So, I have been on quite the Tumblr hiatus. However I have something that has really gotten me going that I want to talk about.
Worcester, a city that I love is once again on the verge of ruining it’s downtown in what I think the city leaders see as “Progress.” Before I start my tirade of crimes committed against the downtown area, I want to talk about the good things that have happened to this city since the 1999-2000 area, when I got interested in the city, when I was very young. Since then we have had the renovation of Union Station and the creation of the spectacular transit hub that I love and think was great planning on the city’s part. We have had the renovation of the Public Library with its great Salem Square addition. The undergoing renovation of the DCU Center is softening the harsh façade of the arena. The Hanover Theatre needs no explanation of its positive benefits and cultural addition to downtown. MCPHS has also single handedly saved part of the downtown area and is a spectacular anchor of bringing life to downtown, we have to thank them for the re-use of the Crowne Plaza into dorms bringing young people into downtown Worcester.
With these large changes, there are also the smaller additions to downtown that are helping the city. The beautiful renovation of the Marcus Building into Micro-Lofts is amazing, and will bring people into downtown. At the same time we have the loft conversion of the old Worcester Vocational Technical School, coupled with the Portland Street Lofts, a huge influx of people are starting to live downtown. The new people living downtown are starting to bring a little revitalization into the area. North Main Street sports a small hot spot area of restaurants by the courthouse that brings people downtown, and it’s all going to get better because of the people moving downtown.
However like all things in Worcester change takes time. There is this strong mentality that the city is terrible and a horrible place to live. I wish people would not say that. Yes, Worcester is not perfect, but it has many positives. It has a great housing stock of older homes on streets lined with mature trees. There are great neighborhood centers where people congregate. However there is this mentality that people from Worcester are horrible people and people from the outer towns look down upon people from Worcester. I for one cannot tolerate that. Yes, we have horrible people, but we have amazing people, all towns do, but the difference is Worcester is a lot of people living in an area dominated by small towns that fifty years ago were nothing more than farms and trees, and these small towns like to hide their problems and have less people to deal with. Also, on a personal level I think that Worcester has the nicest homes around; they are much better than the homes in the towns. They are better kept up and have much better architectural heritage, especially the areas around Elm Park, Doherty, Crown Hill, Massachusetts Ave, and Monadnock Street to name a few areas. These homes blow the socks off of most of the towns around Worcester. Yes there are new homes in the towns, but todays new homes are piles of junk compared to the older Worcester homes.
Now I’m getting off track, the main issue I have right now with the city stems from the recent articles in the Telegram and Gazette that focus on the probable impending demolition of the Central Building on North Main Street, and the taking of the Midtown Mall by eminent domain. With regards to the Central Building, I realize that there is an owner of the building who has the right to do what he pleases with his property. If he wants to tear it down he has the right to if the building is vacant. However I wish he would think of his actions with regards to the streetscape of downtown Worcester. We cannot afford any more holes in our downtown, it is starting to look like a hillbillies mouth with missing teeth, and everyone knows that a mouth with missing teeth is not as nice as a mouth with rows of shining teeth. It is a shame that the building could be lost, but I do not know if the city is doing enough to save the building, and the owner only wanting one tenant for the entire building is not helping to get the building renovated. I’m angry that the building could become a parking lot. Parking lots are something that we do not need more of here in Worcester. The downtown area is littered with parking lots that break up the continuity of the street wall and create unpleasant areas for undesirable people to hang around. We have plenty of garages and surface lots as it is. The main issue I have is that the people of Worcester think they are entitled to free parking here in the city, but they will gladly pay exorbitant amounts to park in Boston. It makes no sense. I think that people should realize that downtown parking is not a right. We need to try and create a highly walkable downtown where people can park, but they walk everywhere they need to go instead of hopping around. In the case of the Central building it is insane that the city loses another gem of the glory days of the city to a parking lot. The more open lots that we have downtown the more people will think our downtown is a failure. At the same time it is not a case of tearing down the building for another building, or waiting for the times to brighten, if we build this parking lot it will be a permanent scar downtown that will not one day be replaced by a building, because if a company wants space in the city they will build elsewhere, where they can build a building cheaper and on a plot of land in the outskirts of the city. We need to urge the owner of the Central building to look for creative uses for a historic property.
The next major issue that is really pressing me about downtown lately is the possibility of the taking of the Midtown Mall by eminent domain. Yes, the Midtown Mall is in a shambles and probably needs to go, however I do not like when the city plays real estate agent. They are terrible at it. Look at the empty spaces in the Union Station Garage, the business they closed in the old mill next to the Canal Lofts, or the mess of the Hadley Building that the WBDC left in a state of construction that cannot be rented. What I am saying is that the city should not be playing around with supply and demand downtown. They should only enforce codes and make sure nothing illegal is going on in the Midtown Mall, that is all they should do. Eminent domain should only be for the worst cases, this is not the worst case, it is just bad. Also the plan for the space the Midtown Mall occupies is terrible. The Telegram Article says that they want to make it a pedestrian mall that connects front street and Mechanic Street. That is a terrible idea. Lets create more holes in the downtown street wall. Why do we need more cut throughs between blocks? The Harvard Square inspiration is terrible, that area shares nothing with Harvard Square, there is no mass transit hub there, no major university, and not that many people living there. It will only create more empty stores and blight in the city because there is no demand for what the city wants. We need to think more realistically. The blocks here were laid out in the 1800’s or even before, they are human scaled already. Also why add more retail space in an area that has a ton of open storefronts? I do not understand why the city thinks that is a good idea. If stores wanted to be downtown they would occupy spaces that are currently empty. If we can actually fill the store fronts downtown then we can pick and choose what goes downtown, however something needs to fundamentally change downtown before we can have more stores downtown. We need to create a sustainable downtown. That means having people live downtown, and not only live downtown, but create a walkable downtown, a place where people can live their entire life downtown without a car.
In a lot of places it takes a few frontier people that live downtown to kick-start the downtown area. If we can start getting middle class and upper class people to live downtown then we can start filling the storefronts. We need more varieties of housing downtown. If people live downtown they will want to start shopping and dining downtown, and it will create a much more livable downtown. An example would be the little row of shops that line Pleasant Street at Richmond Ave in Worcester. These little cafes are products of the people that surround them. They allow people to enjoy themselves in a community atmosphere and even get some basic services done such and basic food items and dry cleaning, all without a car. Just drive by and even in the winter there are people eating outside and walking around the area there, it is what we need downtown, and we can only get that if we have people living downtown.
How do we get people to live downtown? The key lies in our college kids. Worcester is dramatically cheaper than Boston, if we can get them to live in a concentrated area downtown then businesses will follow them, just look at Highland Street, lets move that type of atmosphere to Main, Front, Franklin and other Streets in our Urban Core.
I guess what I am saying is that we should not be tearing down our downtown, we tried that in the 1970’s and it destroyed our city. Just look at the aerials of Downtown Worcester in the 1930’s compared to the 1970’s and 2000’s we have lost so much that we need to save what little is left. We need to first fill up our existing buildings and then create new buildings. Worcester is a beautiful City and we need to preserve and save, but at the same time create a livable and modern downtown. Worcester needs to realize we are not going to be Boston, but we should be an alternative bedroom community to Boston where people could easily commute to Boston and we should work on creating more jobs here that will eventually cause people to stay in Worcester cause I know I want to stay here and I want to be more involved in the city I was born in and proud to say I am from.
Anyone know how I can get involved in the CIty to protect it from ruining what is left of our heritage?