Cherry trees and humans in city government
When I read Reverend Andrea Ayvazian’s column from August 21 (“What does it mean to be human in Northampton?”), In which she denounces the “tone of negativity and hypercriticism that seems to be present in our civic discourse these last time, ”I immediately thought of the public outcry and the city’s reaction to the controversy surrounding the cherry blossoms of Warfield Place.
For me, this outcry was justified, as the city has not been civil in its handling of all the controversy and nowhere has it shown itself to embrace this human element that Reverend Ayvazian speaks of.
To my fellow readers, who may be “fed up with the cherry blossom conversation”, I’m sorry, but the cherry trees will remain in our imaginations, as they will no longer stand up physically, as an iconic reminder of what’s wrong. not in the government in the broad sense, and this is unacceptable in the small local government: the refusal to take into account the human being, to be human in its relations with its citizens.
As I closely followed all the chronicles of the people of Warfield who fought for their trees, all the details of the ways in which humanity was lacking in these municipal decisions made about these trees, I must have thought: if the city wants to take such a callous position, it should be ready for the uproar it will generate.
For my part, I was particularly chilled by the residents’ report on Mayor David Narkewicz’s contemptuous demeanor and his response when residents appealed to him directly, in person. And the crass, disrespectful and surreptitious way the Department of Public Works took to the streets in complete lack of transparency to eradicate trees, to stop any further flack from residents.
Of course, there are other perspectives from other residents of Warfield Place, but what is absolutely certain to me is that a well-meaning municipal government would have filtered out all the different perspectives and found a solution that worked for everyone – rather than turning the issue into controversy. Is this the hill the DPW wanted to die on? Was it so important for her to weigh in on the people who just loved and cared for their trees?
In writing this, I wanted to add my voice to amplify David Ball’s August 27 column, “Warfield Place and the Coming Elections,” in which he details the injustices committed during the Warfield Place incident and underlines the importance of our next mayoral election. Do we have any hope of bringing humans back into our municipal government? If we can’t do it in Northampton, then it can’t be done.
Here we have one of the rarest opportunities to be a model municipality – to show the rest of the country how municipal government can be efficient and humane.
The cherry trees will remain as a reminder that we recently failed. In our future, after the municipal elections, we are faced with so many important municipal political decisions regarding the potential reorganization of the police department and the creation of the community care department, questions on social housing, the redesign of Main Street and all other questions of economic and social justice. Are we going to move forward with humanity at the center of our municipal decisions? Or not?
About a week ago, Shanna Fishel, one of the four current mayoral candidates, knocked on my door and we talked for a while. He is not an experienced municipal official, but rather someone who has been impacted by municipal decisions in his life and in the lives of others whom he has served in his social work. Hopefully Fishel emerges in the September 28 primaries as one of two mayoral candidates ahead of the general election, so we can have a real debate on the role of humanity in how city government takes its decisions and politics.
If we lose our humanity, we are just a municipal machine.
Cherrie Latuner lives in Florence.