Store Exhibit Highlights Downtown Uglies
By Edward Shanahan
As a work of social commentary, the window display at Faces on Main Street over the last month, which has now run its course and gets ready for the Halloween season, could not have been more biting or accurate.
Even though Steve Vogel at Faces declines to speak on the record about the display, it is apparent what the point was to those of us who stopped to take a close look at the artistic representation of Main Street drowning in carelessly tossed trash.
All manner of debris is being scattered from one end of Main Street to the other, with hardly anyone bothering to pick up after themselves. Eat it, drink it, smoke it, and then drop it, pitch it or chuck it on the sidewalk or curb. That seems to be the message associated with the accumulated litter that clogged the storefront-long space at Faces which carries the admonition to pick it up.
I’ve been a downtown observer for a very long time – going back to 1971 when we first moved to Northampton – and I can’t recall more unpleasantness, just plain ugliness, as I perambulate the downtown sidewalks.
Particularly uninviting is the area around the polished stainless steel kiosk in front of the former Heritage Bank building which has become a favored gathering spot for idle visitors to town and their dogs, cats, sleeping bags, coolers, blankets, food and drink, cigarettes and pot, and who knows what else.
During the Notre Dame Design week activities recently, I chatted with Mary Kasper, who was involved some years ago as head of the Northampton Arts Council with the design and construction of the kiosk and surrounding benches.
Looking across Main Street to the assembled multitude hanging out at kiosk central, she just shook her head in seeming despair at the debris and litter was scattered on the surrounding sidewalks.
One can imagine that the folks preparing for opening their Urban Outfitters store in the long-abandoned bank building are more than a little worried about what is going on right in front of their upscale shop.
Bold red “keep out” signs have already been tacked to trees warning against trespassing on Urban Outfitters property. It looks like this could be merely the opening salvo in a troubled relations ship between the retailer and the street people.
While the physical appearance of the downtown has never looked worse in my view – dirty streets and sidewalks, dead trees, graffiti and ultimately empty storefronts – there is hardly a consensus on how to address the tired, shabby feel of the downtown.
You can’t corral the street people and chase them out of town. The city lacks the resources for a downtown clean-up and fix-up, and most of the business people don’t even care enough to sweep the sidewalk in front of their stores. (Although maybe the slowly developing BID project—Business Development District— will help.)
So maybe it takes a major educational effort that reaches out to the whole community and to visitors as well, which is what the Faces exhibit was all about. The message was simple: We‘re wallowing in dirt and filth as is the country as a whole as a consequence of a throwaway, consume-and-dispose mentality.
And a principal victim is the historic, much admired and formerly praised Northampton’s Main Street, which now seems very much at risk. So Pick it Up, folks.
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