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Letourneau-Thierren and Stromsten/My Turn: Housing matters

Greenfield neighbors, we have something to share with all of you. We are thinking about you, about housing, specifically Greenfield’s housing needs over the next 10 years or more.

A small but committed group of volunteers has been meeting, researching, listening and discussing as we prepare to create the housing chapter of the Greenfield Sustainability Master Plan.

Safe, affordable, desirable housing is central to our quality of life. But it’s more. We are focusing on connections between how we live and how we can achieve sustainability and resilience for each person, each household and our community as a whole.

The March Community Workshop included people from all walks of life. Their feedback significantly influenced master plan discussions. But maybe we didn’t hear from you. The master plan is for all of us, and you can still contribute: find us online through the Greenfield town website under “Sustainable Master Plan Advisory Committee” to give feedback through MindMixer or Facebook. Lend your voice July 12 and 13 at the sidewalk sales where we will record video messages for the master plan; and in September come to our next community gathering.

If you live here, want to live here or employ people who live here, housing matters. Our committee has thought hard about the details — all types of households and dwellings that people use, and may use in the future. Topics like code violations, high rents, aging housing stock come up. We discuss housing markets, home prices, and what kind of new homes people need and want. We dream up interesting ways to add housing close to downtown. We talk about people most challenged by housing problems such as seniors, single people, subsidized housing tenants and young folks starting out.

We step back and think broadly about the big picture. What do we love about our diverse neighborhoods, from the Meadows to Franklin Street, homes near the fairgrounds and the rural areas beyond town? What do we wish neighborhoods had more of? Do we want sidewalks to school, nearby stores, recreation and services? Do we want significant change or focus on preserving our existing character? In 10 years, will these wants and needs be the same?

Something important that we know is that our lives change over time, so housing needs change over time. We envision starter homes, apartments, single-family houses, places for people with and without kids, those who drive or do not, homes for empty nesters and seniors, households with two incomes, or fixed incomes.

Today, over a third of Greenfield households have only one resident. Soon half of us will be over 50. The American dream of a big house and lawn isn’t everyone’s dream anymore. It isn’t reachable for many, or sustainable for society. Yet the affordability of homes here attracts residents and businesses, and we need high quality housing in order to be economically competitive as a town. In addition to maintaining our commitment to housing for those who are vulnerable due to age, income or ability, we envision a Greenfield where good homes will never be out of reach for average families, and the upward mobility that working towns like Greenfield have offered for generations will be preserved and enhanced.

We know walkability is a major real estate selling point nowadays, and mobility options are essential for older residents to remain independent. We also know Greenfield has a finite amount of land — an urban center with farmland! We have county and city services which entice people to settle here, yet maintain a small-town feel, with rivers and bikeways, parks and hiking trails. We are also on the brink of becoming a regional transportation hub.

Most of all, we are looking at the details and at the big picture in terms of sustainability. This is the Sustainability Master Plan, after all. We connect environmental with economic and social sustainability — for each person, household, family, and the town overall. Energy upgrades add comfort, affordability and value to homes and reduce our fossil fuel consumption. Options for smaller homes or nontraditional households help people live better with limited resources. What is good for the environment and society, it turns out, is also good for the family pocketbook.

A well-formed Sustainability Master Plan can make our future inviting. People can become passionate about reducing consumption of energy, water, and land for environmental and economic reasons. We can craft a future where it is easy to live sustainably, where every resident has a safe, energy -efficient home connected to what they need. We see a Greenfield in 10 years that still has the best of everything, an increasingly self-sufficient community, a place we are all proud to call home.

Danielle Letourneau-Therrien, executive director Big Brothers Big Sisters of Franklin County, and Jennifer Stromsten, UMass grad student, are members of the housing subcommittee of the Greenfield Sustainable Master Plan.

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