My Turn: We all love this town


Published: 10/24/2021 3:36:59 PM

When we first moved to Greenfield in 2003 I had young kids. I didn’t know a lot of people. I would walk into town to playgroups and story time. I also walked around my block, a lot.

The one person who would always stop and talk was John Zon. We talked about the weather and his tomato plants. But we also talked about the town. John was passionate about Greenfield and the tech school. He and other long-time Greenfielders patiently educated me about local history, and what people meant when they said they wished for days gone by when Greenfield was a thriving town.

The fact that Greenfield fought off Walmart helped attract us to this place. But when I moved here, I experienced how that fight played out on the ground. I politely declined to join the Friends of High Street movement. Those neighbors never spoke to me. At the same time, my anti-Walmart referendum sign was stolen. There were a lot of hard feelings flying around.

I wrote an opinion piece that suggested middle ground — welcoming a mix of local and chain stores like Starbucks and Gap. That mix had worked in my previous town as part of a strategy to revitalize the main street. The idea of chain stores was unpopular with the anti-Walmart folks, and my pro-Walmart neighbors told me the downtown was a lost cause.

But most of the time when I had a chance to talk with people at length, they agreed there was middle ground. Most of us understood both sides including concern for folks struggling to access affordable goods, and concern for local businesses vulnerable to outsized competitors. It was clear there was a need for more opportunities for people to talk about solutions, kindly and calmly, sharing perspectives and finding common ground on what we want. Which is why I joined in the Master Plan process, but that’s another story.

John Zon and I talked about Walmart a lot. It anguished him to see the town torn apart. I remember one beautiful warm day, standing in John’s yard, having a very lively back and forth about the pros and cons of big box stores. John looked at me and said “I just don’t understand why those folks hate our town.”

I was really taken aback because that language was entirely out of character. In my experience, John did not speak ill of others. I replied, “You all obviously love this town, which is why you give so much of yourselves to this fight. You just don’t agree on the problem, or the solutions.” I felt John was wrong about folks on the other side of that fight, and I honestly still do.

I am voting Yes on Question 1 because I believe we have to get past the divisiveness. We all want Greenfield to thrive. The current charter encodes mechanisms built on distrust of government, an assumption that “good process” requires empowering small groups of individuals to overturn the mainstream process. I think this attitude holds us back.

We need to work together to build local government that we trust. Please vote. Support candidates with your money and your time and your voice. Get involved if you can. Join a committee — many have empty seats. Let’s respect the time and work done by elected officials and volunteers on behalf of us all, but also turn out to public meetings to be heard … and to hear others. And if something egregious and damaging is advanced by the City Council, let’s band together to gather 900 signatures so we can hit pause.

Greenfield’s future success rests upon our ability to accomplish ambitious projects, make difficult decisions together, and to move forward. Please vote Yes on Question 1.

Jennifer Stromsten lives in Greenfield.

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