Building blocks: Neighborhood fair envisions a better Tyler Street

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This story has been modified to include the titles of Amewusika Sedzro and Noah Korenz.

PITTSFIELD — Patricia and Edward McLaughlin remember the old days of this section of Tyler Street.

"The library annex [for the Berkshire Athenaeum] was a little ways up the street," said Patricia, pointing east.

"The Lee Supermarket was where the old Hess station is now," said her husband.

The couple both still live in Pittsfield ("just a couple blocks down the street," said Edward) but they recall, with great fondness, growing up in this section of the city.

"It was a family-oriented place," said Patricia. "A place where everyone knew each other. You could walk down the street to get a candy bar and not have to worry about anything."

Both were back in this neighborhood to spend the afternoon at the Pittsfield Better Block tour. The block in question was the Tyler Street block between Smith and Courtland streets.

It's a mixed development block, with empty storefronts and vacant lots.

The event, according to Amewusika Sedzro, is the culmination of a three-year planning process that, hopefully, is the first step toward a transition of this block.

Sedzro and Noah Korenz, among the coordinators of the event, are Transformative Development Initiative (TDI) fellows at MassDevelopment, the commonwealth's economic development and finance authority.

The state-based municipal improvement agency hired Dallas-based consultant Team Better Block to oversee the process.

"We bring the neighborhood together, get their input on what they want to see in the area and then we transform the vacant buildings here into small, pop-up businesses," said Jonathan Braddock, the project manager for Team Better Block.

This approach leads to a more visceral sense of what the neighborhood can be, Sedzro. The team placed cafes, a produce market, a park, bike paths and a performance space in otherwise unused buildings. The former Morningside Fire House became a craft beer tent.

This approach, according to Koretz, has a dual effect. First residents can see the types of businesses that are planned for the area. In addition, the entrepreneurs who participate can gauge how well their pop-up business would perform were it to be set up here on a more permanent basis.

In addition, he said, this form of participatory feedback is better than, say, creating a large mock-up of a potential block makeover and presenting it at a formal meting.

"It's not a bad idea," Koretz said, "but at those types of meetings, you pretty much get the same crowd. At something like this, you get a lot more people coming down to see what's happening."

"This area has been in a lull," said Anaelisa Jacobsen, whose pop-up business was a cafe sponsored by the multicultural nonprofit Manos Unidas. "But I do believe businesses will be spurred to come back here."

"I think the residents here want to see it come back," said Patricia McLaughlin. "This used to be a really vital part of the city. I think people want to see that happen again."

Reach staff writer Derek Gentile at 413-770-6977.


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