Following the publication in The Atlantic last week of Alana Semuels’ article about Greenfield and its fight against big-box retail, I have a bunch of interesting conversations and debates on the topic.
I shared a Facebook post by Precinct 7 Councilor Otis Wheeler responding to the article. According to Otis,
What if the prominence of retail, which anyway was dominated by corporate chains, was a temporary consequence of the conspicuous consumerism ushered in by a suburban lifestyle?
Millennials value experiences, not things, and unlike some generations, we don’t consider going to the mall an experience. We won’t waste an afternoon driving there just to comb aisle after aisle looking for something we can order online in thirty seconds. Far from abandoning Main Street, we flock to it, repopulating cities & downtowns and remaking America in the process.
I got a lengthy reply to my share of Otis’s post from a friend of mine pointing out that the largest growing segment of Greenfield’s population are seniors. She went on to talk about how there are basically no local options for grocery delivery and that downtown is difficult to navigate for seniors—buildings that are challenging in terms of accessibility and diagonal on-street parking that is hard to back out of.
Being neither a millennial nor a senior, I may be totally wrong about this, but it seems to me that what these two groups are looking for is pretty similar—a walkable, accessible downtown with lots of opportunities for social interaction.
While we have a very walkable downtown here in Greenfield, we do have a challenging parking situation along Main Street. There there are nearly always spots to be found, but even I do not particularly enjoy backing out of a diagonal slot into busy downtown traffic.
What we also have are a lot of old buildings that would need a lot of repairs and upgrades if they were to become accessible residences and businesses. That discussion leads us back to the perennial debate about tax rates, regulation, and the ease (or lack thereof) of starting up a new business in Greenfield. There are not easy answers or magical solutions to these challenges, but it seems like the overlapping needs of these two demographics would be a good place to start.