The Friday morning gatherings offer coffee and conversation. The most recent klatch drew about 80.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Friday morning coffee klatch at the parklet on Eagle Street has grown by leaps and bounds as a stopover to catch up with friends and acquaintances on the way to work.
This past Friday saw a singular bump in attendance as members of the Berkshire Leadership Academy saw an opportunity to share data and impressions they've collected on the city over the past two weeks. Some of the 67 participants of the program at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts mingled with residents, business and community leaders as the gathering spilled onto Eagle Street and the sidewalk.
Joy White of New York City said the mingling at the parklet was the perfect opportunity to "try to share our ideas with as many people as possible and maybe something will spark from it."
"We have a unique perspective because we've never been here and what we've noticed," said Michael Hall of Monticello, N.Y., of the group that included White, David Burgess, and area resident Katelyn Millard and that was looking at traffic patterns around the downtown area.
Burgess, of Rochester, N.Y., said they'd taken the idea from comments Millard had made about revitalization efforts. What they found was that it's hard to drive around downtown.
"Just from my perspective, it's hard to figure out where to go and it's hard to figure out where parking is," he said, holding some data presentations they'd handed out. "There's a big confluence of streets going one way like this one. Two weeks in, I've kind of got it figured out, but I was thinking about this morning as I went to Dunkin' Donuts and came back, there's not even a blue 'P' sign for parking.
"I come down the [Center] Street and it says do not enter ... there's not a blue 'P' with a lefthand arrow."
One crucial point was that Google Maps would send people in Williamstown along Massachusetts Avenue to Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art -- meaning they were also more likely to head back that way and completely miss the downtown. The group also spent some time on strategic corners watching traffic patterns -- where were the cars coming from and where were they headed. Going toward Main and Eagle was good, but too many were missing the turn.
"The point was there was a lot of cars with the directional opportunity to access these areas, meaning they were coming into this vicinity, but 90 percent maybe shoot off toward Vermont or south," said Burgess.
There weren't enough or no signage letting drivers know there was parking or shopping or restaurants. The same goes for events, they said.
"The wonderful beach party you put on here, I think the only way we knew about it was because the mayor had made a visit to one of our classes and then the one sign I saw when collecting data, looked like a sale sign," said White. "We talked about getting the children involved, from the high school level down to the kindergarten, maybe doing a competition where they come up with design ideas.
"It's a very artist rich community so maybe having the children pair up with the local artists taking the advantage of the beautiful brick that you have and putting up murals and announcing that Eagle Street is here ... that there are other local businesses beyond Mass MoCA. Mass MoCA is beautiful but the town is beautiful, too."
The leadership academy, a rigorous course laid out over a year with 500 hours of internship to earn a certificate of graduate study, is designed to prepare its participants to be leaders in their educational institutions and active citizens in their communities.
A major point with the participants was engaging the community's youth. Perhaps, said White, a cup full of beach sand would mean entrance into Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art to engage in some kind of sand sculpturing. Or, said the group looking at how to interest children in their local history, to have them highlight local landmarks.
"We feel strongly that the kids have to get involved and understand where they live and have pride in it," said John Piteris of Long Island, N.Y. "There is a lot of legacy in this town."
Veronica Bedard, from the Troy, N.Y., area said they devised a program where kids would go out into the community to find local landmarks and put together a brochure or program for advertising for the area and to get them connected more to their local community.
"So we've been kind of learning about the local community as the kids would do and then figuring out what to do," she said. "We also talked about doing a fair at the school and seeing what the kids generated for information."
Piteris said he was aware of North Adams having gone skiing in his younger years at Bousquet and Jiminy Peak but he'd never visited the city. It's probably a similar situation with families at the ski areas now; a goal would be to attract them to drive a little further north during the winter to visit and, preferably, stay overnight, he said.
"There are so many people who have a yearning for and craving for new experiences and I feel if they knew more about North Adams, North Adams is upwardly bound and they have the time and money to spend," he said, adding that his group found the average stay was about eight hours.
Cleanliness was an aspect another group considered, suggesting more attention be paid to heavily traveled byways where there was litter and cigarette butts.
Where did this welter of ideas and data come from? It was the charge of this year's July residency to go into the community and prepare research data. It was all about the data displays to be presented in class.
"Along the way, in tracking their data displays and gathering the data, they found that the issues they brought to light were things that really could be addressed from students, so they developed all their projects for me, as a grade, as something that could be done between schools and districts," said instructor Kimberly Roberts-Morandi, the North Adams Public Schools' director of curriculum and instruction. "So that led them to saying, 'we really enjoyed our time in the city, we really want to become more a part of this community and we want to leave our mark as a cohort.'
"That's the first time we've ever heard that."
The process took on a life of its own and the groups didn't want their data to be shelfed so it's being synthesized and prepared for the city. A presentation may be done in late fall.
"This wasn't an assignment. This is their extension that developed because of their interest in North Adams and their excitement about what has changed already and what could be," Roberts-Morandi said. "All of it is doable ... it needs to be fleshed out and funded in some cases but not in others."
In the meantime, the academy participants are learning more about being a part of the North Adams community and enjoying their time here. Bedard said one of her colleagues has moved here and loves it and she plans on returning with her fiance to hike the trails and visit Mount Greylock again.
"I love the experience here, it's a great area," said Piteris.
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