I have been heartened to see the array of community engagement around public decision-making in Stoughton recently. It is exciting to see so many community projects underway, and I deeply appreciate the challenging work that it takes to move these projects forward.

At the same time, I also wonder what strategies the Stoughton Redevelopment Authority, the Common Council, and other entities are using to specifically and strategically engage the perspectives of Stoughtonites with disabilities – as well as people with low incomes, people of color, and people who have other marginalized identities.

According to census data, 7.5% of people in Stoughton have disabilities, 8.6% are below the poverty line and 9% are people of color. 15.6% of the population are adults over 65. As we embark on imagining what downtown looks like in the future, how to shape the Kettle Park West development, and other community projects, it is important to include – and even center – diverse perspectives that map onto the demographics of Stoughton’s population. It is important to ask: Who is not at the table in the planning process? Whose voices are heard the loudest when a meeting is the vehicle for feedback? Including all voices creates outcomes that best and most equitably serve the community as a whole.

Again, I am grateful for all of the opportunities to participate in public decision-making and I hope to see creative strategies engaging people with disabilities and others who make up our diverse community included and centered in these processes. Decision-makers could go to the weekly community meal at the Senior Center and talk with folks there. Outreach could identify the unique needs of people with intellectual, developmental, and/or physical disabilities in the downtown area. Community members with low incomes could be consulted about the Riverfront and the Kettle West housing developments. It takes extra effort to meaningfully partner with Stoughton community members who are most affected by the issues, but by doing so we manifest the most positive outcomes in community change efforts.

Sarah Luetzow Marten

Town of Pleasant Springs