Guest columnist Kathryne Young: A plan for Warfield Street ‘straight out of the 1960s’

  • Blooming cherry trees on Warfield Place. Gazette file photo

Published: 6/25/2021 2:59:58 PM

It is jarring to realize that the city you lived in isn’t the city you thought you knew.

Since the moment we learned Warfield Place would be repaved and our seven beloved Japanese cherry trees chopped down, we have fought to halt the city’s rushed, destructive plan. We implore Mayor David Narkewicz to press pause and let us help come up with something better. We want full access for people with disabilities, we want sustainability, and we want an inclusive civic process.

Earlier this month, we met with the mayor. Over 50 residents showed up to voice opposition — tellingly, the repavement plan had zero supporters. But the mayor wouldn’t budge. He explicitly stated that the wishes of neighborhood residents do not matter to street design, and derisively asked, “So I’m supposed to consider the opinions of every neighborhood before I decide what to do to their street?”

The answer, actually, is yes. The “Sustainable Northampton” plan promises “collaboration.” Here, there was none.

The Department of Public Works sent the plan out for construction bids the same week they told us our street would be demolished — allowing no room for Northamptonites’ feedback on design fundamentals.

Repavement decisions are made in two phases. The first phase uses an algorithm to slot streets into categories of need based on street surfaces: depth of potholes, cracks, etc. Traffic density is not part of this algorithm, nor are resident requests or complaints. Indeed, the DPW could not recall a single resident complaint about Warfield, but admitted they receive dozens of complaints a year about other streets.

The algorithm puts 31% of Northampton’s streets into the highest-need category. So, why did they choose Warfield from among these? Scores of complaints? Nope. Heavy traffic? Nope. The answer is money. Warfield was the cheapest short street to tack onto the project because it didn’t need add-ons like sewer upgrades.

Yes, you read that correctly. Numerical algorithms and painfully shortsighted, ephemeral “economic savings” drove this repavement decision. Not resident complaints. Not traffic issues. Despite the “Sustainable Northampton’s” promise of “collaborative” decision-making, the city’s process completely cuts Northamptonites out of the equation. “Sustainable Northampton” is admirable at a macro level, but at the micro level, it’s failing.

Why is the repavement plan bad, apart from the lack of collaboration?

It will destroy a row of seven cherry trees that bloom beautifully each May. The tree warden says they “might die in five years.” And, too, they might not. It makes sense to tackle higher-priority streets first and let us care for these amazing trees as they live out their natural lives.

The repavement plan will remove 80% of our tree canopy and most of our shade. Our mature trees will be replaced with two or three one-inch-diameter saplings. It will take over a decade for that shade-giving, temperature-mitigating canopy to be replenished.

As a result, our energy bills will go up. Our street is socioeconomically diverse, and this will be harmful to all of us, especially our lower-income residents.

The repavement will remove the sidewalk on one side of the street, making it harder for residents with disabilities to move between their houses and driveways.

Warfield Place gets almost no traffic. We met with the mayor for 90 minutes during a weekday rush hour, and not one car drove by. Shouldn’t we spend our tax dollars to fix streets that affect lots of people?

Other cities use modern strategies to create accessible sidewalks and preserve trees. None of these approaches were considered.

The city neglected our right-of-way strips (“verges”) for decades, so some of us planted gardens there. These gardens will be bulldozed.

The plan contains no stormwater mitigation or sustainable, permeable surfaces. Indeed, according to the DPW, these were not considered.

We consulted an environmental sustainability professor at the New School in New York, who looked at the plan and pronounced it “straight out of the 1960s.”

Have we mentioned that the neighborhood overwhelmingly opposes this plan?

The mayor says that when it comes to street plans, he doesn’t care about individual neighborhoods. But neighborhoods are a city’s fabric. Our quaint, racially diverse, mixed-income little neighborhood may seem trivial to the mayor and the DPW, but this is our home. We are not against street improvement, but we would like it to entail something the people who live here would actually consider an “improvement.”

We want a moratorium until the city can work with us to create a better plan and deliver on “Sustainable Northampton’s” promise for a collaborative process. For more information and to sign our petition, go to change.org/savethecherrytrees.

The letter was signed by Ruth Ozeki, Elizabeth Gaudet, Bertha Josephson, Judith Fine, Paul Arslanian, Sharon Arslanian, Fran Deutsch, Meg Robbins, Tom Riddell, Cecilia Shiner, Janice Irvine, Oliver Kellhammer, Katie Young, Lois Ahrens, Adam Scarborough, Heidi Scott and Mark Pachucki.


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