Lou Conover: Plenty to fix in Amherst, among the best of towns

Published: 6/13/2021 3:25:46 PM

The front page of the May 28 Amherst Bulletin had three stories linked by a common theme. One covers the effort to put the development of the library to the voters. A second discusses a proposed moratorium on downtown development. A third is about the plan to reconfigure the north end of the town commons. The common element in these stories is an effort to build up and develop the town.

I can’t escape the impression that the various proposed projects come from a vision of a beautified town, a shining city, a subject of magazine features about the Twenty Best Places to Live in New England.

This is certainly a nice vision, but I wonder on the one hand how real it is, and on the other hand, how necessary it is. Amherst is already a wonderful place to live. When I travel I’m always very happy to come back. Other places may have their charms and advantages, but Amherst is more than pretty good, it’s among the best.

The Jones Library could use some improvements, but it’s already the best small town library I know of. Parking downtown is sometimes a problem, but I find it more convenient than Northampton, and don’t even mention Boston or New York. Our conservation land is an ideal mix of close by to most of us and mostly left wild. There really isn’t much about the place that I would want to change in a major way.

That said, there are plenty of things to fix and improve. It’s pretty easy to tell when you cross the town line from the state of the pavement. The elementary school structures need replacing, not just sprucing up. I’m sure the high school could figure out what to do with an extra million or so. It would be great to have all the pools open all summer. The social services the town provides are generally good in terms of quality but inadequate in terms of quantity, to take day care as one example.

I’m not opposed to change and development. The town certainly needs more housing. I would argue that most that most of it should be low-income housing. That was what I needed and couldn’t get when I came here 35 years ago as a student with a young family.

That means development, but basic services must not be neglected. They’re called “basic” for a reason. My point is that we can gussy up the town with shiny objects and pretty things, but it will be like putting Cinderella in a beautiful gown and leaving her standing barefoot in the mud.

Change is inevitable and I’m not resistant to it, but before we put money into nice projects I want the town to fix the potholes and invest more in our children.

Lou Conover

Amherst




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