The following op ed is by Halina Brown, a Newton resident and the Chair of the Newton Citizens Commission on Energy, and was originally published on village14.com on January 28, 2020.
The merits of the Northland project are being excellently presented by many community leaders. While I entirely agree with their arguments, I would like to add another perspective: a future vision for the Northland neighborhood as a sustainable village and my future home.
Let’s face it: despite the steady reductions in greenhouse emissions from municipal operations, and despite the ambitious PowerChoice program, Newton has a very long way to go to be called a sustainable community. Its overall greenhouse gas emissions have not declined in the past decade, traffic is getting worse, the use of bicycles is minimal, electric vehicles represent only about 1% of all cars, and newly constructed houses are getting bigger every year (though also more efficient).
The Northland project creates an opportunity to create a village within Newton where these trends are reversed while at the same time the quality of life is improved. How? By reducing driving, creating parks, and building a community.
Between the businesses that will open in the new complex and those already existing along Needham and Chestnut Streets and Highland Avenue, people living in that area will be able to satisfy most of their needs locally, without driving. Already, that area offers an amazing variety of services, eating and drinking establishments, and retail stores of all kinds. For children it has schools of music, dance, gymnastics, swimming, language immersion, and cooking, just to name a few. Other amenities and cultural events will inevitably follow because 800 residential units will make them viable.
I can easily envision another minivan shuttle, in addition to the one provided by the developer for the Highland T stop. That second shuttle will connect the new village to the JCC campus, Cutler Woods Park, and Boat Rentals on the Charles. And if one needs to go further out, the entrance to Rte.128 is right there, and the T stop within minutes on the Northland van. I envision children and seniors walking and biking to their activities. I envision a community in which people will be less isolated, especially the seniors. People will meet in the eight mini-parks, form new connections, and participate in social and civic life, all without the hassle of driving. Such a community is the essence of sustainable lifestyles.
Some may think that I am a dreamer, but I am not the only one. In their final decades of life my parents lived in a similar complex (not in Newton), and I treasure the memory of how happy they were there. Now I am a senior myself, living with my husband in an upstairs unit of a two-family condo building in the Highlands. I was lucky to downsize from a single family house two decades ago, when affordable options to do so were still available. But even I will one day find that taking care of the house is a burden and maybe that climbing stairs is infeasible. On that day I would like to be able to move to the Northland complex.
Please come to share my vision of the 21st century progressive Newton and join me in voting YES on March 3.