Envisioning a town’s future

It can’t have been just the free pizza that drew more that 200 people to ConVal High School on Friday night. They were really there for the first portion of the town of Peterborough’s two-day Vision Forum, where they started the process of developing ideas that we hope will eventually provide a clear guide for updating the town’s Master Plan. The sizable turnout shows that people in Peterborough truly care about their community and want to be proactive in determining what the future may hold.

It’s fascinating to look back at the images of Peterborough over the past 275 years that the Monadnock Center for History and Culture put together for the forum — especially the many photos that document how the town has evolved. In the 1790s, Peterborough had about 800 people living on 100 farms and the meetinghouse and tavern were on Old Street Road. Agriculture was king, and by 1840 there were 140 farms. But farming declined as Peterborough became a mill town, a center for wool and cotton textile manufacturing and basket manufacturing in the late 1800s. For more than 60 years in the 20th century the American Guernsey Cattle Club was a leading employer, and later the town became a hub for production of electrical components as well as a publishing center. Now it still has a strong manufacturing base of innovative companies and is evolving as many residents telecommute. Peterborough’s been a center for the arts as well, home to the MacDowell Colony, the Peterborough Players, the Sharon Arts Center and clubs like the Folkway and Harlow’s Pub that have provided wonderful entertainment over the years.

The one constant has been change, and that’s why the Vision Forum is an exciting first step. The meetings on Friday and Saturday gave people a chance to share their ideas, in a relaxed, open and non-confrontational setting, on how Peterborough might adapt to what the next decade or two will bring. People threw out ideas on what they like about the town, what they don’t like, and what the town needs. It was a process of exploration, where all ideas were welcome.

The next step will be for the experienced facilitators from the UNH Cooperative Extension Service to consolidate those ideas into a written report and to generate a survey that will give residents additional opportunities to share their views. When that work is all done, the volunteers working to develop the vision chapter of the Master Plan should have a firm sense of what the people of Peterborough are looking for. And that should help them to create a vital document that everyone can use to maintain both the economic and cultural vitality for which the town is so well known.

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