Editorial: Bristol, a great place to …

Posted 3/12/21

A generation ago, many would finish that sentence by saying Bristol is a great place to raise a family. Would they still today?

We ask because of what we discovered while researching population …

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Editorial: Bristol, a great place to …


A generation ago, many would finish that sentence by saying Bristol is a great place to raise a family. Would they still today?

We ask because of what we discovered while researching population trends in Bristol.

First, let’s back up. The Bristol Warren Regional School District’s financial calamity — needing millions of dollars more than they expect to receive, with dozens of layoffs likely — is occurring despite an unmistakable trend. The student population is shrinking.

We were intrigued by that contrast, so we began looking more deeply. How much is it shrinking? It turns out, a lot. The district has lost about one in five students since the turn of the century.

So why are public school costs soaring, even while the student population is shrinking? Joint Finance Committee members will be pondering that question in the coming weeks.

But at the same time, everyone in Bristol should ponder why the student population is shrinking — and the retiree population is booming (see page 4). Why has the number of retirement-age residents living in Bristol nearly doubled in two decades?

We can pose half a dozen theories — young families don’t find Bristol as appealing as they once did; many kids grow up, leave the nest and don’t return; many older folks become empty-nesters and decide to stay right here since it’s a great place to live; first-time homebuyers can’t afford to buy in Bristol; people are just living longer — and we don’t yet know which is true, or whether all are true.

However, we believe this community should be asking all these questions and exploring all these theories and more, because these trends are too important to ignore.

If we were initiating a strategic plan for Bristol, we would begin with two opening questions: Who are we? Who do we want to be?

The answers are important, as they shape so much of life in this town. Support for education, development and use of recreational facilities, affordable housing, senior services, and the property taxes to pay for any of it, are determined by the people living here and where they place their values.

Is Bristol a great place to raise a family? Is it a great place to retire? Can it be both?

We have more questions than answers, but we promise to continue asking, poking and prodding in the coming months, with more stories to come on the real estate market, housing, education, taxes, public services and more. We also welcome your ideas, input and anecdotes along the way.

It’s clear Bristol is getting older. Is that a good thing, a bad thing, or just a thing?

2021 by East Bay Newspapers

Barrington · Bristol · East Providence · Little Compton · Portsmouth · Tiverton · Warren · Westport
Meet our staff
Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Newspapers team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaynewspapers.com.