Greg Roach's Berkshires Blog
Sunday, June 08, 2008
  North Adams circa 2018
In response to our resident naysayer and crank, city councilor Clark Billings, I posted the the following ways I see North Adams changing in the next 10 years in the comments of a previous thread:
By 2018, there will be a street or a building named after John Barrett III and many of the businesses and various pieces of civic infrastructure he helped put/keep in place (library, Y, parks, etc...) will be thriving, but the city will be very different.

  • The average age will be considerably lower and closer to the state average.
  • Much of the housing stock will have been rehabilitated and some of the neighborhoods close to downtown will be more owner-occupied than rental.
  • [Clark's] employer, MCLA, will have re-established itself as a cornerstone of the city. And it will have shed its reputation as a glorified community college, which will in turn attract better students and a faculty that doesn't commute from other towns.
  • Main Street and Eagle St will have gentrified to serve the younger population. (that's an oxymoron if ever I've heard one.)
  • MoCA will no longer be a fledgling institution. Instead it will be a fully endowed entity with a permanent collection that is topped only by MoMA and the Guggenheim.
  • Williamstown's anti-growth policies will continue to make North Adams an attractive place for middle class transplants.
  • The school system will benefit as the proportion of students living in poverty along with transient students decreases. It is even possible that north county may be combined into a single district by then.
.... and the list goes on.
What do YOU, the readers of this blog, think will be different in 2018?
North Adams is attractive to a lot of folks on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum. Lot of Section 8, SSI, disability, under-the-radar types. They come from Pittsfield and Springfield and Albany and Hartford cuz they can find a place here for $500 a month, and it has a Social Security office right downtown, a hospital, a bus to the mall, food banks, free Xmas presents and winter coats.

Where do THEY go to make way for all these yuppies?

And where do the yuppies end up working?

2018 is going to a look a lot more like 2008 than I bet you're thinking. Just a thought.
I understand that we have a glut of rental housing that is section 8 eligible. Aside from the city's public housing, I suspect a significant chunk of the housing stock, especially between within a 1/4 mile of downtown will convert back to owner-occupied. It is already happening as renting becomes less profitable and more regulated. Watch the next 3 years. As the buyer's market accelerates, you will see landlords bailing out.

I do *not* propose that the poor *should* be pushed out. I am just saying that the trend appears to be underway. Look at the neighborhoods between River St and the hospital. Also, the whole neighborhood east of Church and North of MCLA is slowly changing before our eyes, house by house. My neighborhood is changing. Just drive down Notch Rd. The dilapidated houses have all been fixed up in the past few years. They are pretty much gone.

The "yuppies" you derisively refer to will not live in North Adams. Instead you will get a more stable middle class - which is what the city lost over the past 30 years. You will get those, like me, who move here because of the educational institutions. There will be business owners. The hospital will continue to provide great jobs caring for your generation. We already have some telecommuting neighbors who choose to live away from the bigger cities - This trend will be huge over the next generation (I already know a couple of graphic artists, computer types and an investment banker who work from their NA homes) There will be jobs created by MCLA and the retail sector. And, whether you like it or not, there are more and more members of the arts community making a successful living in town. There are plenty of employees of Williams who want more house for their buck. The list of employers and potential employers goes on and on and on.

I've lived in communities as they transform a few times in my adult life. (The "Wedge" neighborhood in Minneapolis. Proctor in Tacoma.) It rarely happens overnight, but there is no denying the current demographics will change. We currently have twice the average percentage of retirees in NA along with a decent percentage of people under 35. As the younger crowd becomes the civic base over the next decade, things will not stay static.

North Adams is not going to look like the too-ultra-hip Northampton, but I think it is fair to say that we currently do NOT look like North Adams circa 1990.
Yuppies don't come to North Adams, because yuppies rely on high paying jobs in their upward mobility and there just aren't enough of those here to create a yuppie community.

Many of the urban types who do come here tend to be self-employed, (though there are also those who aren't but are hardly yuppies. Dunkin Donuts sells lattes these days, this isn't 1993 anymore).

2018 could look more like 2008 than Greg thinks, largely because there could be a separation between the self-employed people who have lives beyond NA (and many are past the point of having children, which will affect Greg's forecast) and the locals reliant on jobs.
I maintain that what you're mistaking for a trend is a smallish bunch of the flexibly employed finding that they can make it here.

For every household earning >$75K moving into the city, there's AT LEAST another one earning < $30K moving in next door. There's your trend, sir.
1. The Civil War statue will be removed and in it's stead will be a twice as large golden statue of John Barrett (placed there by his own decree)
2. Benches will be everywhere! (because the boomer's will have come of age and were desperate for a place of respite while out)
3. MoCa will finely be paying their taxes to the town but being only half there size won't add much to the town coffers (they had to rent out space for income to pay their expenses).
4. MCLA, because of state financial crisis, will be forced to revert back to a State Teachers College, in content and in name!
5. The Towns Housing stock will all but cease to exist because of being torn down from lack of owners financial ability to keep up with repairs. Those that are left will be owned by Condo Corporations seeking Hugh profits from out of towner's.
6. The school system will have reverted back to the "OLD DRURY HIGH" because of lack of school age children, (the young families have been forced to move out of the area because of lack of decent paying jobs that can support raising a family)
7. Eagle Street will become the dollar store of the Town. With cheep Chinese trinkets and do-dads being sold. Main Street will continue to blink on and off with stores and dinners closing as fast as new ones open.
.... and the list goes on.
For every household earning >$75K moving into the city, there's AT LEAST another one earning < $30K moving in next door. There's your trend, sir.

Considering that every household that moves in that media income or above is a *new* household, I think you've missed the point. The middle class in NA almost disappeared 20 years ago. And now you have a slowly growing one.

You have a couple of docs living in town, now. There are college and museum professionals who are buying *in* town rather than one or two towns away.

Yes, poverty is still, and will be an issue. But it is not going to be the defining aspect of the majority of our populace forever.

And $30K is far more than most of our abundant crop of seniors make. The pendulum is swinging back.
2018?? you won't have chbpod to kick around anymore----how boring--
Good points Greg.

I too think this is the direction we can go.

While we happen to be some of those that moved here and brought our businesses with us, we do hire people to work for those businesses which provides jobs to the community. The more we can do that, the better off we will be.

We are also in our lower thirties, live in the city and have 2 kids that will attend the public schools here.

Things can change. But there needs to be guidance for it... and there doesn't seem to be enough of that around here.
Hi Greg. I admit I'm one of those self-employed "urban-types." My husband works at Storey. I came by to see if you'd commented on the recent Rudd-Transcript goings-on, and was surprised to see this list of what North Adams could be in 2018. I'd be curious to know how you think the community might evolve toward something like what you describe. Having only been here for a year, I'm not too knowledgeable on recent efforts, and have been wary to get involved until I learn a bit more. North Adams isn't yet a place I can imagine staying in for years and years, but I think it has that potential, and I would love to help it get there.
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