A Look at the Future
North Adams residents this Saturday will get a glimpse of what the future could look like in their downtown, thanks to a group of environmental studies students, when they transform Eagle Street into their vision of a more livable, vital and financially sustainable locality with their "Better Block" project.
According to Felipe Aedo '13, a teaching assistant for Dr. Elena Traister in her "Green Living Seminar" course, "It is important for communities everywhere to structure their downtown differently because it can benefit their economy, the environment and their people."
Held from noon to 4 p.m., the "Eagle Street Rising" community revitalization service project will showcase some temporary changes, to include art, a bit of fresh paint, landscaping and some pop-up stores to attract business to fill empty storefronts.
This semester, the students have focused on themes related to New Urbanism - a way of thinking about the sustainability of places where people live.
"We've been using some of those ideas and concept to think about how we could make some small changes to Eagle Street that would help improve the vitality of that street in North Adams," Traister said.
The students will redesign the street by taking away a few of the parking spots and using those spaces for other activities.
"We'll expand some café-style seating for some of the restaurants. We'll have a bus stop. We'll be putting up a crosswalk in the middle of the street to encourage people to go from one side of the street to the other," Traister said.
"A very important aspect of this project is our attempt to reconnect the community with the downtown area. By making it easier and safer for people to spend time downtown, we will also allow them to reconnect with each other," said Aedo.
The street's present design is based on the concepts that have been used by humans living in densely populated areas for centuries, he explained. "These places were designed and built for people to easily walk to their destination, or use relatively slow forms of transportation."
Over recent decades, city planning has focused on accommodating the efficient movement of cars.
"Unfortunately, this process has resulted in an outward expansion of urban areas, which in turn has lead people to abandon the historic core of these cities," Aedo explained. "In the case of North Adams, it has allowed some people to easily drive through the city without even stopping in it. Restructuring downtown areas in the future will need to be focused on people and their local economies, in order to make them more resilient and sustainable."
One goal is to better accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists.
"We are elevating the role of the pedestrian to equal that to the car," said Traister. "Because of the redesign of the street, cars hopefully will be going a lot slower. We'll be painting a little bike symbol on the street and encouraging bike traffic as well.
"The idea that reducing the amount people have to drive is beneficial not only for the environment, but it also makes for healthier people and more vibrant communities. It helps to address urban sprawl and addition negative environmental and financial impacts of that type of development."
Visitors to the students' vision of Eagle Street are invited to leave their feedback on what they see. At the conclusion of the project, students will include those comments with a final report on the changes they'd like to make permanent, which they will present to the City.
"This project can have on the long-term revitalization of Eagle Street and downtown North Adams," said Aedo. "It will be amazing to look back at this experience in the future and think about our small, but significant contribution to this vital process."