Dave Pill: Pittsfield must become envy of neighboring towns
PITTSFIELD — I recently watched Mayor Tyer's State of the City address on PCTV. Full of accomplishments and platitudes, it seems like a kick off to a potential run for re-election.
One statement that caught my attention was that Pittsfield is "the envy of the other Gateway Cities" because we have an independent, downtown movie theater. That was a nod to the recent controversy about the GE fund monies that were restructured. The only folks who didn't agree with that move are those who didn't understand that the transaction was going to happen anyway, and by approving the restructuring, the city bought some time to influence something that has helped other downtown businesses by driving traffic after the time when downtown used to roll up the carpet for the night. Basically, it was a ginned up controversy by a few folks who have made it their job to say no to everything because they dislike the mayor or are sore that their candidate lost. They then convinced others that the money was recoverable when in fact it wasn't. I think Phoenix will operate the theater well, and hope they succeed. Money spent 10 years ago did its job and now we should move on.
The part of that statement that makes me nervous, however, is that I do not care if we are the envy of Holyoke, Fitchburg, Lynn, or even Barnstable. Those cities, along with 20+ others including Pittsfield, are unfortunately cities that have seen their best days, in part because the lion's share of the state's investments and actions to attract good jobs and a strong economy are devoted to Boston, which is home to just 10 percent of the state's population. In allowing this decline, I have watched crime creep into neighborhoods which have been immune because Pittsfield is not attracting the best new residents. We are attracting those who have no other alternatives — and if they are troubled, their trouble comes with them.
Rather than be the envy of Holyoke or Springfield because we have one driver that makes a downtown a more vibrant place (something that is necessary), I would prefer that we are the envy of Lanesborough, Lenox, Richmond or Dalton — the communities where many folks choose to live rather than Pittsfield — despite Pittsfield having some great neighborhoods, and is often the place where residents of those communities work. I work in Lenox and I meet folks who wouldn't live in Pittsfield for any reason — and in fact, tolerate being bounced out of their rented homes each year so that the owner can rent to the Tanglewood trade. In other words, they would rather live in their cars or bunk up with several friends in Lenox before moving to a nicer (and less expensive) place in Pittsfield. And there are those who move from nice homes in Pittsfield to either Lenox or Richmond so that they can enroll their kids in their schools at a large financial burden.
Despite the cheerleading I watch at School Committee meetings, I have met many folks who won't enroll their kids in the city's schools and have a litany of reasons why the schools here won't meet their kids' needs. Oddly enough when I query where they hear the bad stories they always cite friends and families who teach in the city's schools. In other words, if we think the schools are a war zone, it only takes employees of the district to confirm it for these folks.
I would have much preferred a plan to make Pittsfield a safer city, where we don't attract all the folks who grow up in Dalton or Lanseborough or elsewhere nearby and become the folks robbing, killing, beating, and doing other bad things on our streets and neighborhood, Rather, we attract those new General Dynamics or BMC employees who now decide they will only take the job here if they can live affordably outside the city. Once we are an acceptable choice for people to live here rather than just work and shop here, this city will be the envy of not only other Gateway City mayors but our own residents who at the moment, are wondering how in four short years we went from bad to worse and what is the leadership doing to reverse the tide.
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