On a recent trip to Central New Hampshire, we passed through a few awesome little towns. Bennington, Vt., was a town that I fell in love with. It had great charm, an awesome business district, and we were just so happened to stop by on their annual "Midnight Madness" event: a yearly celebration of local businesses where stores stay open till at least midnight. There was live music in the streets, mini events happening within the businesses, and TONS of people out to support their town. We were really happy about this event when the owner of the motel that we stayed in informed us that it’s THE event of the year in Bennington.
We grabbed dinner at a local restaurant and decided to stroll around. This town had put the infrastructure in place to move the powerlines to secondary streets, it made for a beautiful streetscape. The abundance of people on the streets made it feel safe (the immediate upside to having nightlife in a small town). They had bump-outs to make pedestrian crossing safer, on street parking (I didn’t see a parking lot), and local-artist-made sculptures on the street corners. It was the exact sort of charm that Bellevue has the potential for! Nearly all of the storefronts had sidewalk seating, a very inviting and warm addition to a business district. We checked out art galleries, coffee shops, cafes, bistros, bars, and breweries. We stopped into a local brew pub for a drink (we had some great beers that are made on premise!) and to meet some locals. There was live music playing, not a seat in the house was open (standing room only, after we snatched up the last seats at the bar!), and a strong sense of community when speaking to the local crowd. Although the town seemed to have something for everyone, for every age and every interestŠit was clear that the local economy was driven by the younger crowd. The streets were mostly dominated by younger people sipping coffee, business "hopping," and enjoying cocktails, food, and conversation on the sidewalk cafe tables.
It was truly inspiring for me as a LiB member, it was a glimpse at what our awesome town could become with the right steps, a little risk, and some elbow grease. I think it would be worth every drop of sweat and every "change" that our borough is so worried about making. If everyone is so focused on clinging onto the past and not focused on changing the town for future generations, we will continue down the same path that we’re on now, leaving the youth with no choice but to "vote with their feet" and move on to other parts of Pittsburgh. The City of Pittsburgh is bursting at the seams with national awards and reasons to stay in the city. The towns around Pittsburgh are blowing up with businesses. Should we continue down the path of chasing the youth OUT, or should we see the opportunity to tap into all of the Pittsburgh Buzz and create a town that draws them in, gives them a place to live, shop, play, wine and dine? Now is the time for changes to be made!
This piece was originally posted July 25 on the Liberty in Bellvue, Pa., blog. It is reprinted here by permission. To see more posts from DiBattista, visit the blog at http://libertyinbellevue.com/