Summertime is such a sweet time here in Amherst, when the crowd thins and the pace slows. The hectic schedule of the school year is over and we can take some time to reflect. Good things are happening all around us, and it’s important to take the time once in a while to notice them. So what have we seen?
Downtown, 21st-century New England style. We now have free wireless Internet access throughout the downtown, thanks to a University of Massachusetts partnership – this competitive advantage for Amherst in the new economy shouldn’t be underestimated.
There is new energy on the east side of downtown, with the new art gallery, Wunderarts, the new bakery, Wheatberry, the planned rejuvenation of the Lord Jeff and Spring Street, and the new awesome hot-tub spa, Elements – if only Ms. Emily were around to check out the art and take a soak. Despite the economic hard times and struggles for many businesses, our Amherst downtown still feels relevant and alive.
Good deeds and good neighbors. We are truly blessed in this town with so many who work to make a difference for others. The Amherst Survival Center, for example, has emerged from its challenges stronger than ever, with new leadership and innovative services, including a free health care clinic that may be a model for others. ARHS students and others have gone down to New Orleans to help with the rebuilding there and found the experience enriching for all involved. The Amherst Education Foundation doubled its fundraising for teachers and kids this year.
A happy family has moved into a Habitat for Humanity home on Stanley Street, one of four planned, on land donated by Amherst College. Potted flowers donated and cared for by many in the community decorate the downtown. And in an inspiring gift of continued public service, former Select Board member Eva Schiffer has willed her downtown Kendrick Place home to the town so future town staff can live there. What a truly humbling gift.
The chamber is putting on some good parties. The Chamber of Commerce managed to ramp up the fun quotient in town, even in the winter, with its first, hopefully annual, Winterfest last January. Kids had fun, adults had fun, we all had a chance to laugh at ourselves, and there was even a wintertime bonfire and fireworks – can’t beat that. This is a nice addition to the winter calendar, joining the annual Merry Maple festivities.
The chamber and other partners also continued the First Thursday Art Walks, another community-building opportunity to stroll around town, see a variety of art and performances, and chat with neighbors old and new. In June the chamber hosted the Taste of Amherst, which is still going strong while Tastes elsewhere have ended. Another great opportunity to get out of the house, sample our wonderful restaurants, and shake your booty to some good music.
Town Meeting is getting it done. Despite the moaning and groaning you sometimes hear, we are happy to tell you, “It’s safe to come back.” Town Meeting has been successful in getting some important work done. And we are seeing those efforts pay off. As a result of TM’s approval of some sensible zoning changes, locally owned New England Environmental will be building a new facility in the Route 9 research park, big enough for its own current operations and several other tenants. And Amherst College will be investing millions in the Lord Jeffery Inn and surrounding Spring Street area.
So as a result of Town Meeting’s forward-thinking action, with the help of the town manager and Planning Board, investments are being made that will reap rewards in more jobs, tax revenues and vitality for the town. We look forward to further progress this fall, when town meeting considers a proposal to make the designated North Amherst research park area more development-ready.
There’s so much going on. Our town Web site is winning awards, and all the blogging in town means more folks are communicating. The last house left Kendrick Park, where the Boy Scouts will be back selling Christmas trees again this year, a demonstration patch of wheat is growing, and we had an ice-skating rink last winter. Further planning is under way for the future of this pleasant gateway to the north side of downtown.
Our town’s second CSA farm, Simple Gifts Farm, is open and thriving in North Amherst. UMass is on the move, with new art and science buildings and a new chancellor on the way – and it even fell off the Princeton Review’s “Top 20 Party Schools” list this year.
The fall ahead looks exciting with big elections on the horizon. But for now, the corn and blueberries are ripe, the Sox are the defending World Series champs, and summer in Amherst just keeps rolling along.
Amherst Center is a monthly column which appears in The Amherst Bulletin that seeks to portray local issues from a centrist perspective. It is written by Town Meeting members Baer Tierkel and Clare Bertrand and School Committee member Andy Churchill. Amherst Center appears in The Amherst Bulletin on the last Friday of each month.