It takes more than a village by Kenneth Mitchell

Mark Roessler and the Valley Advocate deserve great thanks for this series on Hospital Hill. But I also agree with Professor Platt that the plans for Village Hill would not mean it would become a village. It was a "Village" for marketing. What is more unfortunate is that decisions made had nothing to do with good city planning.

Northampton like all of Massachusetts is struggling to restore a lost economic base. Massachusetts plans the devotion of enormous resources to restore it with Life Sciences.There are real plans for bio-tech in Springfield.

See
Biotech initiative may aid WMass

They would also be interested in Northampton if they had known the site "Available".

See
http://www.massbio.org/economic_development/locate_to_massachusetts

and
Opportunities and challenges face biotech companies outside of Boston

Yet marketing to new business like research firms was minimal while the residential "Village" was over-hyped. Firms, like research firms, could have retained much of the historic architecture of Old Main, had sympathy for a suitable memorial, had minimal impact on congestion and generated a profound economic boost to the city. And followed the model "The legislation seeks $500 million for capital projects, including equipment and buildings that could be used jointly by academic centers and biotechnology companies."And Smith College could have been allowed and encouraged to build their Science and Engineering Complex there also.

Mayor Higgins appoints the Office of Planning and Development, Planning Board, and chairs the CAC. Positioning herself as city planning director she has personally pushed through every development decision she preferred over the publics’ objection. While Northampton struggles for a plan to sustain its downtown business, she made the planning decision to sacrifice the Green/West St. neighborhood that supported downtown business to the Science and Engineering Complex and instead chose and promoted a "Village on Hospital Hill"that would not.

The mayor claimed she wanted "affordable housing" to be a "hallmark of her administration." And for people who worked for the city, she said like policeman and firefighters, to be able to buy a first home in Northampton. This of course was then being made recently possible because the sub-prime mortgage market had banks throwing money at previously under-qualified buyers and the state was supporting this boom in construction with tax subsidies for the developers and builders, many of whom also live in town.

It was a fast feast for the mayor and her would-be supporters but, as could be expected, had nothing to do with good city planning. Village Hill might become attractive but it was still going to be a suburb and Kollmorgen’s move from downtown to take the most valuable new development site are the definition of "mindless sprawl."

Mayor Higgins continues to teach her citizens "not to waste time looking in our rear-view mirrors" the day after her decision is revealed. She and her Office of Planning and Development have invited citizens to offer their suggestions to improve how Kollmorgen will look after its unfortunately required move to Hospital Hill. We were offered the opportunity to say how we wanted the Green/West neighborhood to look after the unfortunate Ford Hall had to be built there. And we could offer our ideas on detailing for the Hilton Garden Inn wall ten feet from some resident’s porch.

These siting decisions are represented by the mayor as inevitable and regrettably "a done deal." Mayor Higgins tells us Smith would "sue the city,"and the Hilton people would "sue the city,"and Kollmorgen would "leave town" but I’ve never heard them say it themselves. I also never hear any evidence or any record or report that the Office of Planning and Development worked with those developers in trying to find alternate sites to support the mayor’s allegations that there was nowhere else for them to build.

The mayor knows the stories at least a little more than half our citizens like and there’s no need to look back on yesterday’s development story because she has the same one ready for tomorrow. It’s the kind of lullaby people would hear from the village chief. It is fortunate for Northampton that it has such concerned citizens to sponsor Notre Dame’s urban design studio with personal contributions to create a plan that can realize the potential of Northampton, but there has been a lot of damage already done and we are still not sure how it will stop.

Kenneth Mitchell

Northampton

Author: Northampton Redoubt

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