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Newsletter, March 2016

Making Berkshire lemons into Berkshire lemonade

“…people see it now. They see you can live and work in close proximity. In a place like Detroit where you have 100,000 vacant sites it’s easier to do it than in a place that is built out like Seattle. I think there is a lot of possiblity there, especialy if we start making things again.”

— George McCarthy, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, From the Detroit Bankruptcy to a Global Agenda on Municipal Fiscal Health lecture August 2015

If Wall Street is an investment system, poverty is a disinvestment system. The two systems have similarities but move in opposite directions. We need resources to build wealth — people, community, organizations and opportunity, plus the mental and emotional capacity to push through the process — oh, yes — and money. When we have all these resources, we reinvest our wealth to grow more wealth. When we have too few resources, simply surviving takes everything we have, our lack of resources makes us an unattractive investment, the cycle of disinvestment begins, resources erode, and poverty grows more poverty.

George McCarthy, of Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, uses the city of Detroit to illustrate this phenomenon in his lecture, From the Detroit Bankruptcy to a Global Agenda on Municipal Fiscal Health, given at the American Institute for Economic Research in Great Barrington last August. He explains how when a community loses its most financially stable households, the local economy starts to collapse as the people with the greatest capacity for mobility depart, leaving behind the under aged, the elderly, the poor and the dependent. Property values fall, city tax revenues decline, the city has fewer resources to invest in schools and public safety, sidewalks crack, streetlights go out, potholes swallow cars, property values fall further, and tax revenues de— you get the idea.

In the decades after the departure of GE, parts of Pittsfield resemble parts of Detroit after the loss of the automotive industry. And as Detroit is mobilizing to organize its renaissance, so is Pittsfield. In his lecture, McCarthy lists the essential elements for revival: co-development of public transportation and new jobs, land use planning that strengthens neighborhoods, and investment in new clean, industrial applications that are compatible with residential uses around them. Pittsfield is already moving in this direction with two programs: the Working Cities Challenge Pittsfield and the Transformative Development Initiative Tyler Street District.

Berkshire Community Land Trust is proud to participate in the Working Cities Challenge. We represent a piece of the puzzle — land use planning that strengthens neighborhoods — and we are looking forward to the collaborations that will make Pittsfield a model gateway city for our region.

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