Times are tough and budgets tight for cities and towns as well as for families, as the nation gropes its way forward through a deep recession toward the new year.
But Mayor James Fiorentini is thinking expansively about the future as he prepares to begin his record fifth term in January.
And that's a good thing.
Fiorentini says improving and expanding the city's parks, playgrounds and trails will be a priority in 2012 and beyond. (See story on page 1.)
But Fiorentini also noted that, times being what they are, it will take creative thinking and help from volunteers and the private sector to help achieve the goal of making Haverhill a more livable, family-friendly city.
In his most recent newsletter to constituents, Fiorentini said his vision was inspired in part by a weekend visit to New York this fall to see his daughter.
"She took me to the Brooklyn Bridge Park," the mayor reported. "I was awed — and inspired! ... I am a strong believer in active recreation — kids playing, swinging, throwing balls, playgrounds. I am determined to do more with our parks and playgrounds in my 5th term."
The park is a chain of "green gems" totalling more than 20 acres along the Brooklyn waterfront, with spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline.
But what inspired Fiorentini wasn't only the views or the old-fashioned carousel he mentions in his newsletter, but also the way the park is sustained by a public-private partnership between the city and the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy.
"In this day and age, funding anything is a major challenge," Fiorentini said.
The Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy is a nonprofit that works with the city as a an advocate of the park, while drawing on a network of private donors. The effort began 25 years ago when the city seemed poised to clear the waterfront for development, with little thought given to parks or open space.
Haverhill can do much the same, if on a far less grand scale.
It has the Merrimack waterfront and the beginnings of a network of foot paths, playgrounds, green spaces and boardwalks through the heart of the city.
The Bradford Rail Trail was opened this year, extending a half mile along the river, with plans for expansion. Some time in 2012, the city will open its first new park and playground in a generation — George Washington Landing on the Bradford side of the river.
Fiorentini has also revived the long-dormant Parks, Playgrounds and Recreation Commission to help advance the agenda.
Small steps perhaps, but they are a start. And it's important to have a vision of the future, even, or perhaps especially, when times are tough.
Twenty-five years from now, a new generation might recall 2012 as the year the effort began to create Haverhill's own string of green gems.