LACONIA — A strong economy, diverse demographic and safe community were the highest priorities of the more than 75 people asked to "re-imagine Laconia" at an open house at the Opechee Conference Center last evening.
Hosted by the Planning Department and Orton Family Foundation, the event aimed to refine and rank what residents identified as the defining values of the city through a variety of outreach efforts that began last summer and were capped at a forum in October in anticipation of preparing the Master Plan. The values will inform the vision statement, one of the required elements of the plan, as well as serve as guides for setting the priorities and prescribing the steps in pursuing the plan.
More than half the group, 53-percent, were men. The average age of the participants, a quarter of who were retirees, was 57.4, and less than two-percent were students. Nearly half, 45-percent, live or work downtown while a fifth were from Lakeport and 15-percent from The Weirs. More than half had lived and worked in the city for more than 20 years and have been engaged in civic or public life as volunteers. However, two-thirds of those at the open house were not among the some 100 who participated in the forum in October.
In preparation for the open house, the staff of the Planning Department and members of the Master Plan Advisory Committee compiled and distilled the information collected earlier from interviews, surveys and other efforts into ten values. Community character referred to the preservation of significant places. A sense of community spoke to a "small-city feel." Connectivity highlighted the relationships between members of the community., A beautiful environment, strong economy and responsive government were all prized. Demographic diversity referred to a balanced community of all ages. Public safety was a priority along with offering a rich, diverse quality of life. Finally, there was support for telling a positive story by promoting the assets and polishing the image of the city .
With electronic keypads, participants at the open house were asked to score each of the ten values in terms of importance. Some commanded a majority as "very important" and most were deemed either "very important" or "somewhat important." But, three-quarters rated a strong economy and safe community "very important."
Most interesting, when participants were asked rank the values against one another by selecting the three of most importance and highest priority a strong economy, safe community and diverse demographic — all concrete, measurable factors – topped the list.
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