gathering place it is fone; however, it really isn’t a commons. I think community park may be considered a commons if we chose to use it that way.

Our yearly celebration of independence could take place there, so could our winter celebrations. Our farmers market could also be there and possibly expanded beyond its current size. The playing fields can, of course, be used for their accustomed variety of sporting events; could we perhaps add a day or two for classic cars? Antique farm equipment?

A well-used, well-known, well advocated for community gathering place can only help build a sense of community…

We should all be aware of how the AFFH (Affirmatively Fostering Fair Housing) Rule affects the policies that Democrat politicians (all of our Town Councilors) seek to implement. This rule will lead to the elimination of single family homes with yards in favor of multi-family “homes” (rentals) with shared “open spaces”. Biden has made it clear that normal cars (gas powered) will be replaced 50% by 2030. Why? Because you won’t need to travel far from your new multi-family “dwelling” (don’t call it a “home”) except to get to work. Your new electric car will be useless for long interstate travel trips.
Creation of greater open public spaces is a trade off to having your own yard and garden.
I am suspicious of any policy originating in DNC sources.

Just to be fair; the Trump-era Department of Housing and Urban Development struck down the AFFH and replaced it with the Preserving Neighborhood and Community Rule (PNCR). Since Falmouth is doing its due diligence and going out of the way to see what the residents of Falmouth would like to see in their policy decisions, I expect that whatever decisions are made by the council will likely pass muster under either AFFH or PNCR.

Our open spaces are extremely valuable to our community in many ways. Any acquisitions of new open spaces should be a primary goal; however, this should not be by a “taking of land” (ordinance changes that diminish landowner development rights and therefore reduces the value of their land. New open space acquisitions must be balanced and sustainable. Trying to create new “affordable” housing here in Falmouth will be difficult and we all want to retain our mixed rural/urban with open space character. Our community has realized great benefits from the open spaces we have acquired. We should continue to preserve these open spaces and continue to acquire more in balance with responsible growth. Large single family lots with large overbuilt houses should be limited and perhaps even be discouraged. Instead clustered developments and adding unique multi-unit development within already populated areas such as Route One and Route 100. Also, consider changing some zoning laws that would then allow further subdivision of existing already developed larger lots within some select denser developed zones. Advances in septic system treatment equipment can be relied upon to achieve further densification within already densely developed zones that otherwise have adequate water and power. In my opinion there are many opportunities to achieve these goals, provided we are willing to think outside the box.

My family and I take full advantage of the open spaces in Falmouth, and one thing I’ve noticed (highlighted elsewhere, and of concern to others) is that the connections between trails could be improved. In West Falmouth, where we live, the beautiful trail behind Hannaford extends to Falmouth Rd., and then you can pick up a second trail that leads you right to the Falmouth schools. This would be terrific for my kids, who would love to bike or walk to school, except for that pesky stretch of Falmouth Rd. which is fast, includes a blind curve and has almost no shoulder. This is one example, but hardly the only one–what would it be like, I wonder, if you could safely get from West Falmouth to the Foreside on bike or foot? All of this is just a long way of saying I think interconnecting the public space that exists is a worthy and achievable goal that I support wholeheartedly.

The message is clear! Keep or expand the open spaces available to the community. That is what is important to the vast majority of Town residents.

MODERATOR COMMENT: It is great to see these conversational threads evolve.
These Discussions Boards are being moderated to match the stated guidelines: “Comments made via this portal are public. We expect conversations to follow the rules of polite discourse. Messages containing inappropriate content or language will be removed at the discretion of Future iQ”. To date, we have had to exclude a number of comments that are critical about people or groups, or are obviously off-purpose (unrelated political commentary; for example). PLEASE remember, these are open community conversations, to which a wide range of people are contributing – including school students. These Discussion Boards are an opportunity for thoughtful, polite and convivial community discussion focused on exploring specific important issues. Please consider ‘tone and content’ before submitting, as we will draw a clear line – and exclude – inappropriate messages. Thank you.

I took part in the shared open spaces discussion groups, these are my raw notes/thoughts prior to the discussion.

1. What are the key things we are learning about this topic – from the surveys, background information, future trends, and Discussion Board comments?
Open Space areas are very important to Falmouth residents
Falmouth’s first open space was almost 100 years ago
Residents like to recreate out of doors.

2. What are one or two important potential future-splitting decisions or issues facing Falmouth, related to this topic; and, and what are the implications and trade-offs of these different future directions?
If the real issue of working at home and caring for children stays with us; having shared community spaces will be more and more important.
Open space area and shared community space will be more and more valuable as population increases and demands for housing rise; a decision needs to made to pay that price, it may become very expensive to create/get/have open space areas.

3. With regards to this focus group topic, where is the future ‘sweet spot’ for Falmouth?
Creating a town common (repurpose a section of community park?)
As a tie in to the environ focus group and climate change issues having a greener Falmouth (literally in this case) will be more and more important; plants are good for the environment everything from native wildflowers to trees
Facility improvements ( i.e. bottle fillers and restrooms)

Fifty years ago there was plenty of open space for everybody to enjoy without any group effort to purchase and create open space. Open Space is a wonderful thing and needs to be protected. The town now enjoys 1800 acres of exclusive, shared community areas, green and open spaces. Todays trend is to continue adding to this landmass. That also is a wonderful thing for those of us who can afford to live in Falmouth.

What about HOUSING AFFORDABILITY? These huge tracts of land are gobbled up, making Falmouth even more exclusive and destroying the possibility for any private housing (affordable or otherwise) on that land FOREVER. Is that what the goal is?

Small private homes, small duplexes, and small apartments should be a required part of the overall plan. I look at removing this land and the possibility of affordable housing in Falmouth as an unfair and a negative move for the town. Affordable housing to me is far below the $400,000 dwelling that is statistically defined!
Land trusts could help change this equation.

Town government is capable of many head-scratching restrictions that are very confusing to us all. If land trusts choose to keep repeating the past, why can’t another creative restriction be levied on them for the privilege of removing large tracts of land from shrinking affordable housing possibilities? Coordination between the land trusts and affordable housing groups might show that diversity really does matter in Falmouth.

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