Small park offers rich delights in Northampton

By NYSSA KRUSE

@NyssaKruse

Published: 06-08-2017 9:18 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Even as planning for a permanent parklet in Crackerbarrel Alley has been prolonged due to noise concerns, a new miniature park opened Wednesday afternoon around the corner.

Em and Fitzpatrick Withenbury entered into a partnership with the city in 2015 to convert a sliver of space in front of their new business at 1 Amber Lane, Iconica Social Club, into a parklet.

“We felt the space was underutilized and also recognized the lack of sittable green space in downtown,” Em Withenbury said. “The best thing we could do was roll up our sleeves and build a parklet.”

The Withenburys were inspired by parklets throughout San Francisco, where they lived until moving to this area in 2014.

When Em Withenbury started creating the parklet, behind the Haymarket Cafe, she envisioned exactly what she got for its grand opening Wednesday: sunshine, people, cookies and juice all coming together on 150 square feet of green space.

“The sun came out just for our park party,” she said.

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The space is open to all members of the public from dawn until dusk.

The Withenburys pledged to maintain the park as part of their agreement with the city. The business owners outfitted the space with greenery, brick pavers, tables and chairs, thanks in part to donations totaling between $1,500 and $1,800 from other local businesses. 

“Instead of just us doing this, we were collaborating with other community businesses and minds,” Em Withenbury said. “This is a public space, and we felt the community was building it.”

Iconica Social Club’s opening date isn’t set yet, but Withenbury estimates the business will be open in two to three weeks. Iconica is a multipart business, consisting of a juice bar, coffee bar, art gallery and evening event space. 

“It’s four spaces integrated into one eclectic experience,” she said.

Cara Soifer was at the Haymarket Cafe on Wednesday afternoon, and she saw the grand opening of the parklet happening outside. She dropped by with her her son, Charlie Hamelin, 2. She said she was aware a new business was coming to the area, but the parklet was news to her. 

“That’s so brilliant,” she said. “It feels like a private garden in the city.”

Mayor David Narkewicz came to the park’s opening as well. He said the parklet at Amber Lane fits in with the city’s initiatives to create more green and sittable space throughout Northampton.

“It’s a great partnership,” he said. “I commend them, and I am sure people will enjoy spending time here.”

Northampton's first parklet, a temporary installation, opened last fall in Crackerbarrel Alley, as part of the city’s “Pavement to Parks” initiative. The parklet has now moved in front of City Hall because Northampton wants to test different locations, said Wayne Feiden, director of planning and sustainability.

A permanent parklet should be coming to Crackerbarrel Alley at some point. Funds were crowdsourced for it last October to the tune of $10,000, and then matched by a $10,000 state grant. But Feiden said concerns raised by surrounding businesses about noise from the park are prolonging the planning process.

Feiden said the city is working with an engineer to determine how best to mitigate potential noise issues.

“It’s moving forward, but we want to address these legitimate concerns,” Feiden said.

Feiden said the temporary parklet at City Hall will remain there for the next six months or until snow threatens. The parklet will probably find a new home next spring.

The city will also soon add another parklet at the intersection of Pleasant Street and Hockanum Road, as part of the city’s efforts to spruce up areas along Pleasant Street by adding trees and greenery. 

The Pleasant Street parklet will be less for sitting, Feiden said, and more for creating a softer, greener visual entrance to the city.

“We’re generally looking at unloved urban spaces, and how to make them loved,” Feiden said. 

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