In 2013 and 2104, when it came time to decide what to do about three abandoned factory sites in the northwest corner of Carlisle, it wasn’t just a matter of getting borough and county leaders together. Instead, much of the input about what Carlisle wanted to see happen in the neighborhood came from Carlisle’s own citizens.
Through a series of well-attended public meetings, or charrettes, people were asked for – and unhesitatingly gave – opinions and ideas on how the three brownfield sites could be rehabilitated and used to make Carlisle a better place to live. And that kind of public participation is one reason why Carlisle made our list of Top 100 Best Small Towns in 2015.
“We govern ourselves, so there are quite a few opportunities here for people to volunteer on committees and commissions,” says borough manager Matt Candland. “And we have a lot of civic engagement when it comes to particular problems, like homelessness, but we always want more [participation].”
Today, a plan calling for an ambitious redesign of the sites is underway, and soon Carlisle, which began life in the 1700s, will be heading into the 21st century with a mixed-use quadrant bustling with meticulously planned, attractive new streets and landscaping, shops, offices, restaurants, and a variety of residential options.
“I see that redevelopment making a big difference in Carlisle,” Candland says. “If there is a negative in Carlisle, I’d say it’s that we don’t have any new areas to grow. So the redevelopment will help ease that.”
As redevelopment in one part of town continues, Carlisle retains its enviable status as one of the country’s loveliest, most livable small towns, graced with a historic downtown full of 18th-century buildings and the stories that go with them. Among its other amenities are great shopping and a vibrant cultural and social scene enriched by international residents who come to the Army War College, the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet or Dickinson College, and Penn State School of Law, all headquartered here.
Thousands of visitors also flock here for the famous Carlisle collector car events, historic sightseeing and numerous outdoor recreational attractions.
“All those things add up to a lot of activity,” Candland says. “During the summer as you walk around town, you are likely to see little girls in tutus, men in military uniforms and people hiking within a few blocks.”
A highly rated public school system and the availability of “a good healthy mix of housing, from large homes to neighborhoods with row houses, condominium and apartments” make Carlisle a very livable community. But for Candland, the main ingredient in his town’s success is its people.
“The thing that intrigues me with Carlisle is the diversity of people and institutions and things happening here,” Candland says. “From car shows to the War College to the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, there’s an interesting mix of things going on. I’m not so sure there is any place in the country as unique as Carlisle.”