SALEM — A new “Imagine Salem” initiative at City Hall will run for only a few months, but is designed to guide city development for years to come.

Mayor Kim Driscoll announced the upcoming “community visioning process” toward the end of her State of the City address Thursday night. The program was announced amidst a larger theme of identifying how the city will look in 2026, the 400th anniversary of the Salem’s founding.

It’s unknown what the city will look like nine years from now, Driscoll said, but Imagine Salem will get everyone to that point.

“We hope it’s a really open, public, participatory process that can provide a cohesive vision for how Salem will grow and mature in light of our 400th anniversary,” Driscoll said. “One of the things we’re hoping to do is actually hear from people.”

That isn’t to say city government doesn’t hear people now. The city regularly schedules public forums and opportunities for residents to weigh in on projects during their planning stages. A recent example includes the development of a Proctor’s Ledge memorial, which included a handful of public meetings to brainstorm ideas and discuss the direction the design was taking.

This time, though, things are a little different.

“It’s really looking at a series of conversations with the community, and different venues beyond just the traditional public meeting where people come downtown and speak,” said Planning Director Tom Daniel. “It’s really looking to get people’s thoughts about what they love, what they value about Salem and coming up with a vision for the future.”

Imagine Salem means “going out, having street time, cafe-style town halls — where you go  to where the people are,” Driscoll said. “You bring the questions to them and the discussions to them.”

The process will look at the city in three areas, Daniel said: employment, housing and transportation.

“From this visioning process,” he said, “we’ll have next steps in different areas — what kind of city does Salem want to be? What are some of the things we want to accomplish by the city’s 400th?”

The conversations will unfold as the city goes through an intense period of growth, with major housing projects rising in Blubber Hollow, new hotels downtown and a variety of other projects in the works elsewhere in the city.

“There’s going to be pressure put on our livability, by the fact that we’re a strong market,” Driscoll said. “Do we want to continue being a place that people of different backgrounds and incomes call home, and if so, how do we include that in our efforts around housing and transportation?”

A city-wide forum has been scheduled for March 8, though the venue hasn’t been set. The feedback process will wrap up by June, Daniel said.

“From there, we’ll see what the results are,” he said. “There may be some immediate policy or programming things we can address. There may be some things that require additional planning. We’re really wanting to listen to the community and hear what comes from that.”

Contact Salem reporter Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523, DLuca@salemnews.com or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.

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