Those who know me know that I love living in my apartment "flat" on North Street, one dwelling unit of at least fifty that have now come online during the rebirth/rebranding/renaissance of North Street. According to a recent interview with a property developer that is currently retrofitting an old church sanctuary into market rate apartments, there is enough demand for up to two hundred (!) dwelling units around the downtown area. That would be a huge step to creating a critical mass of density that would allow the city to really activate a lot of its remaining vacant storefront and underutilized public space. But for now, what is life like for the denizens of the currently existing apartments in the downtown area?
1. Walkability. There are many definitions of walkability, some more strict than others. One objective way to look at a neighborhood's walkability is its WalkScore. Pittsfield on average has a WalkScore of 38, which is solid car dependence. The center of town, however, ranks extremely high, topping out at a WalkScore of 90: "Walkers' Paradise." Personally, I do not require a car for any of my errands. The grocery store, post office, hardware store, bank, and several convenience stores are an easy walk or bike ride away. How does your neighborhood rank? What are some ways to raise the score?
2. Sociability. Do you know your neighbors? Do you get the chance to meet or give directions to strangers regularly? The answers to these questions can be a purely personal choice no matter where one lives. As someone who lives solo though, answering "yes" to these questions provides a great outlet for socializing and making friends. A quick anecdote: I recently climbed the stairs up to my floor and found my neighbor's apartment door open with chatter coming from inside. My neighbor spots me walking by and invites me in to show off some new decor. I end up chatting with him and the couple that owns the restaurant on the ground floor (who found their way up to the third floor somehow) for at least a half hour. Later, I gave a tour of my apartment to all of them. It ended up being a great outlet for socializing, gossip, and getting to know one another better.
3. Spontaneity. Some might say that true freedom is having a car at your disposal to travel to the other side of town at a whim. But is it freedom when all you want is a cup of coffee and you need to travel to the other side of town? It is not much of an overstatement to say that I can choose almost any type of cuisine that I feel like, and know that I can go find it on a whim. Pittsfield is lucky to have an economy that is strong enough to sustain a selection of different restaurants, attractions and other cultural venues that allows someone like me the freedom of choice that I have. Grocery shopping is the same way. I can choose to make one large weekly trip to the store for many items, or, if I forget something or change my mind, I can return to the store anytime and get what I need.
To conclude, the best things that downtown Pittsfield affords to its permanent downtown residents are the ease of walkability, the sense of sociability, and the freedom of spontaneity. These are not unique to Pittsfield. However, the number of Americans who can enjoy these things is far too low in my opinion. It is possible to change that, though. It begins with the choices that we decide to make, both as individuals, and in choices made by leaders.