Fitchburg is a unique community.
It is the only community in the state with three separate school districts. Of the more than 13,000 acres of land in its city limits, about 11,000 are farmland. And it is one of the most diverse communities in the state, with more than 30 percent of its residents being African-American or Hispanic.
Fitchburg is also of the fastest-growing communities in the state, with a population of now more than 28,000 residents living in our urban core, suburban neighborhoods and on family farms. Its location is ideal: directly between one of the fastest-growing companies in Wisconsin — Epic — and a world leading university and the state Capitol.
These characteristics pose challenges by themselves, and having four mayors leading our city in the past four years makes it even more challenging.
To move forward and make the most of what we have, we need to come together and focus on Fitchburg-centered issues. We need to avoid the natural inclination to be divided by where we send our kids to school, where we live in our city, where we came from and how we feel about the debates at the state Capitol and in Washington, D.C.
During my two terms as mayor (2011-15), I was fortunate enough to partner with numerous residents, past mayors, community and city leaders and staff to open our new library and splash pad park. Both were the result of years of work by Fitchburg-based organizations like the Friends of the Fitchburg Library and the Optimists Club. Each garnered support for important legacy-building amenities that would benefit our growing and disparate community for generations to come.
Together, we also worked to create a faith-based and nonprofit group that met quarterly at different locations throughout our city. These gatherings allowed members of those sectors to meet with city officials to discuss ways we could collaboratively bring all parts of our community together as one.
We also saw the Fitchburg Chamber of Commerce partner with the Fitchburg Senior Center and ultimately take over the Concerts in the Park series nearly five years ago, creating what has become one of our area’s go-to events of the summer.
The key to the success of those endeavors was that it was individual residents who cared about our Fitchburg community and who took the lead in moving those projects and efforts forward, and that made it easier for elected leaders, like myself and others at the time, to follow along.
Our new mayor and council need to find ways to bring our community together, but their success in doing that also relies on which direction we choose, as a community, to go.
Fitchburg can easily divide ourselves because of our differences or our unwillingness to give back to our community. If we choose that direction, we most likely will see continued electoral instability and a murky future.
We can instead work together on community legacy-building issues, such as through partnerships that support our businesses and neighborhoods along Verona Road and North Fish Hatchery Road during the ongoing and upcoming construction.
We can continue our efforts to become greener by fully embracing our commitment to sustainability. We should continue partnering with law enforcement to make our community even safer, further demonstrating our shared values of tolerance and inclusion.
We also need to come together to enact a comprehensive growth plan that continues our commitment to cohesive neighborhoods by empowering residents — no matter whether they are homeowners or renters. We need to make sure this plan provides a framework for responsible economic growth that welcomes businesses and development that shares our community’s values all while maintaining our strong commitment to fiscal responsibility.
Webster’s Dictionary defines a community as “people with common interests living in a particular area.” In Fitchburg, our differences can easily divide us.
It is now more important than ever that we put aside our differences and come together with our common “Fitchburg-centered” interests to move our community forward.
Shawn Pfaff is Fitchburg’s last two-term mayor, vice president of the Fitchburg Lions Club and a trustee on the Madison College board.
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