image description
Nicholas Russo's re-imagining of what the West Street intersection could look like. The illustration is not official in any way and the Pittsfield Community Design Center is a non-governmental community group seeking to spark conversation and ideas.

Pittsfield Community Group Wants to Actualize City's Potential

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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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 been posting on Facebook for years about downtowns, streetscapes, transportation, community planning and roundabouts — lots of roundabouts. Most of his posts have garnered a handful of comments or shares until his illustration of a West Street roundabout drew nearly a hundred comments.
"Pittsfield deserves safe, modern infrastructure. I think we can all agree that the “West Street/West Street” intersection is sorely in need of attention. Currently it is conducive to high speeds, long crossing distances, and odd traffic patterns due to heavy left turns," he wrote, along with an image of what a roundabout there might look like. 
His post came after a fatal pedestrian accident last week when a mother and her 3-year-old daughter were struck trying to cross West Street in that area near Dorothy Amos Park. The mother, Shaloon Milord, 30, has subsequently died of her injuries.

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.

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Construction Grant Changes No Longer Align with Berkshire Atheneum's Goals

By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff
PITTSFIELD, Mass — The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners has adjusted this round of its construction grant program, no longer aligning with the Berkshire Athenaeum's goals. 
This grant round is really no longer a renovation program, library Director Alex Reczkowski said during a trustees meeting last week.
Interested applicants need at least two locations that they would be interested in pursuing as possible libraries or locations, not just the current library, he said. Acceptance of the award is once every 30 years. 
Although the library has some physical upgrades to the building in its strategic plan, it does not have enough data for a bigger project than that, Reczkowski said. 
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