Letter: Things I Want More Of In Amherst. An Informal Referendum

Kendrick Place. Photo: Art Keene.

It is my sense that many Amherst community members dislike the five-story private dorms downtown and are turned off by the idea of even more; are distressed about the consolidation of power in the town government, and are angry about how that power seems focused on unwanted development. I’m inviting readers to add in a neighborly, constructive comment, one to three things they want more of downtown and around Amherst, and one to three things they want less of. I request this as a very informal referendum, so all of us, including elected representatives and appointed committee and board members can see where we stand.

This discussion/referendum has already started on Next Door Shutesbury and can be viewed here.  

Here is my own list. 

Three Things I want More Of In Amherst 

• Ideas for development that would improve Amherst, like three-story buildings downtown, with ground floor of retail/ service/food; with 2 floors of offices and apartments; with the apartments designed for young families and professionals. 

• Modern methods of gathering community perspectives, better than a “listening session,” more like a digital pulse taker, that government would need to seriously consider as “by the people.” 

• Mechanisms to block consolidation of power (ie: no more planning board selected by a committee that is just a subset of Town Council). 

Two Things I Want Less Of In Amherst 

• Many fewer overcrowded student houses, via a legal limit of 3 unrelated people, so that families can more fairly compete with the spending power of multiple families. 

• Less willy-nilly growth — instead, hire a talented economic development director/ department who would proactively seek out businesses that have succeeded elsewhere, to open here; or create a venture fund to give budding entrepreneurs access to capital to help them open a brick and mortar business downtown or in the other commercial centers. 

I look forward to seeing readers’ contributions, and also hope it will inform and influence our neighbors and town leaders in Amherst.

Ira Bryck

Ira Bryck has lived in Amherst since 1993, ran the Family Business Center for 26 years, hosts the Western Mass Business Show on WHMP, coaches and facilitates business leaders, and is a big fan of Amherst’s downtown.

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9 thoughts on “Letter: Things I Want More Of In Amherst. An Informal Referendum

  1. Thank you Ira Bryck. This is a great idea to communicate among “fans of Amherst’s Downtown.” I would like to see more reuse of downtown buildings. I would like to see things that try to address our climate crisis, like rooftop solar or gardens. I would like to see a reimagined Jones Library that rehabilitates the much-loved building and does not demolish a 1990s addition to the detriment of climate mitigation. We have imaginative
    people in this community who can devise climate friendly methods of downtown rehabilitation. And I would like to see more replanting of trees and expanded green spaces.

  2. I think it is great to communicate among folks with similar views. . Why can ‘t your list of ideas be a solid referendum addressed and viewed by the larger Amherst community ?

  3. this is something the town could be doing, transparently and digitally – totally divorced from anyone’s agenda

  4. Things I would like to see more of:
    I would like to see the Amherst Food co-op open downtown.
    I would like to see Go Berry and Barts (or something equivalent) open again. This is the first time in decades that downtown Amherst has been without a place to get something tasty on a cone. One less reason for town residents to go downtown.
    I would like someone to help local businesses (e.g. The Black Sheep) figure out how to be more user-friendly during this pandemic period.
    I would like more outdoor music downtown–from formal concerts to buskers, or maybe street music subsidized by the town.

    Things I would like to see less of:
    Those boxy new buildings that cater to wealthy students

  5. Thanks Ira.

    I agree with many points that others have made, especially more 21st Century methods of opinion gathering and the re-use of existing buildings.

    I’d like to see more people shopping and dining in the Downtown. Without customers, our local businesses will disappear. It really is that simple.

    Perhaps restaurants that will need more space this winter could band together to share a large space somewhere for food preparation. The numbers just won’t work for the smallest ones, like Miss Saigon, where diners have always been crammed together. Easy, free access for cars to park or drive through for pick-up will also be crucial.

    I’d like to see less visual clutter in the downtown. The current design mishmash of fences, railings, benches, signage, banners, planters and hanging flower baskets detract from the simple beauty of many building facades. Electrical boxes should be camouflaged, not accented.

  6. Thanks Ira for generating this discussion. There is a vast reservoir of experience and skill in Amherst and I would love to see us all doing more of this sharing of ideas and brainstorming together.

    Three things I want more of in Amherst

    1, Return to being a town where only the “h” is silent. I would like to see an increase in participation by informed residents who care passionately about what is happening in town and who have ideas and energy to contribute. And I’d like to see a town government that seeks and respects that input.

    2. I’d like to see more attention to meeting the needs of those in our community who need the most help. Nationally, hunger is distressingly widespread, we are facing an unprecedented national eviction crisis that will put as many as 40 million Americans on the street. health care is generally unaffordable and many have lost access during the pandemic recession and as a result of GOP assaults on the ACA. All of these national crises are manifest here in Amherst. It’s been years since we’ve had anything resembling a human services budget in this town. So a place to start would be to create a department of human services, fund it appropriately, and acknowledge that taking care of our friends and neighbors is a high priority in Amherst.

    3. We are in the middle of a climate emergency and the town is slowly working its way toward drafting a climate action plan which will then have to be debated by Council and revised. And yet, most climate experts agree that we are already way past the point of no return, that an apocalyptic future is all but inevitable, and that we’ll need radical interventions in order to avoid extinction . I’d like to see a consciousness of the crisis in every decision that we make as a town. One example – there will be no long-term future for humanity unless we quickly stop using fossil fuels. This requires a radical rethinking of transportation policy. A small example – thinking about how to create more parking downtown, is hardly consistent with this necessary change in thinking. Another – we need to find ways to convert our municipal fleet to non-dependence on fossil fuels. That means electric vehicles or at least hybrids. And it means more public transportation and less car use. Expensive? Sure. Bur right now the West Coast is on fire. That’s expensive too and there’s plenty more of that coming.

    Three things I want less of In Amherst

    1. Racism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia and other invidious forms of discrimination.

    2. A government that is not inclined to hear or act on any ideas that do not originate with the current majority. A government that only pays lip service to transparency.

    3. Those tall, unattractive, private dorms downtown and the general effort to urbanize Amherst. If I had wanted to live in a urban setting I would have moved to a city instead of Amherst.

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