I was thinking today about our local communities and the challenges we all face from changing demographics, economics, and consumer behavior.
Take traditional “local” supermarkets, for example. I live in Nyack, which has a great walkable downtown but doesn’t have a supermarket in the village – and now has seen both an A&P and a Stop & Shop close in the local area.
What’s happening is that “traditional” local supermarkets are slowly getting displaced by centralized mega markets like Fairway, Costco, and Super Stop and Shop, specialty markets like Old World and Trader Joe’s, or the convenience of online shopping at places like Fresh Direct.
Some would say that this is simply how economic markets work, that businesses which fail to innovate or respond to changing tastes can’t, and shouldn’t, survive: big box stores are more efficient, online is more convenient.
But what happens to our communities when people don’t shop local anymore, when they buy everything sitting at their computers or on weekend trips to centralized big box stores?
We know what happens. Business close. Downtowns die. Villages lose their distinctive character.
So what can people who care about these local communities do? I was thinking about that because we have a vigorous debate right now in Nyack about a proposed waterfront development called “TZ Vista.” The development has spurred a robust opposition from residents who want to retain one of the few remaining waterfront parcels in Nyack as a park, with almost 750 signatures on a petition against the development. The basic message is “SAY NO! to TZ Vista”.
And that’s what I find interesting – the “SAY NO!” message. Too often, I think, residents in our local communities only get passionate when it comes to OPPOSING things they don’t like, rather than SUPPORTING things they do. I see it all the time, particularly with new developments or new businesses – indeed, the last time I can remember the people of Nyack this worked up, it was all about an adult bookstore opening in the Village.
But I think that people who support our communities need to do more than just “SAY NO!” to things you don’t like. By definition, “NO!” is defensive, reactionary, negative. For example, all those people saying “NO!” to TZ Vista because they want to build a new park — I genuinely respect their passion and sincerity, but I wonder how many of them committed time and/or money to the Nyack Parks Conservancy these past few years for a project to rebuild the childrens’ playground? My wife was very involved in that, and I know how hard she and her colleagues had to work to generate support for the project.
Let me be clear — the people fighting developments like TZ Vista are making a legitimate contribution to the needs of the community. I might disagree on the merits, but without question they’re engaged, they’re involved, they’re doing something substantive for the people who live there. But my hope is that they’re engaged with more than just saying “NO!” to stuff they don’t like, that they’re also saying “YES!” to stuff they do:
- YES! to shopping in local stores whenever possible, supporting local businesses. You can’t complain that the stores are more expensive than what you can buy on Amazon or Ebay, and then also complain that there are too many bars and vape shops downtown.
- YES! to eating in local restaurants owned by people who live here, rather than chain restaurants at the mall. If you don’t have the money to eat out regularly, then wait for opportunities like the upcoming Restaurant Week.
- YES! to getting involved in local organizations that provide services to the people in our communities. If you can give money, give money. If you can’t, give time. If you don’t have time or money, encourage people that do to give theirs.
- YES! to attending local events like the street fairs and car shows and performances in the park. Even if you don’t like “classic cars” or knick knacks or jazz music, you should go, just because getting out and going to stuff supports the community.
- YES! to getting involved with local government. We recently had a standing room only Village Board meeting on the TZ Vista project, but my guess is that when the development is not on the agenda we will have plenty of room to sit.
Certainly, there’s a place for “SAY NO!” I’m not saying people shouldn’t band together in opposition regarding issues they care about. I’m just saying that a commitment to our local communities requires more from us. Otherwise, we will find ourselves living in a world where every downtown is a ghosttown and the only time you get to smell and touch your produce is when you pull it out of a delivery box.
Joe Rand is one of the Managing Partners of Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty. He is a resident of Nyack, New York, where he lives with his wife, two kids, and his dog.