The Bookends of North Street
I am lucky to live in a vibrant and active area of Pittsfield, an I'm often drawn out to take a walk on a Saturday or Sunday morning to take in the sights and study the urban makeup of downtown. Since this is a long holiday weekend, I decided to take a longer walk, which brought me from my block adjacent to Park Square to the intersection of Charles Street/North Street and back. These repeated walks have helped to continually improve my evolving picture of the downtown area, especially North Street. Over time, two distinct blocks have stuck out to me, which I've decided to call the bookends of North Street, since they fall at opposite ends of the downtown corridor. The similarities between these blocks can be found in their "pull" and "linger" factors: attractions that get outside residents and visitors to arrive, and destinations that they may visit as a secondary stop before or after their primary errand.
The first (South) bookend is my block: containing apartment housing, the Beacon Cinema (a large regional pull for visitors), five restaurants and office space. This diversity of uses brings visitors to this block for many different reasons at many different times of day. Starting at 6am some days, I see patrons inside the yoga and dance studio above the Beacon doing an early-morning workout. Then, soon after, the lights come on at the Marketplace, and the first employees begin setting up to open. Office workers at the bank branches and law offices arrive for their 9-5 workdays, and the Beacon opens soon after for its matinee showings.
Then, lunch hour hits, and the office workers, high school students, tourists, visitors or stay-at-home apartment dwellers all mix and mingle on the street level, grabbing their lunches to go, or maybe lingering at a table for an extended lunch or meeting (see also Jane Jacobs' metaphor of the sidewalk ballet). By the end of the work day, office employees emerge again onto the sidewalk, some stopping for a bite or afternoon coffee (as I sometimes do), or to chat on the street. Families arrive later in the evening to catch a movie, or visit one of the restaurants on the block. Finally, a late night crowd is also beginning to form in response to the offering of late night entertainment at J. Allen's Grill and for late movie showings.
Pull Factor: The Beacon Cinema, daytime offices
Linger Factors: Five restaurants, one late-night
The second (North) bookend of North Street is the block bordered by Maplewood Avenue and Bradford Street. Like my block, it also contains apartment living, (future) offices, and several current restaurant offerings. I say this in hopes of the Lantern quickly reopening after its sudden closure at the end of the summer. As the Marketplace is the token cafe for the southern bookend of North Street, Dottie's is the analogous cafe for the northern bookend. The cafe's all-day presence provides an anchor for this block, which is complemented by the later-day dining establishments like Mission Bar and Tapas, Empire Pizza, Golden Phoenix and (hopefully) the Lantern. Retail establishments like the Funky Phoenix, Circa furniture and nearby Carr Hardware (a larger regional pull for customers) enhance the block as well.
Like the southern bookend, this neighborhood also has an all-day schedule with a similar dynamic. A yoga studio like the one above the Beacon Cinema attracts customers from the early morning through late afternoon. As establishments open for lunch, more customers are drawn from the surrounding areas. There will hopefully be a more direct clientele nearby once the Framework Coworking space opens its doors. The biggest difference between these two blocks is the lack of corporate office structure, though the hospital is only a few blocks away. There is an emerging late night scene in this bookend as well, with the popular establishments Methuselah lounge and Mission Bar and Tapas going head to head on opposite ends of the block. The institution of St. Joseph's Church also brings visitors to the street at times when there are normally fewer people out, especially on my block.
Pull Factors: Carr Hardware, St. Joseph's Church, future Framework Coworking
Linger Factors: Four restaurants, plus two late-night, retail
There is a bigger dynamic to the urban space of Pittsfield than one might think at first glance, and I believe that the most vibrant and active blocks that we can find should be studied, enhanced and replicated to make more popular and attractive neighborhoods all around the city. It is important to see the big picture but to also stop and get out the magnifying glass. Looking up close at the makeup and activities taking place on a single block or single building is how we learn how to develop the building blocks for the rest of the city. Keep exploring, and take note of the places in Pittsfield that you find most active and attractive.