Thursday, September 30, 2010

A reflection of absence

How do you demonstrate to future generations the enormity of the devastation incurred that awful day? How do you balance the heartfelt wishes of the multitudes who lost loves ones and create something that is respectful--but not so exceedingly stark that only the bereaved would visit?

A once in a lifetime oppertunity, that over 5,000 designers desired and only one, Michael Arad, was chosen. And he new going in that he would have to "get it right," both in the design phase-- and even more importantly--the execution.

While he may look young for such an awesome responsibility remember, Maya Lin (who served as a judge on this "contest") was only 21 when her design for the Viet Nam War Memorial was chosen over 1,400 others.

And both designs share the same haunting concept of actually seeing the names--all the names-- of the dead.

"Reflecting absence" vividly drives home the point by illustrating the Twin Towers with two large reflecting pools, standing in their former footprint, framed by low walls containing all the names of the victims etched in bronze.

Tonight at Umass, Mr. Arad spoke to a packed crowd of about 120--probably pushing the envelope of what the room is certified to hold. And at first glance, his design doesn't look as though it pushed any envelopes at all. The New York Post headlined their initial reaction with, "It Stinks!"

He opened with a photo of a bakery near Ground Zero he would pass in those early dark days, displaying a cake with a graphic of the Twin Towers and etched in confectionery the motto "We will never forget."

At first he thought it tacky, but then realized the owners were humbly using their own particular skills to commemorate this astonishing event. And as an architect he started to think how he could use his skills to make sure nobody would ever forget.

After a thorough 45 minute presentation, the first question from the audience concerned "the conspiracy" and whether he considered how to incorporate the concept of a "controlled demolition" bringing down those magnificent towers.

Arad cut the Nitwit off with a curt, "This is my presentation, not your. I'm not going to answer that!"

Like the Viet Nam Memorial, "Reflecting Absence" will become a mecca for future generations of Americans--and citizens from the around the world.

Michael Arad. A little background

NY TImes showing a lot more respect than the NY Post

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sleepless in Cairo

Carol Gray awake (sort of)

It was 2:10 AM her time but only 7:10 PM our time when (Mother) Mary Streeter fired up her Macbook Pro laptop in the Jones Library Trustees Room to synch with Carol Gray via Skype W-A-Y over there in Egypt.

So yeah, I suppose it's understandable Ms Gray was sound asleep in the seated position.

Ms Streeter took umbrage at my attempt to photograph Library Trustee Gray looking like a zombie and quickly covered the screen with a sheet of paper.

Gotta wonder how alert and worthwhile Ms. Gray will be in future Library meetings if the Attorney General decides it is okay for her to remotely participate via Skype.

And let's hope she doesn't snore.

Spectators who did not hide from the camera.

Meeting must be over as somebody from Cairo, Egypt just arrived via a google search for Larry Kelly blog (sic)

Monday, September 27, 2010

9/11 epilogue. To be continued...

So my friend Tom Porter emailed me last night wondering if Cinda Jones ever forwarded me the photos she took (with a very nice camera) on the morning of 9/11 in Amherst Town Center. He was six minutes late feeding 'loose change' in the meter and our ultra efficient parking enforcement folks issued a $10 ticket at 9:24 AM.

Of course I could not help but be reminded that nine years earlier on that awful morning about that time Governor Swift had sent all non essential state employees home and my wife reported how eerie it was to drive back to Amherst that afternoon on the Mass Pike with the all the toll booths abandoned.

I wonder how many parking tickets were issued in downtown Amherst nine years earlier around that time with the bells, bells, bells of St Brigid's church clanging away to signal that something had gone terribly wrong on an otherwise gorgeous Tuesday morning.

And Mr. Porter did not want me to attempt to fix the ticket--not that I could. Although I have been told now by two Town Manager's that if I get a parking ticket while on an official ARA (Amherst Redevelopment Authority) business they could indeed "fix it." So I guess the mechanism does exist.

Mr. Porter simply wanted to print the photo to enclose with his check to town parking director Claire McGinnis to demonstrate he was doing something worthwhile that caused that (expensive) six minute overage.

Something worthwhile indeed.

9/11/10 in the People's Republic

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

ARA update: Remembering George N. Parks

So like all Amherst Redevelopment Authority meetings these past six months, tonight was nothing but 'Gateway Project.' And once again Deputy Chancellor Todd Diacon and Executive Director of the Office of External Relations Nancy Buffone showed up to demonstrate the continuing commitment of our major partner, Umass.

But if I were a cub Collegian reporter covering tonight's meeting, my lead fact would be that Umass will have a celebration ceremony to remember/honor/commemorate Marching Band Director George N. Parks on October 16--'Homecoming Day'-- at the Mullins Center, which has a seating capacity of 10,000... so that may be big enough.

Runner up fact: Deputy Chancellor Diacon confirming that the $182 million for student housing announced today in the Springfield Republican will have no impact one way or the other on the Gateway Project.

The 1500 bed dormitory will be in the center of campus (thus tax exempt) and God only knows how long that will take to get built since it will be a public undertaking as opposed to the Gateway Project which, like the Isenberg School of Management addition/renovation mostly funded by Jack Welch, will be farmed out to the private sector.

And finally, the ARA is now going to hold off on rushing a Request For Proposals for a consultant on the Gateway Project as we wish to carefully absorb more public advice--besides just the immediate neighbors who have given us continuous input.

The Springfield Republican reports

George N. Parks Facebook memorial page: 10,000 friends and still growing!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Turn about fair play?

UPDATE: Wednesday afternoon. So who needs the caterpillar-like mainstream media, as Mr. Wald reports on his blog that last night the Historical Commission he chairs heard tons of testimony--almost all of it against the plans of the People's Republic of Amherst to nuke the property--and continued the hearing until next week.

Jim Wald reports

So it will be interesting tonight to see if the Amherst Historical Commission treats the town of Amherst the same combative way it has private entities lately by enforcing a one year demolition delay of a quaint old New England farmhouse and this old barn, the "Hawthorne Property" recently purchased by Amherst for $500,000 in free money--otherwise knows as Community Preservation Funds.

The Historical Commission recently forced the town's largest landowner, Amherst College, to delay for one year the demolition of an 80-year-old fence around one of its many properties. Chairman James Wald declared it a matter of principal: "We're making a statement that preservation is important."

Our appointed history aficionados also forced the Cowles family to delay the destruction of a 100 year old barn in North Amherst that CEO Cinda Jones laments is in danger of collapse.

Perhaps the Historical Commission should keep its eye on the prize, as Town Meeting is potentially going to vote the formation of a Historical District in and around the Dickinson Homestead that would automatically limit new development and renovations to existing structures.

But, if impacted neighbors and homeowners get the impression our Commissioners are a tad too militant then they will fight the creation of Amherst's first Local Historic District which, in itself, would be somewhat "historic" and requires a two-thirds vote of Town Meeting.

Unfortunately, in the People's Republic of Amherst, the NIMBYs usually win.

Monday, September 20, 2010

ARA road trip report

If Hanover, NH represents the after picture for smart successful mutually beneficial development, our recent trip to Mansfield, CT provided the perfect before picture.

After endless design discussions dating back to the 1970s groundbreaking is imminent on Storrs Center, a $250 million urban mixed use development that will create something we here in Amherst take for granted--an actual town center with a town green providing a laid back ambiance attractive to everyday folks whose numbers will no doubt increase with the addition of 700 market rate rental units.

Like the proposed 'Gateway Project' in Amherst, a partnership where the town benefits by increasing taxable commercial development, stimulating jobs and local commerce while the educational institution benefits by increasing quality housing to attract more students and professors.

The ambitious 'Storrs Center' is a joint development between Mansfield town officials, UConn--the dominant employer in the region--and the local business community who operate in the University's shadow.

The school and the town split equally the $250,000 annual budget of the Mansfield Downtown Partnership a sort of Chamber of Commerce created for just this project (with only two full time employees.)

Besides the Amherst Redevelopment Authority, new Amherst Town Manager John Musante and Amherst Chamber of Commerce executive director Tony Maroulis, Umass Deputy Chancellor Todd Diacon and Executive Director of the Office of External Relations Nancy Buffone also attended, demonstrating the commitment to the 'Gateway Project' from our flagship educational partner.

Now of course, it's up to Amherst Town Meeting to provide a vital component of the deal by rezoning the land in question to allow the mixed use development that will revitalize the neighborhood and our downtown.

Main Street Mansfield now: NOT a scene Rockwell would have painted.

This WW2 era building owned by UConn will be demolished, the pavement torn up and the open space turned into a town center green.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The day the music died

George Parks demonstrating Power and Class.

UPDATE: Monday morning So unless you have been living in a cave somewhere you probably know the Umass Marching Band put on a hell of a performance in Michigan before the largest live crowd in their entire history. The football team also came close to pulling off a Cinderella win as well.

My ultra reliable source at the State House indicates the Chancellor can order the flags on campus to half staff on the day of George Parks memorial service as can the Town Manager or Select Board order the municipal flags to half staff on town property as well.

A fitting tribute to a most deserving individual.

Even though he was immersed in something macho martial arts guys might mistakenly think a tad wimpy, I remember the first time I met George Parks at my karate studio about 15 years ago when he signed up his two children and would often come watch me teach their lessons.

I could tell instantly he was a dedicated father. But when I soon thereafter witnessed him perform as Umass marching band leader, I was even more impressed with his physical ability to control and coordinate a massive wave of college kids with loud instruments like a perfectly trained border collie herding sheep.

A few years later I called him up, not knowing if he would even remember me, to ask a favor. Without hesitation he volunteered to perform with whatever band members he could muster.

Since the first band practice did not happen until mid-month, acquiring a decent ensemble on 9/11 was not easy. But he reported that morning to the Amherst town common--the first anniversary--with about a dozen kids, and they played like it was Carnegie Hall.

The last time I talked to George was almost exactly a year ago at the UMass groundbreaking ceremony for the George Parks Marching Band building. I asked him is he could muster a few kids on 9/11/11 for the tenth anniversary ceremony and he instantly responded, "Of course!"

But now he's gone. I'm sure tomorrow--because of the discipline he instilled--the Umass marching band that was his life will play their hearts out in the Michigan Big House.

And I'll bet, somewhere, George N. Parks will be smiling.

Yes, slightly unreporter like of me to yell, "Looking good Boss!" as he passed. He of course noticed me standing dead center in the middle of the road to get the shot and although he never broke his rigid disciplined march or even moved his head, just as he passed he gave me a wink.

The Springfield Republican, sadly, reports

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Sat, Sep 18, 2010 9:14 am
Subject: Flags to half staff request

Suzzette Waters
State House Events
Bureau of State Office Buildings

Hey Suzzette,

If ever a Massachusetts state employee deserved the flag to fly at half staff to mourn his stunningly sudden loss, it would be George N. Parks. And I know first hand what a believer he was in our country, its values and that he strove to instill that in countless thousands of students over the past thirty years--mainly by example.

He played for Presidents and football fans and kids at Christmas. He will always be remembered in our hearts

Could you mention this simple request to the Big Boss?


Larry K