Editorial: Greening of downtown Northampton continues 

  • An opening celebration was held June 7 at the new Amber Lane parklet in Northampton.  GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 6/13/2017 9:30:55 PM

A “parklet” on Amber Lane and “reborn urban corner” at State Street and Bedford Terrace continue the greening of downtown Northampton — a welcome addition to the ambience of the city’s center.

Last week, a party celebrated the parklet in front of 1 Amber Lane, where Em and Fitzpatrick Withenbury soon will open their new business, the Iconica Social Club — a juice and coffee bar, art gallery and event space. The parklet is in the Masonic Street parking lot behind a block on Main Street.

The Withenburys will maintain the 150 square feet of green space, to which they added brick pavers, tables and chairs. To help pay for the project, they collected between $1,500 and $1,800 from other local businesses.

The Withenburys say the idea of creating an inviting green space was inspired by parklets in San Francisco, where they lived until moving to the area in 2014. “We felt the space was underutilized and also recognized the lack of sittable green space in downtown,” Em Withenbury says. “The best thing we could do was roll up our sleeves and build a parklet.

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

The city plans to build a larger parklet nearby in Crackerbarrel Alley after $10,000 was raised through a crowdfunding campaign last year and matched with a grant from MassDevelopment. Tables, chairs, benches and plants will replace the paved alley which connects Main Street with the Masonic Street parking lot. Traffic studies have determined that the narrow lane is unsafe because vehicles must cross a busy sidewalk at a bend in Main Street that obstructs visibility.

Planning continues as city officials work with nearby businesses that have raised concerns about noise generated by people gathering in the parklet.

Meanwhile, the public art garden that has been taking shape in front of the Hungry Ghost Bakery at 62 State St. since October will be formally opened from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday with a book-reading, music and poetry. The stone amphitheater and medicinal garden on the hillside in front of the bakery was created by Local Harmony, a collaboration by Owen Wormser, a landscape designer who owns Abound Design in Leverett, and Chris Marano, owner of Clearpath Herbals in Montague.

Sculptor Mark Fenwick of Guilford, Vermont, who created the park’s wooden sculpture called “Chorus,” is among the artists who will be at the opening celebration.

In addition to serving as a pleasant place of repose and performance space, it will be a teaching garden containing medicinal plants. Taller perennials along the border give a sense of seclusion. Central to the design is a ramp providing wheelchair access.

“People who don’t know anything about medicinal plants will still find it beautiful,” Wormser says. “We want this to resonate with the public so they feel it’s theirs and that they want to be part of it.”

It also is a community project, with Ashfield Stone donating the Goshen Stone used for the amphitheater and paths, and Smith College, which owns the property, contributing $7,500. Much of the labor was done by volunteers.

These projects follow last year’s reopening of Pulaski Park on Main Street, including a popular plaza with cafe-style tables and chairs; grassy space; children’s play area and gardens. Last September, the restored 10-foot tall Seth Thomas Street clock was installed at the edge of the park, returning it to Main Street after an absence of 20 years.

The second phase of the park’s renovation is nearing completion with an overlook connecting to the Roundhouse parking lot below with an improved staircase and handicapped-accessible path.

That’s not the end of downtown’s greening. Another parklet will be created at Pleasant Street and Hockanum Road as part of improvements to one of the main gateways to the city, says Wayne Feiden, director of planning and sustainability in Northampton.

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

We are glad the city’s initiatives have inspired business owners and others to collaborate on these oases that are sure to make downtown more attractive and relaxing.

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