Pittsfield Community Group Wants to Actualize City's Potential
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Pittsfield Community Design Center is connecting the community with planning concepts in hopes of making Pittsfield a vibrant, easily accessible, pedestrian-friendly place.
The group, spearheaded by "The Pittsfielder" blogger Nicholas Russo, is a non-city affiliated effort with four main goals: promote placemaking, demystify the city's transportation infrastructure, take direct action, and establish a physical location for the group.
"I really want to have a group of people in real life looking at Pittsfield and thinking about ways to make it more pedestrian/bike friendly, more inviting to be out in public spaces like how to activate some of our public plazas and spaces downtown," he explained.
"How to get people to embrace their streets and their blocks to make them more fun to play on and live on, make it more livable, basically."
With a new roundabout on Tyler Street, an upcoming roundabout on Route 7, and a great deal of conversation around bike lanes downtown, this type of infrastructure has been a hot topic over the past few years.
Russo, who studied engineering in college, has taken part in Complete Streets efforts and studied the layout of Pittsfield's roads for a number of years. This is his way of putting "words into action."
He sees opportunity in anywhere that is connected and walkable, which does not just include the downtown. The West Side, Morningside, and southeast neighborhoods are all spaces that could be a part of this conversation.
The Bird scooter map that displays where they are permitted is a good guide for potential areas that could be improved, he added.
Russo's re-design generated a good deal of conversation on Facebook. He emphasized that the images and the Pittsfield Community Design Center are not affiliated with the city or state and are non-political.
"I kind of see this as almost a neutral zone, like a third party that's not the city and not like a private engineering company but somewhere that people can go to talk about these things casually," he said.
"It's not affiliated with any kind of specific project or public meeting or city council, it would be a place to sort of start brainstorming and visualizing. Low commitment, low stakes, just kind of a place to start."
Russo hopes that the effort is not seen as having any special interest or motive behind it.
"It's just someone who has lived in Pittsfield their whole life and wants to reimagine this place to be more inviting and attractive for families to come and raise their kids, for people my age who want to have like a real kind of social scene that doesn't involve having to go up into Boston or like a big city," Russo added.
"So that is just my goal."
There has been a fair amount of pushback about the reconfiguration of North Street into one-lane traffic with a buffered bike lane. Last week, the City Council approved a petition from Councilor at Large Karen Kalinowsky requesting a question on the Nov. 7 general election ballot to return North Street to four-lane traffic with turn lanes.
Russo, too, is not a huge fan of the current street layout and would love to see more done. He sees this as an opportunity to look at other ways to go about rearranging what is between the curbs of North Street.
He pointed out experimentation can sometimes end in success or failure and is glad to see ideas tested in the real world.
"I hope people can just see that it's a real team effort and you've got to be all in it together, residents, businesses, government, visitors, all ages, all different walks of life. Everyone's going to experience it differently but at the same time, we're all experiencing it together," Russo said.
"So it's not trying to pit any one person against another or any one interest against another. It's just got to be this collaborative effort in good faith. I think everyone needs to know that it's being done in good faith. It's not meant to be a political statement or a punishment or favoring one group over another. It's just really meant to be this idea that everyone should be able to safely access the heart of the city no matter how you get there."
Pittsfield Community Design Center is currently recruiting volunteers. Its direct actions will include walk audits, workshops, group rides, pop-up events, and project demonstrations.
In December, it hosted a free screening of the documentary film "The Street Project" at the Berkshire Athenaeum.
Russo can be contacted through the group's Facebook.