From June 11th to October 11th of this year, I had a column in the Northfield News. During this four month period, there were a total of eight columns in the paper. The columns are now available on our website.
My first column was a “Guest Column”. It was about the first in a series of NDDC Forums on Retail Trade. It was popular enough that the leadership of the News offered me an unpaid position as a regular columnist, unfettered by the “one column per 30 days” rule.
My second column was about gaining wider recognition for Northfield as an Art Town. Needless to say, it was generally well received by the arts community.
My third column repeated downtown stakeholders’ call for stop signs at 7th Street. Although I had quite a number of people tell me how much they agreed with the idea, there were a few people that didn’t like it. I’ve been told that they felt that I was “politicizing” a process that they believe should be left up to the experts.
My fourth column encouraged people to view Northfield as an ideal weekend getaway. It was, quite simply, a shameless promotion of Northfield in general and ArtSwirl in particular. (I should reveal my conflict of interest, the NDDC is a partner with the NAG in this annual celebration of the arts.)
My fifth column discussed P. J. Stiles thesis, in his book Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War, that Jesse James was a terrorist. I was quite interested to learn that some people in Northfield reject Stiles’ theory that Jesse James was the killer of Joseph Lee Heywood. Although I geniunely found the book to be fascinating, the column could be seen as a shameless promotion of Northfield in general and Defeat Days in particular.
My sixth column expressed my concern that what I found to be most appealing about New Orleans might be destroyed not by the flooding but by the rebuilding. It suggested that “the neighborhoods, communities and cities that have atmospheres get them from the funky, soulful, organic growth that is nurtured by the people that live in them, not the tidy, sterile, planned growth that is designed by outsiders”. Although I will admit that this column might be considered by some people to have little to do with our community, I thought that there were lessons to be learned from that community and its current challenge.
My seventh column was clearly the most popular. I had probably fifty people tell me how much they appreciated it. I actually had someone I had never met before in my life call me at my parents’ home in New Hampshire to tell how much he enjoyed it. However, I would encourage you to read or reread this column, because it was apparently considered so sharply critical by a couple of people that they are continuing to complain about it, two months after its publication. I felt that I had not specifically criticized any person or any group. I thought that my message was simply that after three years and tens of thousands of dollars spent on downtown planning, we should just spend a few thousand dollars on the bike racks that downtown stakeholders had formally requested back in 2003. I would be sincerely interested in your take on the column.
My eighth, and final, column was the second most popular. I had dozens of people stop me on the street or call me at home at thank me for it. It was a renewed call for a traffic light at 3rd and 3. It referenced the 1997 Report by the Citizens’ Task Force and the 2005 Report of the Mayor’s Task Force. My hope was to make clear that this was not a new idea but that, in fact, citizens had been requesting this traffic light for 10 years.
When I submitted a column about the concept of “branding” a retail district for regional promotion, I was told that the paper was no longer going to accept and publish my column. I was told that it was part of a new policy on guest columns. You can read that column as a blog entry.
I have found reading the guest columns under the new policy to be illluminating. Certainly, I have been known to respond to the gift of lemons from leaders by loudly proclaiming my love for lemonade. However, I see no benefit to the community from calling a lemon a pineapple.