Okay gang, it’s time to come out of that christmakwanzukahnewyear stupor. The gifts have been opened, the champagne popped. You’ve dragged yourself away from the hearth and you’re back to the grindstone. That’s right, it’s a whole new year!
We’re sure you’ve spent your time over these holidays in deep contemplation of eternal truths. After all, this is Amherst. (And anyway, you had to do something while keeping Aunt Ethel from crowning Uncle Ed with the cast iron skillet during all that quality time with the family! But we digress&)
It’s new year’s resolution time. And just as you’ve been writing up those key personal goals, we here at Amherst Center have been doing the same for our little town.
1. Lose Weight. We need to lose a bit of the weightiness of discussion in this town. When someone makes a suggestion about the town you don’t agree with, there’s no need to harumph like Dick Cheney just walked into the room. Come on, folks, we’re all neighbors here, and we need to focus a bit of that politically correct compassion and tolerance toward each other. There’s no doubt we’re in a fiscal crisis, but we need to lighten up if we’re to pull together and work it all out.
2. Take a Trip. Let’s broaden our horizons and see how some other college towns do things. Check out Ithaca, Burlington, Chapel Hill, Berkeley, and other apparently successful college towns. Talk to the public officials there. How are they leveraging their college assets to make their communities more fiscally sustainable? We are not alone here, folks; no need to invent everything ourselves.
3. Prioritize That To-Do List. You know how it is – the list of things you want to do is greater than the time and resources needed to do them. So you cross off some things and put some things at the top. Amherst needs to do the same – we can’t afford to keep doing all that we’ve been doing. The town manager has appointed a “blue-ribbon” panel of business experts to look for cost efficiencies in town operations. We hope they will listen well and look closely, and we look forward to hearing their advice.
4. Get a Pay Raise. Let’s really try to get going on some Amherst-appropriate economic development projects. Redevelop the north end of downtown with multi-story retail, offices, and residences across from a new Kendrick Park. Create a student village with housing, retail, and entertainment options on University Drive. Create and market a green knowledge industry complex on PRP land. Invite the colleges and UMass to explore creating an investment entity to spur this development and add value to their institutions.
5. Stop Blaming Others. Yeah, we know all the reasons our current fiscal crisis isn’t our fault: the war, the state government, rising prices, dropping home values, unfunded mandates, potholes, endless political discussion rather than action – did we mention war? We know. But at some point we need to take care of ourselves. “Do It Yourself” should be our mantra. We’re smart, and we have resources other towns don’t. So let’s stop complaining, roll up our sleeves, and focus on what we can change rather than what we can’t.
6. Improve Your Education. We will be hiring three elementary and one middle-school principal this year. This is a wonderful opportunity to rededicate ourselves to challenging all of our students, expecting excellence from all school staff, and providing the resources necessary to support these expectations.
7. Quit Smokin’. You know who you are. You care a lot about the town, and you worry that it’s going to the dogs. But when the smoke starts coming out your ears at Town Meeting, on the letters page, or online, people stop listening. Resist the urge to light that match, dude. Come on in from the cold and help make Amherst smoke-free!
8. Volunteer. Town Meeting turned a corner this year and passed some sensible zoning. The Master Plan is heading in a sensible direction. We need to keep the momentum going. Everyone needs to join some town committee. Really. Everyone.
Just do one stint. Run for Town Meeting or join a committee. There is something for everyone out there.
9. Spend More Time with Family and Friends. When’s the last time you invited some neighbors over to your place to break bread? Do it now, while the snow’s still deep, and the herd is isolated. No need to cook; make it a potluck!
10. Count Your Blessings. We live in a beautiful and exciting place, with lots of intellectual and cultural resources, preserved open spaces, socially conscious businesses, and diverse and interesting neighbors. Happy New Year, everybody!
Amherst Center is a monthly column written by Town Meeting members Clare Bertrand and Baer Tierkel and School Committee member Andy Churchill.