A new community project on Pittsfield’s Tyler Street is holding a launch party Saturday.
Two years ago, Pittsfield, Massachusetts participated in the Better Block Initiative – a model developed by the Better Block Project used nationwide to revitalize communities. On August 26th, 2017, Pittsfield brought art galleries, farmers’ markets, and other things rarely seen on Tyler Street to Morningside, a lower-income community just northeast of its downtown core.
“So out of that idea for that one-day popup, the community sat around the table and said ‘we need more stuff like this in the community – what can we do?’” said Kate Lauzon.
She's the marketing manager and outreach coordinator for the Tyler Street Collaborative. She says that’s when the group who brought Better Block to Pittsfield – MassDevelopment’s Transformative Development Initiative – came in.
“So they said, what if we take an underutilized space on Tyler Street and we give a chance to the community to incubate their ideas," she told WAMC. "And that’s what the Tyler Street Lab is.”
Lauzon is also the chair of the Morningside Initiative – the neighborhood’s advocacy group to the city – and a community navigator for Berkshire Bridges, an offshoot of Working Cities Pittsfield that seeks to find ways out of poverty for residents.
“Tyler Street and Morningside, specifically, because I’m a resident here I’d have to say community is definitely a word I would associate with Tyler Street," said Lauzon. "Also, eclectic.”
The Tyler Street Lab – located at 730 Tyler Street – captures both of those ideas. It brings together multiple community groups under a single roof, in an underutilized building.
Its large glass windowed façade used to house a plumbing business – and briefly, a taekwondo studio.
“So when you immediately walk in from the front door, it’s a big open community space and basically can be used for a lot of things," said Lauzon. "You can have events here, you can have meetings here – we’ve had board meetings here. Pittsfield Moves was here last night, having a meeting. And they did some movement.”
Overlooking it is an AV room that controls speakers in the community space.
“And there will be a computer lab in there for the kids’ afterschool programs, and also a recording studio,” said Lauzon.
The afterschool program is run by community activist Shirley Edgerton. “The Chill Zone” started down the street at the Goodwill before moving to the lab.
“Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon she has a bunch of kids here and they do projects and stuff," explained Lauzon. "And we were just talking before you came about getting 4H involved, and how we could get them involved with her and her afterschool kids, and we’re looking for maybe someone in the community who wants to be a 4H club leader.”
It also houses Rose & Cole Transport Co-op – a rideshare company aimed at lower-income residents – and the first official office for the NAACP’s Berkshire County Branch in 30 years, as well as an office for Hopeseed Collaboration.
“Which is out of Manos Unidas, and Manos Unidas is a nonprofit organization that focuses on the Latino community,” said Lauzon.
Lauzon says the project is supported largely by the TDI and the Goodwill. Currently, the lab is funded through June.
“But we’re hoping to continue past that," she told WAMC. "But we definitely need the backing of the community.”
Lauzon says the collaborative is raising funds online, reaching out to local businesses for donations, and writing grants in an effort to secure a year lease on the space.
The lab’s launch party is Saturday.
“All the core collaborators will be here," said Lauzon. "So from 1:30 to 4:30, we’ll have entertainment, we’ll have food. I’m putting together a door prize so if you come you have a chance to win it – it’s all stuff from businesses around Pittsfield.”
Lauzon says the lab is beginning to make its mark on the community: “This is the first time that everyone’s been able to work together and say, ‘we’re all here for the common goal, and we’re not going to get angry at each other and we’re not going to take our own personalities and get conflicted with it – we’re just going to work towards the common goal.’”
For more on the Tyler Street Lab, click here.