PATEEZ, LATEST BIZ TO PACK IT IN DOWNTOWN, OFFERS A CAUTIONARY TALE … STREETSCAPE, PARKING, AND OTHER WOES TRACE BACK TO A LACK OF VISION … or … THANK YOU, MAYOR BIANCHI, FOR N-O-T-H-I-N-G
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, ASH WEDNESDAY, March 5, 2014) — When Petula Clark had her hit “Downtown” in 1965, the year we discovered hamburgers, she obviously wan’t warbling with a psychic’s grasp of the future, particularly the future of Downtown Pittsfield. The place we used to call “Upstreet” that used to be as crowded as 7th Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan with men, women, and children practically dressed in their Sunday best has morphed in one generation into the lonely mystery and madness of today, a crowded emptiness where the respectable people have pretty much given way to what Jethro Tull‘s Ian Anderson called “the armies of the road” in the band’s classic album, “Aqualung.” That’s why so many respectable people are, with good reasonable, afraid to head “Downtown.”
In all this, THE PLANET tells you nothing new, of course, about the overall trend to entropy (look it up!). What’s new, though, are the small slices of deterioration that can be seen from day to day. For example, look at the awful job done by the well-intended but botched Streetscape.
This program has widened sidewalks, shrunk the city’s major road, and installed bumpouts curbside to eat up probably a couple dozen parking spaces downtown, maybe more. It’s put in the ugliest concrete planters — ones that paid homage, apparently, to Soviet Monolithic architecture circa early 1970s. Streetscape installed at enormous cost self-watering planters that turned into handy trash receptacles, and to finish the job, placed repugnant black posts and chains to surround them, like grave plots. SOmber looking, to say the least.
Another everyday example is how the city handles winter,” or what is not trendily called the “Polar Vortex.” Even now, after a long time between snow storms, the mountains of snow on each side of North Street continue to eat of parking spaces and repel all except the heartiest folks. To get from car to sidewalk, depending on where you park, requires the stamina of a mountain climber, the footing of a mountain goat, and the services of a Sherpa guide. An oxygen bottle and mask wouldn’t hurt, either. On the other hand, in a community that care about itself such as Stockbridge, the snow banks were removed within two days of the last massive storm.
Pittsfield citizens have the right to ask, must demand to know, “WHY?” Why is this mediocrity allowed? When will the citizens rise up and say to Dan Bianchi, “ENOUGH!” Or will it take THE PLANET to finally do that?
Can there be any wonder than that the typical small businessperson is getting her clock cleaned by being in the downtown? We have lost count of the fine businesses that have tried it downtown and failed — not so much by their own lacking but by the systemic failings of the city itself.
The latest victim is Pateez Boutique, a clothing story in Crawford Square, one, by the way, that MRS. PLANET has been a loyal supporter. Here is her farewell letter (THE PLANET apologizes for the format, but it could not be altered from Facebook):
Patty, the owner, goes on to thank those who supported her along the way.
This letter should be taken as a warning and a lesson. Patty mentions slow growth, continual interference from construction, the debacle of Streetscape, and lack of parking.
Let’s look at these:
Slow Growth — Growth is historically defined as positive cash flow that significantly exceeds the growth rates of the overall economy. This didn’t happen at Pateez. Lack of growth can comes from many factors, including lack of financing, lack of proper business systems, poor training, lack of demand, lack of qualified customers, and so on. When a business doesn’t grow, it always can be traced to a “lack of” something. In the case of Downtown Pittsfield, one huge factor, in addition to the four Patty mentions, has to be what THE PLANET terms as “political uncertainty.” With the city so poorly run and managed, qualified customers stay away from the downtown in droves. There is an image problem, one based in reality, that no amount of Streetscape will fix. This is a problem that Dan Bianchi inherited but has elevated into a veritable art form.
Construction — There’s construction, then there’s Construction. The first (lower case “c”) happens in Pittsfield. It reflects work stemming from state grants, that “free” giveaway money that Pittsfield consumes to gluttonous levels that come with heavy ancillary costs, hidden though they may be. Such work does not reflect investment from The Dreaded Private Sector. It only appears to be so. On the other hand, Construction (cap “C”, italics) indicates mostly private money investing in the future of the locale. Anyone who wants to see what this looks like should head to Syracuse, N.Y., our home away from home, with Needles, Calif. Go to University Avenue and look for yourself, or to the delightful Armory Square, Syracuse’s “Greenwich Village.” You’ll find buildings being remodeled, new ones going up, and all done without minimum disruption, mostly all done with private investment capital.
Streetscape — A perfect example of what happens when government is left with its own “good intentions.” A shaky premise from the get-go, Streetscape has been one blunder after another — the wide sidewalks, the bumpout curbing (the city says bumpouts were included for safer pedestrian crossings!), the self-watering planters, the ugly design of the other fixtures, the countless millions of taxpayer dollars. Every mainstream medium (The Boring Broadsheet, WAMC, iBerkshires, and the like — even the once-reliable Pittsfield Gazette) has gushed itself silly praising Streetscape. Only THE PLANET has dared told the truth. When you examine the coverage of the mainstream media, a content analysis shows a close match between what they have reported and the press releases issues by the city and the state. In other words, there has been no independent coverage of this fiasco except ours, all the while while coverage begs from a number of fronts — architecturally, economically, politically, and so on. On practically all these fronts, Streetscape has been a waste of money, an abject failure of “collectivist” philosophy that has taken over The People’s Republic of Massachusetts.
Parking — Parking is downtown’s version of the Cardinal Sin. Pittsfield’s problem is not lack of parking. There are enough parking spaces for an ever-dwindling amount of business. The problem is lack of convenient parking. All winter long, the poor plowing has eaten up lots of downtown parking spaces. The double parking clogs up everything. Solution: Make all parking free in the city. No tickets. No fines. No draconian measures to tell the visitor, “You are not welcome.” Too many times, we’ve heard stories of people going downtown, parking, and coming back to find tickets on their car. Every time that happens, the city drives away another potential customer. Downtown Pittsfield Inc., that useless appendage that’s good only for sucking off taxpayer dollars, has done nothing, nothing, to help the bedraggled merchants.
This isn’t just a parking problem, either. It’s a problem that stems all the way back to a lack of vision. There’s none from the corner office or anywhere else, for that matter — Mr. Bianchi, where the —- are you? There are, however, a lot of turf wars, little battles among the “nobility” to keep their own little dukedoms intact, the cost to the public be damned. These battles are conducted by and among what we call The Suits.
THIS … IS … NOT … GOOD … ENOUGH.
THE PLANET wonders: Shall we have to wave our hand and bring an end to the folly? We can do this, you know.
“And we’ll have fun, fun, fun till her daddy takes the T-Bird away!” — The Beach Boys, “Fun, Fun, Fun,” (1964).
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.