David Shelton

Published: 7/16/2021 4:09:15 PM There continues to be much discussion about what to do with downtown Northampton’s streetscape. Dif...



Published: 7/16/2021 4:09:15 PM

There continues to be much discussion about what to do with downtown Northampton’s streetscape. Different people focus on differing things but everyone has a genuine desire for a thriving and vibrant downtown.

I’d like to offer another option. Weather in New England is guaranteed to change. Winter will get cold and snowy. Let’s consider a plan that can change with the seasons. These past two summers Northampton’s done exactly that on a limited scale. Using movable barriers (which artists can even make look nice with paint) we have carved out dining areas from parking spaces and streets. Strong Avenue is now a lovely plaza. Plants, including relatively mature trees, have been placed around town.

Let’s consider continuing these things and more every year in the warmer months. Spring through fall people are more willing and able to enjoy walking or biking. Expanded outdoor spaces can be enjoyed during months that are conducive to being outside. When the winter returns, these expanded outside areas could be tucked away. Those parking spaces returned to the cars when it’s too cold for most people to hang outside anyway. The large potted trees could be safely moved far away from damaging winter road salt that challenges street trees anyway, and returned in early spring. We could get creative about areas to temporarily close off.

When experiments work, do more. If some result in unforeseen problems, remove that particular problem and try something better. None of this would cost much. Regularly changing downtown helps create “buzz” and excitement, helping bring people downtown.

Specific expanded outside areas can change as needs change in the natural evolution of businesses and public needs. Even if a permanent change is determined to be best, we could test aspects of the different proposed options. Costs are low. It’s flexible. No future options are eliminated if the community decides it doesn’t like this seasonal approach.

We are already doing this and can easily do more. We could do more now without waiting years and spending millions. Let’s have some fun experimenting.

David Shelton

Florence



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