John Seven: Troubled by city's negative portrayal


NORTH ADAMS >> I'm defensive of North Adams. It's where I raised my two sons into adulthood, and where I've spent 13 years writing about the creative revolution here, getting to know dynamic citizens seizing so many moments and making things happen.

That's why I'm angered by a growing vocal negativity, bashing North Adams by painting it as a crumbling shambles of "drugs, blight, crime." I'm annoyed by people making it sound like some post-apocalyptic wasteland of "atrophy" and "stagnation," a city physically falling apart and "chasing will-o-wisp goals," where the downtown is "dying" and "absolutely empty."

Sounds like a horrible place to live. Glad I don't.

North Adams' problems are shared by towns all over this country, but they have not overtaken our city, nor do they define life here. That's a narrow scope. Look past that limited picture and you'll see a place of dynamic efforts stacking up to critical mass, creating a energetic path to a bountiful tomorrow despite present challenges, which always exist, though the energetic, future-building energy that we currently boast doesn't.

North Adams is helped by big picture investments that service current citizens and encourage outsiders to sample the city, become invested in it and follow with physical, emotional, and sometimes financial efforts. These people sample the city by being made aware of its existence, which requires inventive lures. We have many of those in place and more on the way.

For instance, Wind-Up Fest enjoyed excellent national attention, and is aiming to put its events even more squarely in North Adams. Add that to what we already have — Solid Sound, Fresh Grass, the food festival, DownStreet Art, Open Studios, Bang on a Can, Mass MoCA, Fall Foliage Parade, Motorama and more — which allow thousands to encounter our city. The upcoming community arts festival at Windsor Lake, bolstered by improvements there and at the campgrounds, will draw more eager visitors.

Innovative organizations are making investments downtown. Maker's Mill shines pretty brightly with a model that goes well beyond retail, as well as ExPress, the sequel space to the incredibly successful Press Gallery. Downtown Sounds and the Common Folk Collective show innovation in investing not merely money, but humanity and ideas, inviting inclusiveness and community.

NBCC's skate park project will not only service young community members, but thanks to the involvement of Mass MoCA's Susan Cross, include a public art aspect. There's also a BMX component and plans for a splash park and other expansion.

The Colegrove School should do wonders to raise the perception of education in North Adams, crucial to the ratings that communicate desirability to potential homebuyers.

There's Bright Ideas Brewing coming, plus strong efforts to fortify the corridor between North Adams and Williamstown, like the Greylock Mill and the massive Redwood Motel project that now includes Blackinton Mill and acres of riverside property. There's also the Krens museum project.

Complimenting these are the efforts for a bike path to Williamstown, the Hoosac River Revival and City Councillor Josh Moran's plan to make North Adams an Appalachian Trail Community, as well as his "Bikes For Hikers" program. The railway to Adams is another important link in the crucial collaborative future with our neighbors.

This is an incredibly exciting time to live in North Adams. Many people think so and don't recognize the shell of a city described by naysayers. North Adams is truly alive.

Calling North Adams "devastated" is a mean-spirited and short-sighted insult to those citizens working intensely to improve its present for its future. Calling North Adams "devastated" means you're victim to your own lack of imagination. The city is anything but —it's a survivor thanks to all its creative citizens. Its future is all of us.

John Seven, a writer, lives in North Adams. He can be reached at or at


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