Young West Side Residents Help Shape New Pittsfield Park

Aug 20, 2018

Federal funds are moving a long awaited park in Pittsfield, Massachusetts closer to reality. WAMC has an update on the West Side Riverway Project.

Tessa Kelly, of Pittsfield-based architectural firm Arcade, is at the front of a room full of kids at Conte Community School.

“So this the kickoff of the design for the future West Side Riverway park, which will be a park in Pittsfield at the intersection of Dewey Ave and Bradford Street,” she told WAMC.

Arcade is designing the park for the city. The project has been in the works for more than a decade. Now that the city has secured and cleaned up 10 parcels of land along the Housatonic River, a $75,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts is allowing time to tailor the project to the neighborhood.

“Part of what the NEA grant is allowing us to do is to do five months of community engagement before officially starting the design for this project,” said Kelly.

That engagement starts here, with 30 kids who live on Pittsfield’s West Side. Kelly, along with her husband, fellow architect and Arcade co-founder Chris Parkinson, has brought three design professionals to meet the kids, all of whom participate in a West Side institution.

“It is the Marilyn Hamilton Sports and Literacy Program. It’s run by Manny and the Christian Center. It’s been going on for years – I was actually went here when I was a kid," said Chris Harrington, 29. He's a counselor at the camp, which has more than 70 enrolled children this year. It began in 1997 as a dance program, growing into a multi-faceted community program.

“We do sports, a lot of literacy stuff like drama, art class. We paint around the school and at the parks, you know – just try to help the community," Harrington told WAMC. "We go pick up trash and stuff like that.”

Kelly says this makes the kids the ideal starting point for planning the park.

“They are the experts on this site, so we are here to get their ideas about how they think this new park should be used,” she said.

Surrounded by glue, site maps, and architectural modelling equipment, the young experts get to work.

“I think that it should be better than all the other parks in Pittsfield. And it should be welcoming," said 14-year-old Simira Hanger. “And it should have swings, a basketball court, bleachers - places for people to sit. A pavilion. And it should have a swimming pool.”

“We’re working on a hangout and a food court," said Laureus Pettijohn, 10. “So people can have food if they’re hungry and so that they can hang out with their friends and meet new friends.”

He sees the food as a facilitator.

“We think that people socialize better when they can have food and eat,” Pettijohn told WAMC.

Kaylee Jackson, 9, also sees food as a way to strengthen the community’s relationship with the park.            

“I wanted to bring food to the park so it – so when people get like hungry, they don’t gotta go home or walk home and just have to –  then after, maybe they might have to go back to the park," said Jackson. "So they can just have a little picnic instead of bringing their own stuff.”

“This group over here is looking at – they want more spaces to hang out and eat food and make music," said Tanu Kumar. She's an urban planner, one of the design professionals Kelly and Parkinson brought in. She’s in charge of one of the five tables of kids.

“So they’re trying to create a multifaceted pavilion space that will have kinda like a music area and a food area and you can walk – they’re going to make a hallway, kind of a corridor, so you can walk in between both. But they want to make sure that they’re all covered so that all the equipment and the food will be protected from the rain,” said Kumar.

Va’sean Pettijohn, 11, is in the pavilion camp.

“Maybe there’s going to be a festival in the park or something, and people want to gather in there for the shade,” he told WAMC.

Not all of the participants are constraining themselves to the practical.

“The table that I’m at, so far, the ideas – one kid wants to build a jungle," said Kelly. “The culmination of this community design phase is an exhibition in January at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts where we will display all the ideas that have come out of these various brainstorming sessions, and show how we are starting to translate those into the design for the future of the park, which will kick off construction next summer.”

Harrington looks past the park as he watches his youthful wards excitedly mock up models of food carts, pavilions, dance floors, and even jungles alongside architects, designers, and urban planners.

“Hopefully some of them will like it enough where maybe they want to pursue that as a career,” he said with a hopeful smile.