Pittsfield is looking to engage and use its teenagers to create a vibrant downtown and atmosphere for youth.
The city of Pittsfield is reforming its youth commission, inactive over the past five years. Pittsfield is seeking applications from teenagers 14 to 18 to serve on what could be a 21-person committee, according to Mayor Dan Bianchi.
“The youth commission is intended to bring the thoughts of young people to light and give them a voice in government,” said Bianchi.
Bianchi says commission members could make suggestions on schools and citywide initiatives targeting the younger generation. Jake McCandless is the superintendent of Pittsfield Public Schools.
“We think it’s really important that our students have a voice,” McCandless said. “Nobody knows their world better than they do.”
McCandless says it’s important to think of the 6,000 enrolled in the district as more than just students. Instead, he says they represent an active and significant portion of the city’s 44,000 citizens.
“Adults aren’t the only ones who suffer from the disease of busyness,” he said. “Students do too. To have the youth commission actually offers a way to stop and take a pause and say ‘What do we need from our community, but also to take a look at what can we offer to our community as young people?”
Noting there are plenty of athletic and cultural opportunities available to teens through the city’s Boys & Girls Club, YMCA and theater organizations, McCandless pointed out obstacles that deserve attention.
“There are a lot of students for whom transportation is an issue,” McCandless explained. “There are a lot of students for whom the financing of some after school opportunities is a challenge. We certainly hear that there needs to be more for kids to do and we would love to be a part of that.”
Pam Tobin is executive director of Downtown Pittsfield Inc., an organization focused on economic development within the city center. She says youth input is missing from the discussions around downtown revitalization.
“You’re seeing more and more young entrepreneurs creating their own niche in the market as far as what they want to do for a living,” Tobin said. “Most of them really just want to make an impact in their community. With the city pulling together and finding various things that interest them, they can make that impact.”
Tobin and Bianchi pointed to the city’s renovated skate park reopened in 2011 as an example of a project driven by and meant for those growing up in Pittsfield. Here’s Bianchi.
“When you are talking about a skate park, it’s something that’s incredibly popular, and an adult, somebody in their 40s or 50s, just doesn’t really get it,” Bianchi said. “That’s why it’s really important to be able to have youngsters engaged in that age group that can really translate the importance to the guys that have to make the decisions.”
As the city shares the region’s concern of an aging and decreasing population, Bianchi says creating a sense of nostalgia for one’s hometown coupled with positive economic development today can bring back those who move may away from Pittsfield after high school.
“We can do the things that we need to do to grow our businesses here in the area so that there will be opportunities when that light comes on that “Oh gee, Pittsfield was a pretty good place to grow up. Maybe it’ll be a great place to raise a family now.’”
Bianchi hopes to recruit adults over 18 to serve as mentors on the commission, which will be announced in August.