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Editorial: Cottage Street helps lead Easthampton renaissance

For anyone returning to Easthampton after many years away, Cottage Street — that stretch of Route 141 near the city’s southern border — must appear like an entirely different thoroughfare. Where once it sported somewhat dilapidated or vacant storefronts and empty sidewalks, the street now presents an array of vibrant businesses, galleries, restaurants and performance spaces, inviting bustling pedestrian traffic.

Cottage Street’s transformation led the Massachusetts Cultural Council in January to add the street to a list of 15 state-designated cultural districts.

Residents and others who frequent Cottage Street over the years know that transformation has been gradual. Those involved in the changes know that making the street a destination for people across the Valley and beyond has not been easy. It has taken the persistence and hard work of business owners, artists, town planners and residents.

Over the last 20-plus years, many businesses have come and gone, but each one has inched the street’s metamorphosis forward.

Along the way, city officials have pursued ideas contributed by residents at community forums, successfully applied for grants and implemented changes to improve the streetscape (and adjacent Norwottuck Pond), all with an eye to encouraging business growth and making the area more pedestrian-friendly.

As Cottage Street’s new designation suggests, these efforts have largely paid off. We hope this success will encourage the city and other stakeholders to continue work that must still be done to shape the Cottage Street cultural district and inspire a similar renaissance across the rest of the downtown business district.

In fact, the city has already made a good start. Plans are under way to make nearby Union Street more pedestrian friendly using grants to develop a design for that project.

We look forward to seeing how this next step in Easthampton’s revitalization turns out.

Clarke’s bold move

For more than 35 years, the Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech in Northampton have provided services to students who are deaf or hearing-impaired that help them, on graduating from eighth grade, to move on and be “mainstreamed” into public schools. This year, the school added a program that can make that transition easier and more enjoyable to its students.

In September, in collaboration with Hampshire Regional High School in Westhampton, Clarke implemented a program that makes it possible for four of its graduates to attend the high school, where they receive academic and emotional support from a full-time Clarke School teacher and from each other.

We applaud Clarke for continuing to explore creative ways to educate its students as they continue their education and prepare for college and beyond. Hampshire Regional also deserves kudos for being open to such an innovative program.

Getting up to speed at their new school, academically and socially, has been a challenge for the Clarke students. It is a task that students, Clarke and Hampshire Regional faculty and administrators say has been well worth it. Clarke School President William J. Corwin believes it can and should be a model for programs across the country.

The program is still in its first year, so it is too early to measure its lasting impact. Still, the enthusiasm it has generated suggests it is off to a great start.

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