Photo Of The Week: In The Shadow Of Tall Buildings By Kitty Axelson-Berry And Cathy Schoen

I took this picture at 10 AM on sunny day. The park but also the street and sidewalk across the street were in shadow. See the person walking in shadow on the park. Also notice the narrow road, lack of bikeway and narrow sidewalk by the building. Photo: Cathy Schoen

In The Shadow Of Tall Buildings

As the Town Council and its Community Resources Committee, the Planning Board, and Planning Department continue to discuss possible revisions to the town’s Zoning Bylaw, one topic that keeps coming up is a proposal to create specific design guidelines that would apply to new construction, mostly in the downtown area.  There is still considerable disagreement about whether such guidelines are necessary and if written, what they should specify.  One concern of many downtown residents is the height of permitted buildings and what kinds of setbacks, if any, ought to be required.  Frequent complaints about recent construction of apartments at Kendrick Place and One East Pleasant Street point to the shadows cast by the buildings that have no setback and come right up to the sidewalk.  Imagine the kind of dark canyon it would create downtown if several of these five story buildings were constructed side by side, critics say.  At last week’s Town Council meeting, this grim vision was raised once again but was quickly dismissed by Councilor Steve Schreiber (District 4) who responded  that people “are always talking about the shadows that Kendrick Place and One East Pleasant cast on the street, but that is impossible since the buildings are on the east side of the street, so the only shadows possible would be cast at sunrise.”  This contrasted with the experiences of several of our readers and they took to East Pleasant Street with their cameras to make a counter claim.  We provide some of the submissions of Cathy Schoen and Kitty Axelson-Berry here. 

Our feature, Photo of the Week, presents each week, a new picture by a local photographer. We invite local photographers to share their photographs here.   Please include a description/caption and an indication of who is to be credited.

I took this picture at 10 AM on sunny day. The park but also the street and sidewalk across the street were in shadow. See the person walking in shadow on the park. Also notice the narrow road, lack of bikeway and narrow sidewalk by the building. Photo: Cathy Schoen
Contrasting view of sidewalk area in front of Zanna with One East Pleasant to the north. Picture taken at about the same time as above photo (10 a.m.). Photo: Cathy Schoen
North corner of One East Pleasant Street. Photo taken at about 11:15 AM on 3/23/21. Photo: Kitty Axelson-Berry
Kendrick Place viewed from north, at about 11:15 a.m. on March 23, 2021. Photo: Kitty Axelson-Berry
Kendrick Place at Triangle Street roundabout. Photo taken at about 11:15 a.m. on 3/23/21. Photo: Kitty Axelson-Berry
Kendrick Place along Triangle Street looking northwest. Photo: Kitty Axelson Berry
Spread the love

15 thoughts on “Photo Of The Week: In The Shadow Of Tall Buildings By Kitty Axelson-Berry And Cathy Schoen

  1. Thank you, Cathy and Kitty, for bringing the principles of Galileo to bear on this easily observed phenomenon. It’s amazing that a member of the high council could issue an edict denying a fact that anyone can readily see with their own eyes — no need for a telescope (nor even a camera ;-).

    But even without experimental evidence, a bit of theoretical reasoning — let’s call it “geometry and the imagination” training* — shouldn’t the prospect of these architectural monstrosities casting long shadows been clear to a high-vaulted member of our council, a professor in — indeed, chair of — a department where both the pure and the applied aspects of this profession are taught.

    To paraphrase Sinclair: is it difficult to understand these shadows when payday depends upon not understanding it?

    And to mash-up Shakespeare: is there something rotten in the town of Amherst, wewonder?


    *For those who’d like a bit, here’s a great “geometry and the imagination” exercise:

    Imagine the shadow that can be seen at some part of the night from anywhere on Earth for most of each month: the changing shadow of the Moon on its own surface — the “phase” of the moon — what does it tell us about the shape of the Moon? [While the Moon looks like a disk in the sky, with the same face always visible from Earth, could such a flat shape account for the phases we see?]

  2. Thank you for this stark illustration of the cold, overbearing and frankly inhumane recent addition to our town. It’s so depressing as a long time resident to see us lose our soul. And not celebrate the traditional vernacular of our region in more thoughtful and appropriate design.

  3. Comments like those of the Councilor certainly cast a shadow over any confidence in the decision makers…

  4. We agree that bicycle transport is better for the environment than single passenger cars. But we are not planning safe bike lanes. We agree that we want downtown Amherst to be an attractive place to shop,eat,socialize. Yet, we approve of oversized buildings pushing us onto narrow unattractive sidewalks. Ask planning, Zoning, and Council members to walk the street in front of our newest buildings to assess the pedestrian experience before voting on developer’s plans.

  5. Zoom session last Sunday with old friends from Northampton to Brookline. Brookline Zoomer mentioned that a Boston friend of hers wanted to relocate to the Valley. Would some of us here show her around? Gladly – but none of us could recommend Amherst! Why not? See photo above. See that developers plan more like it. See that a Town Council majority seems fine with this – and we’ve no Mayor, thus no separation of legislative and executive powers as the Massachusetts Constitution mandates.

    If we care about the quality of life in Amherst for year-round residents, I’d say that a minimum 180 day moratorium on OKing any more of these is vital. My view, we need a new Master Plan based on Amherst residents’ civic needs and desires. These include various, and ever more urgent, aspects of sustainability. I seriously doubt that what what we see in the photo above comes anywhere close.

  6. I’m pretty sure that I said that the buildings “do not cast shadows on Kendrick Park”, except at sunrise.
    If I said “street” or “sidewalk” that’s my mistake. Of course they cast shadows on the sidewalk (in the morning).

    Cathy Schoen’s photo was taken sometime in the Fall–see the leaves on the trees?–not long after sunrise because the sun is coming from the east. Those trees are in Alignment Park, not Kendrick Park.

    The sun makes no distinction between buildings you like and buildings you don’t like. Maybe you could look at the shadows cast by Town Hall (in the morning) and by the AJ Hastings commercial block (in the afternoon)?

  7. By the way, my comment–about shadows– was in response to another councilor’s remark that the shadows of the Archipelago buildings cast long shadows on Kendrick Park, and might harm the trees there. In the interest of being independent, maybe you want to dispatch the photojournalists to investigate that claim? Thank you to Alex Kent, by the way, for letting me know about this thread.

  8. I have gone back to listen to the recording of the Council meeting for the third time. Councilor Schreiber misspeaks at time 3:08 of the video
    where he says “Kendrick Place” instead of “Kendrick Park” several times, and concludes his remarks by saying the buildings can’t cast shadows on the sidewalk and the park.

  9. I think the shadows covering the street are bad enough, however much more they block the sun from the green area where we’re now installing a playground is absurd. And now, without a moratorium, there are several other properties downtown that are allowed to have those same height and setbacks. What will be said about the planners that allowed that to happen, not to mention encouraged it? How much of the town will be in that shadow? Not to mention, being a pedestrian, walking along several more 5 story buildings, not to mention with the structure and function of dorms, not to mention all the other oft-listed shortcomings. How can the town council not see the obviousness of taking a pause for more planning at this point? Reasonable people can disagree, and we are asking for some time for reasonable people to participate in a fairer and more effective process, so our community can more clearly express what they want and don’t want (not that they haven’t, several times before). This is an intelligent community – we should be solving our problems much better than this. IF YOU AGREE THAT A MORATORIUM IS THE BEST WAY TO HAVE THE NECESSARY PLANNING PROCESS, PLEASE SIGN AND DISTRIBUTE THIS DIGITAL PETITION:

    This will need a 2/3 majority of the 13 member town council. There will need to be a lot of signatures to convince many councilors that this is a widespread feeling, and that they’d be wise to consider more the wisdom of the crowd.

    I’m surprised by how many people in Amherst do not express themselves on these topics, about the town where you live. If you don’t want what’s coming, please invest a bit of time to sign the petition, and send it to a few friends who are Amherst voters.

  10. Steve, I was able to check on the exact times I took the last four photos in the story. They are:

    Photo 1, One East Pleasant: 11:31 a.m. , March 23, 2021
    I parked in a public parking area, took the photo, then walked through more Town of Amherst parking lots to Kendrick Place. The parking lot that is closest to One Pleasant, formerly used for a dozen or so small businesses, was filled with cars.

    Photo 2, Kendrick Place: 11:54 a.m. , March 23, 2021
    This was the last photo I took that day. It shows the ground level area on North Pleasant Street.

    Photo 3, Kendrick Place: 11:38 a.m. , March 23, 2021
    This photo was taken from the scary little “pedestrian-friendly” island by the roundabout’s crosswalk over Triangle Street. Through the noise of cars streaming by, I heard my name being called. It was a grand moment: I met a colleague I’ve known only through Zoom meetings. We chatted for about 10 minutes.

    Photo 4, Kendrick Place, 11:36 a.m. , March 23, 2021. But before that, after walking through the full parking lot near One East Pleasant and then a couple of smaller, empty parking lots, I came into the gloom of Kendrick Place on the Triangle Street side, and took this noir photo before hastening toward daylight.

    I look forward to checking out shadows and daylight at Town Hall on a morning and the AJ Hastings commercial block on an afternoon, as you suggest.

    Meanwhile, here is a transcription of your statement at the Council meeting about shadows:

    “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that the new buildings [downtown] have cast shadows on Kendrick Place. Did you know that the new buildings are on the east side of the Kendrick Place, and basically, the only time that the sun will ever possibly cast a shadow on Kendrick Place is on sunrise this time of year — and it doesn’t even do that, because there’s a hill behind them, and it’s the hill that casts the shadows, so you have an issue.

    “There’s a perception that shadows are being cast on the sidewalks and shadows are being cast on the park. They’re not. That is your perception. That is false.”

  11. Hi Everyone:
    Wow, these are the most studied shadows since the Zapruder film.
    I was responding to Councilor Pam’s comment that the Archipelago buildings (presumably One East Pleasant and Kendrick Place) cast long shadows on Kendrick Park*, and might harm the plants there.
    My point was that they do cast long shadows at sunrise, but so does everything else on the east side.
    By the time the sun comes into play–when it has risen above the hills and the trees beyond–those buildings really don’t cast shadows on Kendrick Park. The sun moves to the south, then the west.
    There are many reasons to like or not like the new buildings downtown, but “casting shadows on the sidewalk” really seems like grabbing at straws. As your photos show, only the surface parking lots do not cast shadows on the sidewalk. And, to paraphrase the county song, if you don’t like the shady side of the street, then move to the sunny side.
    This is a link to one of my favorite photos of downtown Amherst:
    It’s late afternoon, fall or spring?, and downtown is bustling. But there is also an enormous shadow on South Pleasant Street. The sun does not know the difference between those buildings and the future buildings that will be constructed on East Pleasant Street.

    *Yes, I get Kendrick Park, Kendrick Place (the building) and Kendrick Place (the street) mixed up.
    I also get East Pleasant and North Pleasant mixed up. And who knew that Triangle St. actually starts at University Lodge?

  12. The struggle for light and air is a cornerstone of architecture and urban planning (as view corridors are coming to be), and buildings are supposedly designed with the shadows they will cast keenly in mind. I don’t think it is arguable that building height and position are key to the nature and duration of the shadows they cast, or that the tall new buildings downtown cast tall new shadows over the public space. Would it be possible to discuss this reasonably, and perhaps look to the future and seek solutions beforehand to what many see as a problem, even if that aesthetic is not universally shared?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.