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- Community Civics and Rural Life - 70/88 -

interests during a period of years. It considers such matters as the laying out of new roads and streets and the improvement of old ones, the location of parks, playgrounds, and public buildings, the construction of sewers, water works, and lighting systems, the style of architecture for public buildings, the enactment of housing laws. While town planning boards usually deal primarily with matters pertaining to the physical development of the town, they may also plan with reference to the improvement of the educational system, the promotion of public health, and of social needs generally.

The town planning board is usually composed of trained men, such as engineers, architects, and physicians, and it may call in expert advisers from other communities or from the state government. The advantage of having such a board is that it provides the town with a program of action carefully worked out from the point of view both of continuous community needs and of economy. It affords expert leadership.


As has been said many times in these pages, government is the community's official organization to secure cooperation; but it is effective only to the extent that the people COOPERATE. It is a machine that is valuable as the people USE it. The weakening of town, government, or of any other government, is due largely to a lack of interest and of actual participation by the people. Many people think they have done their share toward good government when they have helped elect their officers and have paid their taxes. But when they take this view they are likely to lose both interest in their government and control over it.


In many New England towns the decline in popular control of town government has been largely counterbalanced by COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION FOR VOLUNTARY COOPERATION. Much community service is, and probably always will be, performed by private enterprise and initiative rather than by government; and the efficiency of government depends to a considerable extent upon the efficiency of voluntary enterprise. Government must have the cooperation of the latter, and to some extent work through it. In practically every community there are groups of people organized to cooperate for one purpose or another; but they are often self-centered and act independently of one another, if not actually at cross purposes. The situation that exists in many communities is illustrated by the chart on page 402. [Footnote: This chart and the one on page 403 are taken from Extension Bulletin No. 23, Massachusetts Agricultural College, by E.L. Morgan.]


In a good many Massachusetts towns this situation has been very largely remedied by means of community organization for which the leadership has been provided in many cases by the Community Organization Department of the Extension Service of the State Agricultural College. The organization varies in detail in different communities to meet local needs, but the main features are the following:

First: a COMMUNITY COUNCIL, consisting of representatives of the various community interests and organizations including the town officials. This council serves at first as a sort of "steering committee" to bring the various interests together and to plan the organization and the work to be done.

Second: a COMMUNITY MEETING, the first one of which is called by the community council to consider the questions: Is it possible for a community to plan for its future development? Do we care to do it? Is it worthwhile? How can it be done? The community meeting becomes a sort of UNOFFICIAL TOWN MEETING, and is often more largely attended than the official town meeting, partly because it is attended by the women of the community.

Third: a number of WORKING COMMITTEES, appointed as a result of the first community meeting. They may include:

A committee on farm production.

A committee on conservation.

A committee on boys' and girls' interests.

A committee on farm business.

A committee on community life (education, health, recreation, etc.)

These committees make a study of the conditions and needs of the community in their respective fields, and prepare plans and projects, which are submitted to the community meeting in due time.

Fourth: a COMMUNITY PROGRAM, which has been agreed upon by the community meeting, is supervised by the community council, and is carried out by the various community organizations represented, including the public officials.


This organization is entirely outside of the official govern mental organization. It may be asked why it is necessary to have a "community meeting" when the official town meeting already exists. The answer is that the official town meeting has its work pretty definitely cut out for it. It meets for a half-day or a day at a time, and its time is occupied BY THE VOTERS in passing laws, electing officials, levying taxes, making appropriations, and doing other official business. The "community meeting," on the other hand, is attended by non-voters as well as voters, the women taking an active part, and the young people being represented. Many matters are discussed that could not properly be taken up in town meeting.

A large part of the program of the community organization is carried out by the voluntary agencies of the community. But a great many of its proposals must have the approval of the official town meeting, require appropriations which can only be made by the town meeting, and are finally executed by the public officials of the town. The organization naturally stimulates interest in the official government, and brings to its support all the organized agencies of the community working together.


The township is found as a unit of local government in many states outside of New England, but in most of these cases its government is entirely representative in form. While the town meeting is found in a few of these states, [Footnote: As in New York and New Jersey; and farther west in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, the Dakotas, Illinois, and Nebraska.] it nowhere holds the important place that it does in New England. One reason for this is the larger size and more scattered population of the township. In the public land states the congressional township, six miles square, is also the political township. At the head of the township government in its representative form are TRUSTEES (sometimes three, sometimes only one) who, with the town clerk, the constables, the tax assessor, the treasurer, the justices of the peace, and such other officers as may be required, are elected by the people. The powers of the township government outside of New England vary in different states, but are always quite limited, relating most commonly to the maintenance of roads, school administration, and the care of the poor. In these circumstances there is at least as great need for community organization to support and supplement the work of government as in the New England towns.

Investigate and report on the following:

The services performed by your township government.

A complete list of your township officers, and the duties of each. (Committees of pupils may interview some of the more important officers to get a description of their daily routine, kinds of service performed, etc. Also discuss with parents.)

Officers of the colonial New England town that do not exist now, and their duties.

What is parliamentary law? (Valuable training may be secured by conducting school meetings, club meetings, or occasional regular class exercises, in accordance with parliamentary procedure.)

Why public discussion is a check upon the conduct of persons holding responsible positions.

The popular interest in public questions in your township.

If there is a finance committee in your township (p. 399), how does it serve the community? Does it hold hearings? (Attend and report upon some such hearing.)

Town planning in your community (what has been, or what might be, done).

The value of having a plan.

Is your community more like that represented by the chart on page 402, or by that on page 403?

The extent to which voluntary organizations in your community co operate with and through the local government.

The extent to which your state agricultural college promotes community organization.

The feasibility of organizing your town (or community) by some such plan as that outlined on page 402.

The value of a community "forum" as a means to good government.

Why the official town meeting should (or should not) be encouraged in your state.

Procure and examine recently published official reports of your township government. What do these reports tell you? What is the value of such reports? Are the reports of your township generally read by the people of the township? Why? Discuss ways in which your township reports could be made more useful.


Community Civics and Rural Life - 70/88

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