Columnist Lindsay Sabadosa: When kids educate adults

  • Lindsay Sabadosa

Published: 9/23/2021 1:21:49 PM

This summer, I did something I haven’t done in a while: I got to spend some quality time with a toddler. My daughter wasn’t available for her regular sitting gig, so I agreed to watch my cousin’s son for a few hours. What could be more wonderful than spending a few hours with an adorable, cuddly little kid who would let me read him stories, right?

Fast-forward to the neighborhood playground where I am chasing said toddler in a circle as he knocks over all of the little tree stump seats located under a big sign that says “Please don’t move the chairs.” I pick them up. He knocks them over. It takes me an embarrassingly long time to switch course and pick up said toddler before uprighting the chairs, thus ending the cycle of absurdity.

That afternoon served as a reminder that while society talks a lot about how we must educate children, we forget: children also educate adults. Kids are a reminder of the lessons we learned but can sometimes neglect in our frenetic world. Grace and courtesy. Sharing. Caring about your friends. Listening.

Yet it goes further than kids just serving as a reminder of those lessons imparted to us long ago. The example of the little tree stump chairs is a good one because it underscores how children, especially toddlers, remind us to be flexible and how, sometimes, changing course is the best way to a desired result.

As we move into another autumn where COVID will play a starring role in the news and our lives, flexibility and the need to change course will be more important than ever. On the state-level, we will have the opportunity to invest billions of federal dollars into our communities in ways that, the history books tell us, we have not seen in a long time. That means we will have the opportunity to address some of the issues that plague our region.

Housing must be at the forefront as it becomes increasingly unaffordable to live in our region and, frankly, next to impossible given the lack of apartments and homes available. A March 2021 report issued by the UMass Donahue Institute, Way Finders, the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, and the Metropolitan Springfield Housing Study Advisory Committee showed that half of all renters living in the Connecticut River Valley are cost-burdened, which means they spend more than 30% of their income on housing.

Even those with rental vouchers, a precious resource that helps keep people housed, struggle to find housing as the gap grows between market rates and the value of their voucher. The current lack of supply, both of homes to rent and homes to buy, is driving those prices up.

Those funds also need to be used to figure out how to best respond to future crises. Our community has come together to talk about the planned Resiliency Hub, which is intended to help meet the needs of the unhoused, but is also envisioned as a place for the community when there are climate emergencies and public health crises.

Our world is changing, and we know storms will become more frequent as our seas warm. We know that this is not the last pandemic and we will need to adapt in order to survive. Creating spaces in our community so that we can be better prepared for the next event will be critical so we can keep people sheltered, fed, and safe, no matter what comes our way.

Yet, much like me running in a circle to upright chairs, we won’t find solutions to either of those problems if we keep doing the same things we’ve done in the past, especially if we don’t take the time to learn from past mistakes. With game-changing money to spend, we need game-changing solutions.

We will need to change laws and regulations to make our communities denser, allow smaller homes, and require greener building. We will need to bring the most impacted communities to the table, listen, and let them lead. People who rent are going to need to feel valued and have an equal voice as those who own their home. People who are unhoused are going to need to have a say and a seat at the table. It will be uncomfortable, and there will be growing pains.

In the end, though, if we practice the art of coming together and learning from each other, we may end up with a plan that keeps our community thriving and growing for decades to come.

Lindsay Sabadosa is a Northampton resident and the state representative for the 1st Hampshire District. She can be reached at columnists@gazettenet.com.


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