The Garden City seems a particularly turbulent place these days. Every day some contentious issue bubbles to the surface, and there seems to be an interconnectness to the various controversies. If only we could synthesize a sweeping response to them all! Despite our best efforts, coherence lies just beyond our collective grasp. Here’s a sampling of some boiling issues:

  • Development: Two diametric views keep clashing here. One views Newton as in desparate need of an overhaul to revive its dynamism. Restrictive zoning and NIMBYism, in this view, have hindered its ability to construct needed housing and to offer more opportunities to entrepreneurs to revitalize “dead” areas like Wells Avenue, Oak Street, the Riverside station, and Washington Street. In particular the villages, supposedly moribund, could become attractive destinations for commerce and coffee if allowed to blossom.

Those in opposition believe that the Newton they love, a quiet and even sleepy place, is losing its placid, leafy quality thanks to the influx of aggressive developers. City government, they argue, is all too willing to pave the way for crowded thoroughfares, teardowns, McMansions, and gaudy housing developments. They react with horror to each new plan to spur Newton’s population growth, pointing out the flaws in the city’s infrastructure and its increasingly crowded schools.

  • The environment: These battles are fascinating. Newton’s city government , in general, believes in environmentalism and is quite keen on helping to combat climate change. To that end, it has fostered the use of solar energy in public buildings and encouraged solar panels on our roofs. It also seeks, to an extent, to reconfigure some roadways to encourage more cycling. If people choose to ride bicycles instead of driving their gas-burning cars, another blow is struck against global warming. Recycling remains a high priority, as well as conserving existing resources and eliminating waste.

A few of these measures have met with surprising resistance. Some residents, who do not ride bicycles, fear that reconfigured roadways will impede the flow of automobile traffic. Some tree advocates resist solar projects that endanger any tree, despite the city’s assurance that every tree cut down will be replaced by another.

In the latest, oddest twist, the city plans to construct a new, greatly expanded senior center on one of six sites, all of them popular parks and playgrounds. Senior citizens, our leaders argue, deserve a special place of their own, given Newton’s large investment in the young. But where to put it? There’s the rub.

The plans have engendered a strong backlash against the idea of eliminating any park land in the city. Once lost, the argument goes, green space can never be replaced. Some residents doubt that a centralized senior center is even needed, and others would place senior services in several existing sites. Proposals and counterproposals are swirling, and many residents are stunned that building the center in a park could even be an option. “Paving paradise to put in a parking lot “ seems to contradict the city’s own environmental instincts.

Where do we go from here? Fortunately for all of us, democracy is alive and well in the Garden City. Elections for both city and village councilors are approaching. If you attend the various candidate forums in coming months, you will hear those vying for elected office expressing their views on the issues that matter locally. You yourself can weigh in at venues like Village 14 or write letters to the Newton Tab (yes, it still exists if barely). Check out websites like the Newton Patch, an online newsletter that is picking up the slack for the dying Tab. Attend committee meetings and general sessions of the City Council to watch our democracy in action.

Most importantly, communicate with your elected officials, in person or via letter and email. Find out how they feel about pressing local concerns, and express to them your own feelings. Whatever your opinion of our local leaders, almost all of them are quite responsive to constituents and prepared to share their views with you. In these troubled times, that at least is a blessing.

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