Great Barrington has always had a good opinion of itself, but recent accolades may have gone to our heads. Being called the #1 small town in America is exciting, and Iíve done my best as a booster over the years. But when census figures are rolled out, and tax bills are presented, I start to wonder if weíve got a firm grasp on who and what we are. For those who donít know (shockingly, not everyone has heard about us), Great Barrington is a small town in the western hills of Massachusetts with a population of less than 7,000 full-time residents. A block in New York has more people than that. It’s†a compact town, situated in a river valley with a picture-perfect little Main Street that offers views of the Berkshire Hills. Its most famous native was the African American W. E. B. Du Bois, who wrote ďI was born by a golden river and in the shadow of two great hills.Ē Iíve heard people say that weíre #1 so whatever we are doing must be right, even if it means projects that will change the town that outsiders like so much. Weíre #1 so we should be willing to spend big bucks, even though our population is declining. This is dangerous for a rural community that has been trying very hard to come up with a way to exist and prosper in the 21st century.
Some say small-town politics are more vicious than the big-city variety because the stakes are so small. They can be vicious, thatís for sure. But the stakes arenít small for people who live here and pay the bills, and my limited involvement in local politics has been a chance to connect with life-long residents who feel pressured by rising taxes and by an economy that is too dependent on tourists and second-home owners.
I drove up Route 7 to Monument Mountain High School on Friday night as the moon rose over East Mountain, milky white and nearly full, luminous in a sky streaked with coral and rose pink from the setting sun. I had forgotten how beautiful that stretch of the Berkshires is in the evening. I hadnít been to a School Committee meeting since 2001 when I resigned soon after I returned from my first trip to China. In the twelve years since then, my attention has been focused on an increasingly global business, but between spearheading the Train Campaign and running a popular online group based in my Great Barrington neighborhood, Iíve been refocusing on local issues and thinking again about how I can best make a contribution to the small town I call home.
Neighborly harmony is a thing devotedly to be wished for. It is not easy to achieve, and I've read plenty in the course of my research on community about battles over hedges (a huge issue in the UK), loud music, and lawn and garden housekeeping. It's easy to avoid neighbors today. I know someone who
The town I live in ("some of the time," my neighbors might say) is known for efforts to promote local businesses as part of a sustainable regional economy. I've written about them and will be writing more. When I came across this article, which mentions the "sense of community," I wondered if such a thing
After rereading The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community over the weekend, I am paying more attention to diners. I might visit Adrien's Diner in Pittsfield - eggs and bacon are the tough part of doing this type of research - and