By Edward Shanahan
notices in the wake of the recent death of black author Claude Brown
reminded me of the local controversy 30 years ago when the late
Northampton Police Chief James Whalen ordered Brownís book "
Manchild in the Promised Land" removed from the high school
because he deemed it obscene, or worse, dangerously radical.
We were living in Detroit
at the time and as a reporter I was covering the urban scene in
that predominately black city. At the same time we were also looking
forward to moving to Northampton to assume the job of editor of
the local newspaper, so we were more than mildly interested in
the Claude Brown conflict.
It is hard to imagine
such a dispute fracturing todayís hipper Northampton the way the
attempted book burning effort by Chief Whalen did then. Viewed
from Detroit, the Northampton of 1971 seemed like a somewhat scary
Ultimately, cooler and
more tolerant heads prevailed, and the chief, a political conservative,
withdrew from the fray somewhat chastened, although he would never
And one would have to
say that Claude Brown had more staying power and impact than Northamptonís
police chief. According to the New York Times obituary writer,
"Manchild" has sold more than 4,000,000 copies, been
translated into 14 languages, is required reading in many high
schools and college classes, and still sells some 30,000 copies
was a time in the affairs of cities when any suggestion that municipal
park land be snatched up for some other use would trigger a furious
would pack meeting rooms and threaten to place their fragile bodies
in the path of any heavy equipment that was dispatched to infiltrate
any greensward. Elected officials learned that they would pay
a heavy price if they failed to protect the tiniest scrap of park
Not so in the Northampton
where the City Council in league with the Recreation Department
and its passive director, Ray Ellerbrook, recently and happily
allowed the paving over of perhaps a quarter of Sheldon Field
for a parking lot, which is intended to be used for a park- and-
ride program to speed citizens across the Coolidge Bridge.
The parking lot is finished,
even though the bridge renovation is not, and a sea of macadam
and granite curbing sits empty. Itís not as though the park land
will be exchanged for some positive use: earth and green grass
was traded for blacktop with white striped lines.
What is curious is that
during the entire time last fall when Sheldon Field was under
assault by earth movers and graders, there was not a single voice
raised in protest.
Parking for the number
of cars that will fit on the lot is minimal, in relation to number
of cars traversing the bridge every day. What is lost are basketball
courts, a skateboard park and green space. In another era less
obsessed with cars and parking, Little Leaguers, their coaches
and parents and pick-up basketball players would have stormed
With similar public acquiescence,
the City Council also agreed to yield up a portion of Veterans
Field, off West Street, to the overflow of cars from Eric Suherís
Felt Building development. Not a whisper of protest. Park land.
Who needs it? Parking, thatís the ticket, even though a community
can never stockpile enough park land.
And now comes the latest
proposal to shave off a section of Arcanum Field in Florence to
clear space for a full-fledged, top of the line-intersection with
full-frontal stop light at Bridge Road and North Maple Street.
The lost park land will be taken to make the intersection more
truck friendly, we are told.
There is an old Northampton
tradition - one that does not exist in most communities - to allow
various interests to eat away at public park land when its expedient
or cheap to do so. Remember when the Hotel Northampton was given
permission to occupy some of the lawn ringing the Hampshire Count
Courthouse to create what is now a well-established outdoor cafe
where young professionals consume over-priced drinks and nibble
food while loitering on what had previously been - and may still
be - publicly-owned land.
One recent addition to
the local on-line scene appears to be emerging as an important
community bulletin board, keeping some of us informed about issues
that we might not otherwise hear about.
It is called the Paradise
City Forum at firstname.lastname@example.org and it is an outgrowth
of the activism of community-minded and aware citizens - chiefly
Greg Sandler and Nancy Whittier - in the South Street area who
actually believe that public policy issues are worth addressing.
Their concern grew of the fears that development at the State
Hospital property would have a devastating impact on their neighborhood,
not a baseless fear at all. So far, nearly 40 postings about community
issues have appeared on the forum.
From its strictly parochial
South Street concerns, the group has swept into its orbit other
groups with other concerns - in fact, one posting on the forum
site addressed the issue of the appropriateness of the Bridge
Road intersection proposal, alerting visitors to the site to an
upcoming hearing. And the beleaguered Leeds neighborhood confronting
the Beaver Brook Estates gorilla has joined the forum.
I can foresee the Paradise
City Forum becoming much more essential to the needs and interests
of those city residents whose concerns go beyond the menus and
venues of downtown restaurants which preoccupy so much mainstream
media attention these days.