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Briefings: City gets grant to study Union Street improvements

Officials, residents and downtown business owners were excited to hear that a grant will allow the city to explore potential improvements to make Union Street more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly, among other things.

The city received a $10,000 grant from the state Department of Housing and Community Development’s Massachusetts Downtown Initiative program. Now it can hire the Cecil Group of Boston to study the street, identify its shortcomings and suggest design changes to better it.

“What are we going to do about Union Street?” is a question City Planner Jessica Allan said she hears often.

“There’s a clear understanding that it’s difficult for pedestrians and bikers to compete with traffic there,” she said. “And people might be walking there now, but they don’t have the same sense of safety that they do on other streets.”

Increasing pedestrian traffic and improving the street’s appearance could help attract new businesses to fill in several empty storefronts. The city received money from the same grant program in 1999 to identify possible design improvements to Cottage Street and lower Union Street near Nashawannuck Pond. Cottage Street has become a bustling small-business area that was named the Cottage Street Cultural District by the Massachusetts Cultural Council last month.

The consultant in that project suggested traffic-calming measures, better lighting and crosswalk placement, and facade improvements, among other changes, some of which were implemented after the city secured further grant funding.

Youth gardeners

The Hampshire County chapters of 4-H and Farm Bureau are teaming up to help youth in Easthampton, Southampton and Westhampton become successful gardeners.

As part of the new Youth Garden Project, children and teens ages 8 to 18 in these towns will design and sow a 10-by-10-foot vegetable or flower garden at their home this season with guidance from the two groups. Organizers are hoping the youth will have plenty of crops to exhibit at local fairs in the summer.

Thomas M. Waskiewicz, a UMass Extension educator, said a lot of family gardens had disappeared until recently.

“When I started with 4-H 31 years ago, we did a lot of these gardening projects. We worked with families and youth from preparing the soil through harvesting and at the local fairs, the exhibit halls were packed with vegetables from them,” he said Thursday. “The exhibits had dwindled, but now we’re seeing an uptick.”

He said 4-H and Farm Bureau chose to pilot the gardening project in Easthampton, Southampton and Westhampton to try it out on a small scale. “If it really catches on and is successful, we’ll expand it around Hampshire County and the Pioneer Valley,” he said. Waskiewicz is hoping to register between 50 and 100 gardeners this year.

After paying the $10 registration fee, youth will get instructional materials, advice and a visit from the experienced 4-H and Farm Bureau growers during the growing season where they will advise them on everything from spacing and fertilizer to weeding and watering.

For more information or to register for the project, call the 4-H office at (413) 545-0611. The deadline for registration is May 1.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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