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Some 250 Swampscott residents joined more than 50 town officials and volunteers on Saturday, Dec. 1, for three hours of breakout group discussions of ideas to improve the town.
The “Idea Exchange” event started with a coffee food truck and a quick opening ceremony, leaving the majority of the time for residents to move among five breakout groups facilitated by their fellow residents, according to Board of Selectmen Chair Peter Spellios.
“The event was one of the most positive, energetic town gatherings that I have ever been a part of,” he said.
The breakout groups focused on the town’s waterfront; ideas for kids (with one group led by adults and a second led by kids); ideas for seniors; beautification, culture, recreation and open space; and town services, finances and taxes.
The day ended with a wrap-up highlighting the discussions, followed by more food trucks that provided lunch to participants.
Spellios said the Board of Selectmen had been looking for opportunities to engage with residents outside of the usual town business and meetings. With no special Town Meeting needed this fall, the board decided to plan and hold its first Idea Exchange.
“Setting it up was not much different than the effort typically required to hold a town meeting,” he said. “Instead of a town meeting format, however, we essentially reversed roles. Town residents dictate the agenda and lead the discussion, while town leaders – elected, volunteer and professional – merely serve as listeners.”
Among the hundreds of ideas and comments shared at the event were new and better signage in town, improved beach facilities, more public art, and greater outreach and support to the town’s seniors.
The town is now organizing all the ideas shared at the event to distribute them to the wider public, along with the relevant town committees and departments for feedback to the Board of Selectmen and town administrator.
Committees and departments will weigh in on which ideas are feasible and what resources would be required to accomplish them. Spellios said the Board of Selectmen will also discuss the ideas as a standing part of its regular meetings going forward. He said brainstorming and ideas are the “fuel” of community building.
“With good ideas in hand, we can then go to work matching resources to ideas and working with our residents to make ideas reality,” he said. “A lot of great ideas have come to life in Swampscott in recent years. We hope the idea exchange results in many more great ideas coming to life over the next few years.”