for the Paradise City Forum
By Edward Shanahan
While I sometimes become annoyed with the steady barrage of e-mails from the Paradise City forum that bombards my computer, I’m admiring at the same time.
The forum has emerged as a terrifically important aspect of civic debate in Northampton and this has happened because of its determination to take a serious look at a range of issues in the community.
There is nothing superficial about the forum, and it does not appear to have a sense of humor, but that’s okay. Substance is essential in dealing with such matters as sustainability, development, zoning, conservation, municipal finance, planning, and a seemingly endless list of “hot” topics, especially beavers and whether to trap or not to trap.
Much of the credit for the forum’s growing impact on the community seems to be the single-minded commitment of Daryl G. LaFleur, the person who raises the issues as a result of his sensitive antennae, which pick up what is percolating in the local and regional communities. He share the news with members of the forum.
And no sooner does he do that than the people, or subscribers, begin to weigh in, not only offering opinions but providing additional factual details or links to other sources of information. This is the great virtue of the forum, the feedback, the reaction, the engagement of readers as citizens.
It is almost a full-time job to plow through all of the commentary, almost all of it intelligent and well expressed, and hardly ever personal. The PCF experience is, in fact, just like going out for the night to a hearing where citizens are exchanging views and expressing their opinions, except this on-line hearing never adjourns or quits.
The PCF does not confine itself just to web-based discussions; it sponsors live events as well, such as the one I attended recently concerning the proposed new zoning that would cover all Smith College property.
I had attended an earlier one that addressed Smith College’s plans for a mega new science and engineering building to be built in the Green Street-West Street neighborhood.
Both of the hearings, while drawing critics of the college, included spokespeople from the college as well as Mayor Higgins, and offered the full discussion o f the issues, again without rancor and personal animus. A fair-minded person could actually learn by listening to the discussion.
Smith supporters probably see the PCF as constituted solely to harass the college, but for some of us the discussions also raised salient issues about zoning, education, town-gown relations, community, design, parking, tax policy, and related subjects that any community’s citizens need to address in a serious way.
These matters are not titillating, and the postings on the Paradise City Forum lack sparkle, but if I want humor I turn on the Jon Stewart’s Daily Show.