Jonathan Wright: A punchlist on good government

  • Northampton city hall

Published: 5/25/2016 7:00:38 AM


I guess I am old school. I think government is a good thing, particularly our form of government compared to the other paradigms, and particularly considering the alternatives.

At the local level, we hear criticisms of government support of business.

Local government does amazing things for all of us, business owners, staff and everyone else.

Here is an incomplete starter list of the good work we do together as a community through local government that supports a healthy business environment.

Wastewater — we flush and it’s gone, but millions of dollars of aging infrastructure, from aerators to hand-laid brick sewer tunnels, are at work night and day.

Clean and safe drinking water — 70 percent of the world does not have it. We have forest fresh drinking water in Northampton, unlike many communities downstream.

Houston floods in part because governments there have ignored federal mandates for stormwater management and river and wetlands protection. We had our devastating floods in 1936 and 1938, and governments came together to lay out the methods for preventing a recurrence. We are not immune from floods, but government did its work and continues to do it.

We get to prepare and implement stormwater management plans for disturbances over 1 acre. (Why? See above.)

Unlike Holyoke and Springfield, Northampton sanitary lines and storm lines are almost completely separated. This means a sewage treatment system that works in almost all weather conditions. There are no surges of untreated fecal waste into rivers. No surges of undiluted chlorine.

Why? Well, that’s due to planning in the 1950s and 1960s when income taxes were higher, and Republican governments made infrastructure investments. Retrofitting our two neighbors to the south will now cost over $2 billion.

Superior school systems that provide college preparatory and vocational training for all levels of aspiration and employment. This means a well prepared workforce.

Regional transportation – not perfect, and starved for public funding, but it works as well as it can.

Proactive zoning and planning changes that promote “infill” development that in turn supports moderation in housing costs and provides for additional utilization of existing infrastructure. That will help offset the costs for mandated improvements to water quality.

Zoning improvement that provide incentives for energy-efficient development.

Tax increment financing available for qualifying projects.

Superior elder and veterans services at the local level.

Police response to crises and to non-emergency community needs.

Fire response in under three minutes in one case of a recent arson with which I am familiar.

A substantive working relationship with Smith College, whose $200 million annual payroll generates tens of millions in use taxes, meals taxes and salary revenues.

A vibrant arts community supported by government in multiple collaborations.

Recreational resources for people of all ages, abilities and cognitive capacities.

More than 120 miles of streets to be cleaned, cleared, repaired and renewed.

Successful competitive grant awards for major improvements, like community river access and the renewed Pulaski Park.

I am impatient with those whose buildings and properties remain empty for months and years at a time. Landlords have potential customers with the kinds of startup opportunities that remade Northampton half a century ago, just not perhaps at the premium prices.

America is 2 billion square feet overbuilt in retail. It is crisis of sorts, an economy that is unsustainably 70 percent retail commerce. Many American main streets are going dark. We have a choice. It is the choice of businesses.

Right now, we have the best-led local government I can remember in almost 50 years. There is always hard stuff, but let’s move on to constructive opportunities.

Jonathan Wright is the founder and senior advisor of Wright Builders in Northampton.


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