The two words emblazoned on the familiar yellow diamond raise more questions than they answer. What does it mean? Is the thickness of this settlement an idle observation, or should I take note? Who “settles” anywhere anymore? Am I in some kind of colonial reenactment guilty of horrible anachronisms? Spotting one raises out-of-town eyebrows, but locals barely notice the ubiquitous sign: it’s a kind of visual background noise in the urban and suburban areas around Massachusetts. The sign is equally baffling to outsiders from Connecticut to California, and in true Massachusetts fashion, it makes no attempt to explain itself. It might as well be four syllables of esoteric, publicly-displayed poetry.
I love thinking about how communities can remain quirky, diverse and strong while building an economic fabric to match. They may not offer much traffic guidance, but these ambiguous signs point me towards questions about how places and people work best together. To me, they represent a hidden-in-plain-sight aspiration to be a more inclusive community, thick with the connections that human settlements need to survive. They’re a constant background reminder of the desire to be a place that cares for its unique assets and tolerates different ways of being in the world. That’s probably not what the Massachusetts legislature had in mind, but I don’t put much stock in authorial intent anyway.
This blog is primarily about economic and community development, with occasional digressions into the culture, politics, and history that surround those topics. I want to focus especially on the struggles and successes of places still on the path to becoming Thickly Settled. They could be metropolises, small industrial cities or even rural towns (I believe a place can be spiritually Thickly Settled) with an interesting story to tell. In some small way, I’d like to amplify the stories that come from under-championed place and never leave, or at least to try to understand their experiences as part of the community development process.
Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, I spent a few years as an Indiana Hoosier and am now (thickly) settled in Worcester, Massachusetts. I work in economic development and also have a passion for the historical, cultural, and interpersonal threads that make each place unique. This blog is a way to work through thoughts about places and connect with people who care about them. Comments are much appreciated, and I’m always glad to talk to someone with similar interests. You can get a hold of me at hfields32 (at) gmail (dot) com.
A note on the ideas in this blog: the thoughts and opinions expressed here are solely my own, and do not reflect the opinions of my employer. I write in my personal capacity only.