BREAKING NEWS: Statement this morning from Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz on his Facebook page regarding the bench controversy…bottom line, he’s having the benches put back, and will continue the dialogue…his entire comments below:
Two weeks ago I ordered the temporary removal of 6 of the 16 city benches located directly on Main Street. My objective was to test what role if any those benches in key, high-traffic areas of our downtown play relative to increasing complaints from city residents, business owners, and visitors about negative and occasionally aggressive behaviors along these particular stretches of sidewalk. Feedback on my experiment has been swift, impassioned, and substantial.
Legitimate concerns have been raised about the loss of downtown seating, particularly for the elderly and disabled, and the perception removing benches may create that Northampton is somehow less welcoming, insensitive to class and poverty issues, or walking away from it’s well-established leadership role on homelessness and hunger. Equally legitimate concerns have been raised, however, that the long-term occupation of benches by a few renders them inaccessible to many and that activities on and around the benches have made our downtown feel less welcoming and safe.
People of good will have weighed in with me on all sides of this complex issue and I appreciate the input I have received. This includes the leadership and members of our City Council, whose judgment and authority I hold in high regard. The overwhelming sentiment I’ve heard is that we should put back the benches, but keep talking about this important issue for our downtown and community. I agree.
Today I have instructed our Department of Public Works to reinstall the 6 benches back in their previous locations on Main Street. One thing has been made abundantly clear to me: this community cares deeply about the current and future health of our downtown and ensuring that it remains a safe, diverse, and socially, economically, and culturally vibrant place for residents and visitors alike. I look forward to working with the City Council, our local business community, our social service and faith-based leaders, our police department, and all concerned residents in advancing this important dialogue. -David Narkewicz, Mayor of Northampton