Why do some want Amherst to be intentionally stuck in time?

Published: 4/25/2021 4:00:04 PM In the opening scene of “Back To The Future,” Marty McFly gets approached by a woman from the Hill V...



Published: 4/25/2021 4:00:04 PM

In the opening scene of “Back To The Future,” Marty McFly gets approached by a woman from the Hill Valley Historical Society, asking him to sign a petition. This petition is to keep the downtown clock tower, which had not worked in three decades, exactly the way it is.

While this scene makes sense in terms of setting up for the climax, what real purpose does it serve if a town’s clock tower is intentionally stuck in time, with no hope for progress?

That is preciously what Carol Gray and Vincent O’Connor are doing with their reactionary response to the vote in favor of the Jones Library expansion and renovation. Despite 10 council members voting in favor of expansion — a clear mandate — Ms. Gray and Mr. O’Connor have decided they want to subvert this decision, by filing a petition in an attempt to overrule the council’s vote, which would set a dangerous precedent.

Amherst badly needs a new library building. The Jones Library is a critical place for many groups in the community, from literacy groups to English language learners, who would benefit from a modern library which often serve as a second home for some. Repairs need to be made to the structure itself, including accessible elevators, ventilations systems and to make the building fully accessible.

Other communities in the U.S., such as Eugene, Oregon, have much more modern public libraries than we do, which has greatly benefited the people who live there. Mr. O’Connor has expressed concerns about the affordability of this project, but I would argue that it is much cheaper to build this new library now than to keep stalling and waiting another decade, which would increase the cost of any project by millions of dollars.

This same resistance to change has also poisoned the ongoing debates around the need for new elementary school buildings. Despite Fort River and Wildwood elementary schools being decrepit and not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the old town meeting form of government voted down much-needed funding from the state for change, voting against what the majority of people in Amherst have wanted for years.

When I first became involved in the successful campaign to change the town charter in early 2018, a couple people expressed surprise at my support for change. They stated it was because they viewed me as someone who loves Amherst and the things that makes this town what it is. Here’s the thing, love often means understanding what does not work, and striving to make improvements to fix wrongs and shortcomings.

Amherst is a wonderful town, and when you love a place, you work hard to take care of it. I continue to imagine what a town like Amherst can be when it is allowed to grow and change for the better. What Mr. Gray and Mr. O’Connor are expressing through their petition is not love, but rather seems to be a superficial understanding of regional identity, thus refusing to fix what has long needed improvement; and for what purpose we don’t really know what motivates Ms. Gray and Mr. O’Connor.

Although they may present themselves as Amherst progressives, they engage in tactics akin to what Mitch McConnell might do in this situation, and we cannot allow people like that to hijack local democracy the way that the old town meeting with when they voted down new schools.

Eric Cochrane lives in Amherst.



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