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It is no surprise that Marian Leah Knapp offers a thoughtful, eloquent, and on-target assessment of the issues surrounding a senior center for Newton (in the latest issue of the Tab.) Marian is a recognized authority on the general issue of aging and she has been deeply involved in Newton life for many decades. She provides us guideposts for a senior center for our community and, in a manner typical of her gracious approach, explains why the current process is off the tracks.

I won’t quote it all, but there are one or two main points worth restating:

We must challenge the assumptions that are embedded in some discussions and planning of a new Senior Center. We seniors are not a unidimensional group. We represent a big range within which are greatly varying needs, wishes, interests and preferences. To truly and credibly plan, we must gather appropriate, expert-level data to guide decision making.

Planning for a new Senior Center must be proactive and not a fraught reaction to a plan that tries to fit seniors into another sector’s agenda.

Newton can demonstrate respect for its seniors by designing and building a beautiful Senior Center that responds to many different concerns and which is sited to serve the multi-generations of people age 50-100 who live all over our city. To realize an innovative Senior Center like this requires a lot of serious reflection, study and work. Do we have the will and capacity to do it?

Really, who could argue with this framework? But consider the implications of Marian’s remarks: The work she sets forth has yet to be done. This is a serious indictment of the NewCAL planning process to date. Several of us have been arguing that the controversy over this facility is not so much a matter of siting (although that is clearly important), but rather.a matter of the programming, and the physical design that would support the programming (from which siting is one derivative issue.)

I, for one, don’t question Mayor Fuller’s serious intent to create a wonderful facility. But I do question the manner in which this project has moved forward. Marian gives the Mayor and the Council a roadmap to a successful conclusion to this project: gather appropriate, expert-level data to guide decision making, accompanied by serious reflection, study and work.. Put aside the siting question for now (except for the understanding that it will need to be in a place with good public transportation and near amenities like grocery stores, pharmacies, and coffee shops, i.e., not some place that would make people feel like they are “out to pasture!”) Start over and decide on the programming in a rigorous and inclusive manner. Widespread community support will follow.