LETTER: Use of Victory Field Reaching Capacity, Adult Rec Needed Too

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The following is an open letter that Watertown Resident Patrick Fairbairn submitted to the Ad Hoc Committee on Victory Field Renovations Phase 2. The committee will meet on Monday, July 10 at 7 p.m. in the Lower Hearing Room of Town Hall.

Fairbairn is a member of the Conservation Commission but submitted the letter as a resident.

The letter reads as follows:

Having sat in on the first two meetings of the Victory Field Renovations Ad Hoc Committee and participated in the intervening site inspection, I’d like to contribute to the discussion as follows.

1. Our current debate over the public open space associated with the track oval and tennis courts exemplifies a fundamental economic law – the more demand for a commodity increases, the more the commodity increases in value. Highly valued already by its present users, our Phase 2 area stands to attract increasing conflict with the addition of yet more users, as proposed. Undoubtedly, some compromises can be effected as a result of this committee’s good work. However, as an ecologist I feel obliged to remind all stakeholders that any area has a carrying capacity, or ability to support and effectively sustain its constituent life activities. Our debate so far makes it clear to me that Phase 2 Victory Field is already at or very near its carrying capacity. Given the drive to concentrate as many organized school sports as possible at Victory Field, our one size simply cannot fit all.

2. It’s understandable that school sports activities should indeed make the Victory Field complex a priority location. I support that argument, subject to the recognition that already there’s not enough room for every school stakeholder, and that there are other stakeholders to accommodate as well. In view of the strong demand for use of this strategically located open space by Watertown residents, I recommend that whatever sports organizations get to use it should serve exclusively our Watertown citizens.

3. Alternative open space exists in Watertown. The capacity of this resource to provide additional organized sports services should be considered along with current planning for the Victory Field complex. Alternatives are the stuff of necessary compromise – and compromise is needed here.

4. In contemplating the current Phase 2 plan, we would be remiss to disregard the fourth dimension, time. I think that this plan does not adequately stand alone, isolated as it is by fiscal constraints from Phase 3 considerations. For example, discussion of Phase 2 parking should be conducted together with Phase 3 parking concepts in order to ensure the best reconfiguration of field house and environs, especially a parking area to serve both phases. Another example of time’s importance to this debate is the fact that we all grow old. At any one time only about a quarter of our households have school-age children. Not all grow up and move away. The Town teems with people in ripe old age. They thrive on unprogrammed outdoor recreation. Adult lives matter! On a somewhat longer timeline, consider that Watertown has just adopted the Community Preservation Act, which requires us to invest part of our annual CPA contribution in the acquisition and development or redevelopment of new public open spaces for active as well as passive recreation. What we plan for Phase 2 and Phase 3 is surely intended to hold good for at least fifty years. Long before we get there, Watertown will have new open-space assets to offer. Let’s not act now out of some sense of desperation to impose on Victory Field a demand that can be more sensibly accommodated at some other part of Town in the ensuing decade.

5. Finally, a word on parking, through ecological eyes. Everyone loves the convenience of moving comfortably and quickly as close as possible to one’s destination; in proof of which, make more parking space available at Victory Field, and it will quickly fill, and still not be enough. We are already contemplating a Phase 2 plan that reduces green parkland by a considerable amount. If anything, parking space should be reduced in compensation, for the sake of those unsung but very real public benefits that come to us from the natural world. Our precious ten-acre forest adjoining Phase 2, Whitney Hill Park, serves as an outdoor laboratory for long-term ecological studies by Watertown High School. The green open space of Phase 2 Victory Field serves as a marginal support and buffer system for the forest itself. The greener the better, as far as forest species (and many people) are concerned. Parks Before Parking!

I previously mentioned the importance of time in the world of planning. Nowhere does this consideration apply more forcefully than in the sphere of automotive engineering. With the advent of self-driving, self-parking cars that can be called up on-line for pick-ups and drop-offs at a moment’s notice, the need for large open-space surface areas to station unused vehicles will soon be manifestly much reduced. The Phase 2 planning exercise should be conscious of a future that will become reality long before Phase 2 reaches the end of its notional life span.

Patrick Fairbairn

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