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Northern Berkshire Community Coalition Executive Director Amber Besaw introduces the forum on Friday.

Gentrification Pops Up As North Berkshire Coalition Forum Topic

By Rebecca DravisiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A new buzzword appeared repeatedly throughout the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition monthly forum on Friday.

That gathering, the first of the season, was the annual "needs assessment" forum, at which people can come throw out ideas for what future coalition meetings should focus on. In an effort to organize those thoughts, this year, the Coalition asked people to categorize their ideas into "topics," "needs" or "assets."

The one topic that was repeated several times throughout the meeting, which was attended by nearly 100 people, was "gentrification."

"Gentrification," according to Merriam Webster, is defined as "the process of repairing and rebuilding homes and businesses in a deteriorating area (such as an urban neighborhood) accompanied by an influx of middle-class or affluent people and that often results in the displacement of earlier, usually poorer residents." It is usually meant negatively.

The word is being thrown around North Adams circles as more property is being bought and developed by "outsiders." Two recent projects included the development of the former Cariddi Mill into Greylock Works and the former Redwood Motel property into the Tourists resort. 

While the Friday forum was meant to toss out ideas, not delve deeply into a subject, concerns were raised about the rapidly rising costs of rental housing and the need to bring those out-of-town developers into community conversations such as this one. Other conversations about gentrification have been taking place, including one that happened in August that is being followed up by a second one at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 26, at 7 p.m. at 50 Ashland St., which is the home of the Ashland Street Project Space, a community flex-space for events and lounging. More details on that can be found on Facebook.

Another topic new to recent coalition discussions was that of the trash and recycling services available to the community. One resident came to say she was passionate about trash and hated seeing everything that was going to waste and filling up landfills, especially food waste. Others added that the availability of community gardens and recycling services could help mitigate that if everyone was aware of what was available in the area.

A topic frequently raised during Friday's forum included further discussion on the opioid epidemic and its effects on the Northern Berkshire Community. One of the threads repeatedly pulled at was the effect on the children who are separated from their parents dealing with addiction, including how to work to reunite families and get those children the mental health services they need in an area short on child psychologists. Another thread was the need more recovery beds and services in general in Northern Berkshire County, including peer-led and community support, although the anticipated October opening of the Beacon Recovery Community Center was touted as a step in the right direction.

Other topics raised Friday included racial justice, with many saying there needed to be increased awareness of the need to make communities safe and welcoming and diverse. That topic is something that the Berkshire Interfaith Organizing group is working on. In addition, support for families, particularly pregnant and nursing moms, transportation issues that lead to inequalities, emergency preparedness and community mental health, including the need for a broader conversation and more mental health services for all ages, were tossed out as potential topics for future meetings.

Coalition Executive Director Amber Besaw said the ideas discussed Friday would be culled down by coalition staff and then sent out to attendees by email to vote on which were the priorities for this year's forums. While those forums have traditionally been on Friday mornings in North Adams, she said, the coalition is dedicated to reach people for whom that time or location is not convenient. Over the past couple of years, the coalition has experimented with meetings at different times of days, but this year is also looking at different locations to meet to include more of the North Berkshire community.

"We're also looking to expand beyond North Adams," she said, to places like Williamstown or Adams. The October meeting, however, will be the regular Friday morning in North Adams — Oct. 12 from 10 a.m. to noon at 85 Main St. instead of the First Baptist Church — and will focus on a topic from last year that Coalition members felt was not completely explored: relational violence.


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