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Northampton brings back downtown benches

May 30, 2013

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (AP) — Six benches will be reinstalled in downtown Northampton a week after their removal sparked protests and debates about homelessness, poverty and the use of public space, Mayor David Narkewicz said Thursday.

Narkewicz ordered the removal of six of the 16 public benches downtown last week following complaints from businesses about loitering and aggressive panhandling that was driving away shoppers. One business owner complained of fights and drug use.

The mayor and other city officials said the benches were meant for short-term use by business customers.

“Feedback on my experiment has been swift, impassioned, and substantial,” Narkewicz said.

“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 its well-established leadership role on homelessness and hunger,” he wrote.

Some people complained that the removal of the benches was aimed at discouraging the homeless from hanging around and failed to address the underlying problems of poverty.

Protesters on Saturday brought patio chairs to the downtown for anyone to use. Some people just sat on the ground in the empty spaces where the benches used to be bolted into the ground.

Woodworker Keane Kendall and his wife, Chloe, on Wednesday, brought a bench he had made and set it up temporarily while they held a sign reading “B.Y.O.B! Bring Your Own Bench.”

“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,” the mayor wrote.

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