N. Adams summit reveals a clear lack of vision
To the editor:
The headline for The Eagle story July 16 on the North Berkshire Economic Summit proclaims "Arts, vision are keys to Northern Berkshire's economic strength." After reading the article, I have some serious doubts about the "vision" of two of the main speakers at the economic summit.
First, Jay Ash, the state's secretary of housing and economic development, talked about a growth model for economic development based on tax breaks for private investors. He promoted the work he did in Chelsea as one we should be following in the North Berkshires. What he apparently neglected to tell his audience is that the (2013) poverty rate in Chelsea is 30.7 percent, twice the rate of the state (15.3 percent), and even higher than North Adams' rate.
Second, Thomas Krens, whose vision led to Mass MoCA, spoke about his economic development and job creation plans for a second museum by the airport and a giant model railroad exhibit at Heritage State Park. Krens apparently neglected to tell his audience that his earlier promise that MoCA would provide 600 direct and indirect full-time jobs had yet to be realized.
But what seems most disturbing about Mr. Krens' presentation was his reference to the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi project, as evidence that "I know how to do these projects." A quick Google search of that project points out that despite a 2006 agreement with the United Arab Emirates to build a huge museum on Saadiyat Island, construction has yet to begin. If it ever does begin, one hopes that Mr. Krens and the Guggenheim can pressure the UAE government to liberalize its policies, so that workers are no longer forced to labor under conditions of "modern day slavery" (The Observer, December, 2013).
I wonder what Mr. Krens would discover if he took a week to walk the neighborhoods of North Adams and ask its residents about their economic development desires. He could walk along with Mr. Ash, who stated that he doesn't want to lead in North Berkshire, "but I have to figure out how to follow" to listen to the members of the community.
If they took that walking and listening tour, they could ask local residents: Would you rather have a full service hospital or a huge model railroad? Would you prefer another museum by the airport or a government program to put people to work repairing our bridges, weatherizing our homes and subsidizing good quality child care? What else do you think would help you and this community?
I suspect that the answers to those questions would be useful to bring to the next local summit on economic development.
Maynard Seider, Philadelphia, Pa. The writer is an emeritus professor of Sociology, MCLA.