Guest columnist Elena Huisman: Main Street redesign part of the solution 

  • Top view thirties retro writers desk with typewriter on old wooden background table top. mactrunk

Published: 8/16/2023 7:58:42 PM

Just this summer, Northampton and the surrounding towns have been impacted by devastating floods, heat waves and wildfires that have brought suffocating smoke and dangerously unhealthy air. We are witnessing and living with the impacts of the climate crisis.

To meet this moment’s needs, the world needs massive transitions. We must cut our global carbon pollution in half by 2030 and reach “net-zero” by mid-century. This may seem daunting, and even impossible, but we are fortunate to live in a place where our local leaders, both at the state and municipal level, are proactive in making these goals a reality.

In Massachusetts, 42% of our emissions come from transportation; 58% of those emissions come from personal cars. Decarbonizing the transportation sector will not be easy. It will require new technology, behavior changes, and mode-shifts from driving personal cars to using public transportation, walking and biking when possible.

So what does this mean for our community? It means we need to start building the infrastructure to both help our community mitigate the emissions that are causing climate change and adapt to a changing climate. Northampton’s Main Street redesign does both of these things.

Planting more trees on Main Street helps us adapt to a warming climate by mitigating the heat island effect. Trees also help absorb more water, reducing localized flooding due to heavy rain events. In addition to these visceral benefits, trees improve air quality and sequester carbon from the atmosphere.

Building wider sidewalks and separated bike lanes will encourage people to walk or bike downtown instead of driving, especially for those who feel unsafe doing so now. Nearly 30% of residents live within one mile of downtown and 54% live within four miles. Imagine the majority of those people accessing shops and restaurants by foot and bike. Sidewalks would be made ADA-compliant, traffic would be reduced, ample parking would remain for those who choose to drive, and we are that much closer to meeting our climate goals.

It would also make Main Street more equitable by providing safe routes to downtown for the 11% of our neighbors who do not have access to cars and have no choice but to bike, walk or take public transportation.

Unfortunately, we no longer have the luxury to ignore the climate crisis. These issues will not solve themselves; it will take our collective work to ensure that my generation and future ones have a habitable planet to call home. Climate is not just an environmental issue — it is a human issue. It impacts our health and our ability to live the lives we’ve grown accustomed to.

We have the opportunity as a community to build a better, safer, and climate-ready future together, and the Main Street redesign is just one piece of the puzzle.

Elena Huisman lives in Florence.


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