Creating healthy, vibrant neighborhoods is the focus this week in the last in a series of community forums helping shape the economic, environmental and recreational future of the Berkshires.

Tonight at Lenox Town Hall and Tuesday at the Adams Public Library, the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission will seek public comment on the state of local neighborhoods and what can be done to improve them, as part of BRPC's Sustainable Berkshire project.

Both meetings are scheduled from 6-8 p.m.

"Whether a rural Windsor or downtown Pittsfield, how do we establish a healthy neighborhood?" said Amy Kacala, BRPC senior planner.

The forums wrap up BRPC's input sessions that have already addressed regional energy, transportation, conservation, recreation and infrastructure. The final phase of the three-year, federally funded study -- expected to wrap up early next year -- will look at land use, based on the seven previously examined topics.

While the last topic explored, challenges neighborhoods face throughout the county, such as affordable housing, are crucial to the Sustainable Berkshires project, according to regional planners.

"If we don't put housing close to jobs, it creates transportation issues, especially in rural areas," Kacala said.

In addition, area housing officials say a viable Berkshire economy needs to maintain and make affordable its existing housing stock.

According to the BRPC, 40 percent of the Berkshires' homes were built prior to 1940.

"We have plenty of old housing stock, so how do we keep those homes up?" questioned Brad Gordon, executive director of the Berkshire Regional Housing Authority. "We don't have an influx of young families to buy up those places."

Reversing the trend of an aging population and boosting the local labor force will be part of the Sustainable Berkshires regional master plan.

BRPC planners have said the document will replace the one the commission -- represented by all 32 Berkshire cities and town -- adopted more than a decade ago.

The BRPC began developing the Sustainable Berkshires plan in July 2011, thanks to a $590,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The BRPC has held numerous workshops and public input sessions in crafting what is intended to be a planning guide for the private and public sector, according regional planners.

Once in place, the regional master plan will make the Berkshires eligible for federal grants to implement it and act as a conduit toward possibly receiving state grants, BRPC officials have said.


What: Special town meeting will vote to decide if the town will eventually take over the Spruces Mobile Home Park.

When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.

Where: Williamstown Elementary School