Thursday, May 07, 2015

Great Barrington's downtown is devastated!

Anyone who lives in southern Berkshire County certainly knows what's happened in recent weeks in Great Barrington.

It looks a little bit like a war zone.  The streets and the sidewalks have been torn up on Main Street. All the white flowering pear trees -- which would normally be in bloom -- are gone.

Walking down the street you get dirt blowing in your eyes. It's harder to park. It's difficult to walk.

To some people, the city project -- to replace Main Street -- is hard to fathom. According to Red Crow News, a blog that covers Berkshire County, the decision to rip up Main Street is the stupid idea of GB's town officials, who were lured to use a pot of state money for a project that is of dubious value. Says Red Crow, a quirky website that has its finger solidly on the pulse of the Berkshires:

"But I can’t be the only one thinking there is something really weird about ripping apart The Best Small Town in America for a summer or two for a mere four or five mil. Granted, it’s the State’s money, not ours. Gettya free money! Free money! Right over here!

"Some folks thought we should replace Main Street over ten years. But they were merchants. And some of them actually lived outside of town. A little bit of work for a manageable amount of money each and every year. Find a crack, fix a crack.

"But the Town Manager and the Select Board and the State are convinced the free State money will make the Best Small Town in America even Bester.

And you can’t be Bester without some pain. Lose a few small businesses. You can hear the coaches yelling: “Dig Deeper!”

It was Smithsonian magazine that in 2012 hailed Great Barrington (along with Taos, New Mexico) the best small town in America. What would the magazine say today? 

According to the Berkshire Edge, another local on-line news source quoting town officials, the project will “improve sidewalks, drainage, curbs, traffic signals, crosswalks, and lighting.” The reconstruction will also better the town's bike lanes.

Pittsfield's main newspaper, The Berkshire Eagle, says the $6.2 million state Department of Transportation project has the approval of many merchants who say that buckling sidewalks are dangerous. Still, Main Street's merchants are suffering. Who cares to brave this colossal mess to stop into a toy store, or a photo shop, or to check out Tune Street's musical offerings?

The Edge says the upheavel will "proceed throughout this construction season, and into the following year. During the tourist season in July and August, work will be suspended in the downtown core, from Bridge to Elm streets."

It's hard to imagine how suspending this mess for two months will make things all right for the summering and vacationing crowds that descend on Berkshire County each year. Memorial Day is right around the corner. How can the town possibly replace the sidewalks by then? (If they do, I will definitely let you know!)

The only way to keep things in perspective is to think about how minor this situation is compared to a real disaster the likes of which we've never seen in the U.S. I'm thinking of course about the gargantuan earthquake in Nepal.

When I see photos of that devastation, I am reminded of something my daughter often says, that we Americans have a whole lost of "first world problems." Granted, the GB situation is one pain in the butt, but you know things will be righted relatively soon. The devastation in Nepal, and in so many other areas of the world hit by earthquakes and tsunamis (Haiti comes to mind) are beyond comprehension. The war zones there don't go away.


1 comment:

Kay Pea said...

When I read about the murdered pear trees I read no more. Great Barrington is no longer great. Not even mediocre