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The potential of downtown

  • ADAMS



Sunday, July 22, 2018

Downtown Greenfield is not just the downtown urban center for Franklin County – it is also a great neighborhood – one rich with amenity and possibility.

Downtown has new dining and entertainment opportunities; services – including – grocery, drug and package stores, post office, hospital and health clinic, library, gyms, banks and a new community center. In downtown Greenfield, we’ve got public transit (local and beyond and in 2019 commuter rail service to Springfield). With our participation in Complete Streets, the community is focusing on improving “walkability.”

With the Justice Center returning to downtown last spring and the new Greenfield Wellness Center on Main Street, downtown is a growing employment and services center. With Greenfield Community Energy and Technology (GCET) now activating affordable high-quality internet service, it’s time to strengthen the sense of downtown, not just as the cultural, civic and service center of Franklin County, but also as a “neighborhood” in its own right.

In this downtown neighborhood, we are already blessed with a variety of places to call “home.” Downtown Greenfield has great bones and all the ingredients to keep current residents, while opening up fresh opportunities for new downtown Greenfield neighbors.

My work for the city has focused largely on housing – helping existing homeowners make critical repairs to their homes, working to create additional housing for folks on the path of recovery, and removing obsolete distressed structures to make room for new energy efficient “green” homeownership opportunities, such as the Green River Commons being built right now on Deerfield Street. Ready for occupancy later this summer, we invite all to the open house on July 14 and 28 to learn about what “green” means.

In this work, I frequently hear stories of the housing challenges faced by our neighbors: an elderly woman who lives in her house that was great for her family, but now it’s too large for her and it’s hard to heat, and manage physically and financially; or an owner of a two-family home who worries that he paid too much for the house and is challenged to keep up with repairs physically and financially.

These conversations frequently end with a “but what other choice did I have?” It is my job to try to help create new opportunities. How do we bring accessory dwelling units into the downtown neighborhoods, expanding the range of smaller housing units with a “soft” increase in density. How do we help the crop of new younger landlords as they buy and move into fixer-uppers? It’s in our interest to help them succeed in providing good quality rental units, as they frequently make these projects their own home.

Our Deerfield Street neighborhood has been on my mind. This corridor is our welcome mat to folks coming north from Deerfield into our downtown. A slow and steady improvement of this gateway has been in the works. The new Green River Commons now under construction is a highly visible statement of the city’s commitment to upgrade and expand housing opportunities in this southern end of the downtown neighborhood. Next fall, UMass Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning students will work with Greenfield to do a more focused study of this housing-challenged neighborhood as we start to plan the next steps of targeted improvements.

Also facing us is the challenge and opportunity some call the “silver tsunami.” It can be challenging to meet the needs of the aging of large numbers of baby boomers, but this can also be a huge benefit to the growing downtown Greenfield neighborhood. In Greenfield, elders (age 65 and older) will increase from 15 percent of the population in 2012 to 27 percent of the population by 2035. Many aging baby boomers are seeking neighborhoods just like the one found in downtown Greenfield – with food and entertainment, shopping and business opportunities all within easy walking distance. Let’s find a way to make room for these folks in our neighborhood.

Coming to work in Greenfield in 2016 on the heels of the Sustainable Greenfield planning process has been a delight. From all I observed of the process – Greenfield’s citizens are a very engaged group of active stakeholders. The promise of implementation lies with leadership from the Sustainable Greenfield Implementation Committee, which has done yeoman’s work in advancing important goals in this community plan. Participating in SGIC allows me to align my day-to-day work to the goals of the community so clearly articulated in Sustainable Greenfield and brought to action by fellow members of the SGIC.

As I suggested earlier, Downtown Greenfield has great bones; we don’t have to start from scratch to build a great downtown neighborhood. It’s here already – let’s love it!

MJ Adams is Greenfield’s community development administrator. She sits on the Sustainable Greenfield Implementation Committee. She can be reached at mj.adams@greenfield-ma.gov