Guest columnist Dierdre Muccio: ADA compliance, trees and disease?

  • Blooming cherry trees on Warfield Place. Gazette file photo

Published: 7/24/2021 6:57:41 AM

I lived within a block of Warfield Place for 12 years. A few years ago I needed to find a ground floor apartment to accommodate a 12-year-old retired guide dog; it was heartbreaking to have to leave the neighborhood because there was nothing affordable there for me to rent.

I know Warfield Place well. I walked it near daily. I have friends who live there and look out on the trees. I’ve sat in their yard many a day while they thrilled to the sight of them, and being blind, I felt their presence while passing in their midst. I never had an issue with the lack of level or narrow sidewalk or road in places on Warfield, and I deliberately used that street to be among the plants and away from the noise of traffic on Prospect and Finn streets.

Countless times over the past three decades, I have contacted the Department of Public Works about icy and impassable snow packed sidewalks, and those calls have always gone ignored. I’ve smelled and reported gas leaks on specific streets in the city that also remained ignored for years.

From a pedestrian point of view, or that of someone blind or in a wheelchair, just think of the south side of Prospect Street from Stoddard up to the hospital. Think the north side of the sidewalk from Warfield to King and you will see that too would be impassable in a wheelchair, and depending on what side of the street you are on, be inaccessible to commercial destinations on King. Then there is the sidewalk that in places is buckled from State and Finn streets down to Church Street, and the road on State Street from Church to Finn is one pothole after another.

Not just blind or mobility impaired persons need even sidewalks. People pushing baby carriages, or older persons need to be safe and able to pass too.

Warfield Place leads nowhere and to get to it from neighboring streets where sidewalks are narrow, overgrown, or in bad shape, is problematic. I’m talking infrastructure, and I can’t say the city has its priorities right.

By now I’ve read and heard that the cherry trees on Warfield Place are not diseased. In fact, according to an arborist, they are at a particularly beautiful and significant stage of life due to their very maturity.

Trees and people, people and trees. Last week I woke up thinking, I am diseased, cancer riddles my spine and pelvis. Still I am standing and have been told I am the picture of health. So far my limbs have no fungus, no rash, no blight. Should I be knocked down sooner rather than later? Who am I doing any harm?

Again, take a tour by foot and assess sidewalks in the Prospect Street area. Stoddard on the southeast side of the street is a journey by foot. Water streams down huge sunken areas where tree roots protrude from the sidewalk.

Who would even think to remove those trees? The shade and comfort the trees provide makes what is left of unpaved Northampton worth traversing. Walking up State Street in the partial shadow of trees along the stretch of road heading up toward the old Serio’s market is a joy only because of the bush and tree cover. Think the stretches without trees like the last block from State and Finn streets to King and you will feel the difference — it feels torn up, dusty with salt and crumbling broken sidewalk under foot — if you are blind anyway.

I am talking about the beauty and necessity of plants to nourish our lungs, bodies and psyches. Repairing roads and sidewalks need not require a mowing down of life forms that have no power to protect themselves.

I once could see and I remember color well. For those who find little delight in or sustenance in the sight of pink blossoms and the design of leaves and branches and the smell of vegetation, I wonder where their nourishment comes from. Lucky, some people live on a huge piece of property with their own little forest buffeting them from what goes on far from their kitchen, living room or bedroom windows. For those with no such refuge or oasis of green, what we do have is invaluable.

Deidre Muccio lives in Northampton.

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