41,000 expressions of home, and each counts (Town Square)
We are all custodians of this place we call home, and every expression of what home means counts. For some, Montclair has always been home. For others like me, it’s a chosen home.
I first started coming to Montclair in 2005 with friends and dates. My first date with my college boyfriend was at the former Café Eclectic. Later, my friends and I would go out dancing at the former Diva Lounge, and a little later, I began working at Garden State Equality at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation on Church Street. There is an energy in Montclair that pulled me in like a magnet. Since those first days, I’ve been completely seduced by our beautiful architecture, prevalence of independently owned small businesses, our unabashed inclusivity and progressivism, and our awesome events.
When we were all home during the pandemic, it reminded me of those days. For the first time since moving here, I wasn’t getting up and leaving Montclair each weekday morning. Ben and I were home and taking walks and discovering our neighborhood and the larger town differently than we had in the past. Saying hi to strangers was more common than it was before. I ate more coffee shop baked goods than I should have. Many of us met neighbors we never knew we had or went to a park near our home for maybe the first time. We turned inward and vigorously supported our small businesses, fretted over the condition of our public schools, and began to scrutinize the actions of this town government.
When things started to slowly open, most of us didn’t rush back to lives outside of Montclair. We got more involved in our community. For many of us, our perception of home was different than it was before. So, we took an interest in shaping our community either to support our new ways of living and working or because that time looking inward conditioned us to care more about this place and want more from it and for it.
Simply, we were paying attention. This has been obvious in the heightened and welcome civic engagement we're seeing and the prevalence of new organizations and expanded programs across a host of causes.
I think this turning inward also served as an awakening in the community to the reality that Montclair isn’t just a high tax town with a prestigious reputation – it is a special place with a lot of history that we need to protect, while still reflecting who we are and where we want to go.
This has resulted in challenging but important debates over what our home should be. At the same time, we’ve seen nearly 2,000 homes sold or rented since the beginning of the pandemic – a clear indication that many (now former) residents have moved away, and many new residents have settled here.
I believe we are at a critical inflection point where open-mindedness, respect and civility are crucial to truly appreciate different perspectives of our home and shaping its future. Every expression of home matters. We don’t stand a chance against succumbing to macroeconomic trends that are driving unwanted change if we don’t appreciate different points of view and try to assume genuine, positive intent from others. Only then can we, as a community, insert intentionality in front of change and have that intentionality permeate our master plan, policy and spending decisions as a township. I appreciate that there are 41,000 perspectives on what our hometown of Montclair should be. I’d like to hear yours.
I invite you to write to me at 205 Claremont Ave. or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your thoughts. I likely will not be able to respond to most of you. But please know I will read everything you send. If you want to depict your vision in art, photography or another creative way, I’d appreciate that too. Know that all of this will continue to, as it has to date, permeate my heart and mind as I navigate the complex issues this town faces and do my best to balance honoring your 41,000 expressions of home as I make decisions.
Peter Yacobellis represents all Montclair residents as an at-large member of the Montclair Township Council.