UMass class using Erving Center as case study in municipal planning

  • Traffic on Route 2 has been described as a safety concern as well as an asset to local businesses, said University of Massachusetts Amherst students studying Erving Center. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Welcome signs along Route 2 in Erving Center. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Route 2 runs through Erving Center by the Erving Evangelical Church. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 3/8/2020 5:16:15 PM

ERVING — With congested traffic, abundant natural resources and a small community of local businesses, Erving Center could be a case study in municipal planning.

For an architecture class at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, it is exactly that. This is a seniors-only class on “public interest design” — a school of thought on using architecture to address problems identified by community groups, explained Erika Zekos, the professor of the class and the director of the undergraduate architecture program at UMass.

Over the course of the semester, the class will study Erving Center by meeting with different stakeholder groups, and then design plans to remedy the problems brought up in those sessions. In the last three weeks, students have met with business owners, residents and even Erving Elementary School students.

“These are very much public conversations,” Zekos said. “We’re trying to hear as many voices, and as diverse a group of voices, as we can to inform our work.”

Wednesday: Public Forum

A forum at Town Hall on Wednesday, from 1:45 to 3 p.m., will be the next opportunity for interested residents to hear about the project and contribute their perspectives.

It’s not just a class project; the town also benefits. The class’ findings and recommendations will be in the town’s official files, and will likely guide and influence future development projects, according to Erving Planning Assistant Mariah Kurtz.

Three weeks into these public conversations, themes have already emerged, Zekos said: the history of the town matters to residents; the outdoor recreation resources are seen as an asset and an opportunity; and Route 2 slicing through the middle of Erving Center is a traffic problem and safety concern, but also an important asset for businesses.

“Route 2 has definitely been talked about quite a bit,” said Nicole Ahrens, a student in the class. “But there are always things, when we come, that we never would have thought of.”

Final recommendations to the town will likely focus on projects that could make a difference in the community’s identified issues, Ahrens said. These might include new sidewalks and bike lanes, a new bus stop, new hiking trails or signs to highlight existing outdoor recreation, she said.

“We want to have real solutions, not just proposals,” Ahrens said. “But we are only doing this in a semester, so a lot of what we’re proposing are things that would take more time to do, things that we wouldn’t necessarily be able to be directly involved in.”

Zekos said she is trying to coordinate a public presentation of the findings, probably in a Selectboard meeting near the end of April. In any case, she said, it will have to be before the semester ends on April 29.

Reach Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-930-4231.




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