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Greenwich’s shifting mosaic

March 29, 2019

Greenwichites who religiously read this paper and its online counterpart know there’s been a lot of discussion recently about whether Greenwich is somehow “changing,” and whether that’s a good thing to be embraced, or a nefarious thing to be warded off at all costs. With conversations percolating over private home size and aesthetics, seniors aging in place, in-town commercial opportunities, multi-family development construction and so on, it becomes obvious that like it or not, we are changing.

A typical source of community angst however centers around businesses and developers, whose proposals of anything new, bigger, or even just different, as not being reflective of “who we are.” This begs the question then of, how do we embrace change without losing who we are? It’s a challenging position because who we are, is not necessarily who we think we are.

Greenwich is comprised of many flavors of citizen, not just the politically and socially active folks with the time and energy to attend Planning and Zoning meetings. For every citizen concerned about light or noise pollution there’s another who simply wants a convenient place to shop. For every person worried about how the removal of trees and rock ledges will impact the character of the community, you’ll find another who wants a place to downsize and retire without having to leave the town they love.

Take my story for example. I grew up in Queens, N.Y., firm in my belief that Greenwich was an unattainable idyll meant only for the swells and Tom and Nancy Seaver. Once I started working here, I realized Greenwich wasn’t so different than many other places, but with better schools, a great sense of community, and prettier. So my wife and I did what everyone did at the time: we paid the steep price of entry through homeownership. Did we ever expect Greenwich to remain static, never change as the world evolved around it? No, and since moving here all those years ago the world in general has changed, as it’s supposed to, and Greenwich should be evolving as well.

What alarms many however is that the change we are seeing today is neither linear nor predictable. Changes in technology have fundamentally altered the nature of work and careers. Gyrations in the financial system have changed people’s attitudes toward money and how they envision their fiscal futures. Today’s 20-year olds, born at the turn of the century, live nervously in an America that’s always been at war. And while they have greater access to a wide-open flatter world, they still feel small and insecure about the future. It stands to reason that in the face of all of this, even Greenwich must adapt.

Here’s reality. Our adult millennial children don’t want big homes with lots of stuff inside, sitting on big pieces of land. They want to work but they know the concept of the gold watch career path is over. They know they’ll have many different jobs, careers and residences in their lifetimes. They know they are one day going to have to take care of their parents because most Americans over 50 are woefully unprepared for retirement or senior living. They know they live in a political and financial system rigged to benefit the few that could detonate at any moment, and they know it because they’ve lived through it.

At the same time, people still do want a sense of place and they want to love the community they live in. For however long they live in it. So how does Greenwich accommodate this seeming incongruity of meeting the needs and desires of the new generations of grown-ups who aren’t as committed to “putting down roots,” but who nevertheless are passionate about the town they live in?

We start by being prepared to adapt. To recognize that maybe higher density of clusters of businesses, services and residences is likely what will attract the next generations of Greenwichites. Yes, we do have to maintain our charm and our collective community joie de vivre, but we also have to be prepared to recognize that the times they are a changin’, and we’d collectively better start swimming or our community will certainly sink like a stone.

David Rafferty is a Greenwich resident.