Mayors of Pittsfield, North Adams optimistic about cities' 'transitional moment'

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NORTH ADAMS — Pittsfield and North Adams are each "designing a city for the future."

That sentiment from Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer encapsulated the overwhelmingly positive outlook — albeit with recognition of the challenges that lie ahead — that she and North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard shared Thursday night for Berkshire County's two cities, during a conversation at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts hosted by The Berkshire Eagle.

The event was the third in The Eagle's Conversation Series, moderated by Eagle Executive Editor Kevin Moran and intended to glean insight into the mayors' perspectives on the future of their cities.

Pittsfield and North Adams have recently experienced economic growth and investment, and the mayors highlighted their city's respective assets — including a shared proximity to New York and Boston, an abundance of outdoor recreation, and an affordable and growing housing market.

"It has a little bit of everything and something for everyone," Tyer said of Pittsfield. "We are on the rise, we are in the process of designing our future after overcoming a long period of postindustrial decline."

Bernard recalled a city employee's recent description of North Adams as having a "small, urban weirdness."

"There's something to be said for unconventional," Bernard said.

And in either city, you can be at a museum or hiking on a trail in the same day.

"We have an incredible opportunity in our two cities and in the county to be a place where you can experience all of the things that make life wonderful," Tyer said.

The mayors agreed that their cities are at a "transitional moment" from an industrial past to a new, more economically diverse future.

"We've not only got to change the narrative, we've got to shout the narrative from the rooftops," Bernard said.

But despite recent gains, both cities continue to face challenges.

Bernard highlighted the financial realities that North Adams has come up against.

"How do we build a sustainable operation for the future understanding that the capacity of the resident to pay for the services they need — the level of services they demand — is a challenge?" Bernard asked.

An audience question asked why the mayors were so optimistic, given the closure of North Adams Regional Hospital and the North Adams Transcript in 2014 and the Berkshire Museum's decision to sell some of its collection.

"If we talk about everything we've lost, then that becomes the obstacle to building what we can build," Bernard said.

The mayors also addressed the high rates of reported violent crime in both cities, saying that they take the issue seriously but cautioning against over-reliance on the data.

Tyer said an FBI report that lists Pittsfield and North Adams as having the fifth-highest and No. 1 rate of violent crime, respectively, is "misleading to a degree for a variety of reasons" and "not a true reflection, necessarily, of what's actually happening on the ground in our communities."

Bernard similarly advised against using the FBI report to rank cities and towns, noting that the FBI has claimed it's not intended for that purpose and that many municipalities choose not to report crime statistics at all. North Adams recently found a coding issue that might have artificially inflated the reported violent crime rate.

Adam Shanks can be reached at ashanks@berkshireeagle.com, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


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