Guest columnist David Milgrim: Thinking forward about downtown Northampton

  • Downtown Northampton on Main Street. Gazette file photo

Published: 6/17/2021 4:18:33 PM

I was at a gathering last week in Easthampton and someone casually remarked that Northampton was dead. I asked what he meant and he said that there was nothing drawing him there anymore. This resonated with me and my concerns about the redesign for downtown.

Just as Northampton once used vision to remake itself into a destination, it could just as easily lose that vision and revert to a place no one much cares to visit. Easthampton, for example is finally starting to blossom and could easily replace Northampton as the choice for dining and shopping.

As we know, past performance is no guarantee of future returns. We clearly need to adapt.

From what I understand, more visionary plans for our downtown are being thwarted by a small number of businesses worrying about lost parking. I admit that my first reaction when hearing about the redesign was that special attention needed to be paid to the businesses, and parking, since keeping them healthy is the obvious key to attracting people to town. However, upon further reflection, it seems that thinking beyond the status quo would better serve our businesses.

We can easily stand to lose the 18 spots I understand to be in question by converting the dangerous angle spots to parallel spots. Especially if the gain is to increase outside merchant space for dining, sales, art fairs, and other destination activities.

I personally found the three design plans overwhelming. I’m not a city planner and do not know how to achieve the end result we all want. I also couldn’t answer questions asking me to prioritize safety over parking which is an impossible comparison without knowing all the details.

These are not questions for the average person, but rather for those with great familiarity with the specific issues and expertise about how other cities have fared with similar changes. Nevertheless, I do have a vision for the end result which includes increased outdoor spaces available for pedestrians, businesses, and events, and a beautification of these spaces, primarily through landscaping, sculpture, and plantings. What I think we all want is an easy to access downtown that invites visitors in to dine, shop, sit, congregate, and enjoy art, culture, and commerce in a beautiful space that raises our spirits. The loving redesign of Pulaski Park is a perfect example of what is possible.

I could be wrong, but I get the feeling that we have an ideologically immobile resistance to more visionary plans based on little more than fear of change. But I’m not seeing two sides here. I’m seeing only one which is to create a thriving downtown serving businesses and their customers for the next few decades.

If owners are already worrying about a declining retail environment, it’s time to reimagine ways to further the vision so brilliantly employed to get us where we are. If we don’t think forward, we’re sure to slide backward.

David Milgrim


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Northampton, MA 01061


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