Category Archives: Newburyport

The city of Newburyport, MA, the small, coastal city in Essex County, Massachusetts, United States, 35 miles northeast of Boston.

Truman Nelson, Newburyport, Historic Preservation, a Lost Story

On one of the Facebook Newburyport groups Dick Sullivan (former City Councilor and mayoral candidate) mentioned that Truman Nelson had played a big part in the restoration of Newburyport during Urban Renewal.

My response was that I did not have a clue who Truman Nelson was.  Another member of the group said that he was on the video about Newburyport, “A Measure of Change.”

Truman Nelson from "A Measure of Change"

Truman Nelson from “A Measure of Change”

This is Truman Nelson, the photo is from “A Measure of Change.” I’ve seen that video a ton of times and had never questioned who in the world he was.

And it’s hard to find out information on Truman Nelson.  Going to Salem Deeds Online, Mr. Nelson owned 2 homes in Newburyport on Olive Street, 23 Olive and 15-17 Olive, both bought back in 1966, before Urban Renewal.  Dick Sullivan remembers Mr. Nelson’s family at 23 Olive and Tom Kolterjahn remembers going to Mr. Nelson’s house at 15-17 Olive to talk about how to renovate the old homes in Newburyport that people were working on.

23 Olive Street, Newburyport, MA

23 Olive Street, Newburyport, MA, Google Maps

23 Olive Street is described as, “One of the oldest homes in Newburyport; built 1699. Five working fireplaces,wide pine board floors, gunstock corners, beautiful moldings and trim. Full bath up half bath down.” The information is from Zillow.

15-17 Olive Street, Newburyport MA

15-17 Olive Street, Newburyport MA, Google Maps

15-17 Olive Street is the John Burrill House, c 1790, There is a write up on the Massachusetts Historic Commission, as well as on the Historic Surveys on the City of Newburyport’s website.

And in my hunt to find out exactly who Truman Nelson was, I found this writeup on Amazon, The Truman Nelson Reader:

“Truman Nelson (1911-1987) was a self-educated novelist, essayist, lecturer, and social activist. He never finished high school and supported himself in his early years as a factory worker, labor organizer, actor, and playwright. Encouraged by F. O. Matthiessen, he turned to writing and in 1952 published his first historical novel, The Sin of the Prophet, a study of Theodore Parker and the Anthony Burns case. That book earned him his picture on the cover of Saturday Review and designation as the magazine’s “Writer of the Year.” Two novels soon followed: The Passion by the Brook (1953), on George Ripley and the communal movement at Brook Farm, and The Surveyor (1960), on John Brown’s abolition efforts in Kansas. These three novels established Nelson as a major writer on the history of American radical thought. His later essays and polemical writings were influential in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, when Nelson traveled, taught, lectured, and acted in the front lines of the struggle for racial equality.

In recent years, Nelson has been neglected by scholars, critics, and the general public, and many of his writings have been allowed to go out of print. The Truman Nelson Reader is intended to restore his voice and to prompt a reevaluation of his work. The collection brings together excerpts from Nelson’s published novels, selected essays, and a portion of his last, as yet unpublished, novel on John Humphrey Noyes, founder of the Oneida Colony. Also included are essays on William Lloyd Garrison, Henry David Thoreau, John Brown, and W.E.B. Du Bois, as well as selections from the 1960s: “The Torture of Mothers,” written after the first Harlem riots; “The Right of Revolution,” reportedly found on Ho Chi Minh’s desk at the time of his death; and “The Conscience of the North,” a meditation on Theodore Parker’s meaning for the civil rights movement.”

The Truman Nelson Reader

The Truman Nelson Reader

And I found this reference to Truman Nelson on Martin Nicolaus’s website, where he refers to Mr. Nelson’s preserving his colonial-era home in Newburyport:

“One of the speakers at the Town Hall rally after the Cuba trip was Truman Nelson. He was a high school dropout who worked in General Electric factories until he was 40, but meanwhile educated himself during long hours in public libraries and began writing fiction. His first book, The Sin of the Prophet, was published by Little, Brown; it told the story of the abolitionist intellectual Theodore Parker. When I met him, Nelson had recently finished The Surveyor, a novel about John Brown and the Harper’s Ferry raid. He was fiercely interested in Cuba and was a strong supporter of Robert F. Williams. He had just bought a colonial-era house in Newburyport, a short drive from Boston, and was busy removing generations of old paint to reveal the beautiful old woodwork underneath.”

The Disappearing Newburyport Iconic Chimney

One of my most favorite small houses in the South End is getting a redo. As I looked inside, nosey person that I am, what was being taken out was the center chimney that ran up the middle of the house. And it was amazingly massive, as I walked by the next day and the chimney removing folks were still at it. They said that they were removing the chimney because it took up too much room in the new redo.

Newburyport, Chimney

Newburyport, Chimneys, Google Maps

And as I was taking a walk through Newburyport’s historic South End, I was looking up, and I began to realize that there were a lot of houses that no longer have chimneys. And one of the other things that I began to realize, is that in the Fall there is rarely that chimney smell, the smell of burning wood, that I used to notice when the weather fisrt started to turn chilly.  For a whole lot of reasons the Newburyport iconic chimney is beginning to disappear from the city’s street scapes.

Chimney, Newburyport

Chimneys, Newburyport, Google Maps

For me the chimney has always been a symbol of warmth, family, hearth, home. Houses with chimneys were in drawings by small children when they drew a picture of a family house, with the smoke going up the chimney. Santa comes down the chimney. Chimneys are a big part of what is important to historic preservationists and folks who love old towns and old homes, for a good reason, they are iconic.  Iconic New England historic houses have chimneys.

Chimney, Newburyport

Chimneys, Newburyport, Google Maps

The new heating systems no longer need chimneys. Chimneys take up a lot of room in a house.  Instead of creating ambiance, and being valued, they now seem to be a nuisance.  Chimneys are often in the middle of a house, which now gets in the way of a family having an open concept.  And compared to wood fireplaces, gas fireplaces are less  trouble, they might not smell as homey, but they are a whole lot easier — just a flick of a switch. Gas fireplaces can be put in a whole lot of places, and they don’t need chimneys. And not a whole lot of people cook in a fireplace anymore (oh, how I love those huge fireplaces in some of the old homes in Newburyport where people once cooked their meals). Times have changed and are changing.

Chimney, Newburyport MA

Chimneys, Newburyport, Google Maps

People who do renovations, a gut and redo, every now and then put up a “fake” chimney where the real one used to be.  These folks are often made fun of, but I would far prefer that, which is at least an attempt to keep Newburyport’s story, than many of the candy cane exhaust systems that I see sticking out of houses now as I walk around the South End.

New heating system, instead of chimneys, Newburyport

New heating system, instead of chimneys, Newburyport, Google Maps

The new heating systems, although wonderful in their efficiency, are one more thing that is slowly changing the historic city scape of Newburyport.  This change is fairly recent, when the Federal Street Overlay was created, not too long ago, chimneys were a “must have.”  Every home in the Federal Street Overlay has chimneys. Chimneys are no longer a “must have,” they have become an inconvenience.

Federal Street Overlay, Newburyport MA

Federal Street Overlay, Newburyport, Google Maps

And sometimes with these small incremental changes, it feels as if the historic fabric of Newburyport, Newburyport’s story is being shredded by a thousand papercuts. What is a historic preservationist to do?  How can we who love old homes and historic cities, inspire people to keep that part of the story, while also appreciating the practical reasons why this change is coming about.  More hard questions with no easy answers.

Keeping Historic Preservation Relevant, Re-evaluating the Mission of Historic Preservation in Newburyport

Madison Street, Newburyport

Madison Street, Newburyport, Google Maps, a modern addition to a historic home

I’ve thought about this a lot, a whole lot (see many previous posts). The Newburyport Preservation Trust has standards that are a 10. My standards are a 2 hoping for a 5. And I have been thinking, that the The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for historic preservation, that is the standard for historic preservation in the United States, may need to be re-thought and re-evaluated for our city, Newburyport, MA – heretic that I may be.

And I’ve been thinking that the mission of historic preservation in Newburyport might also need to be rethought and re-evaluated.

Alex Dardinski has pointed out that every historical house in Newburyport went through a process of adaption when indoor plumbing became available. Alex has pointed out that, “It was a modern amenity that changed domestic life. And I am sure that none of us want a home so historically pure that we have to pee in an outhouse.” And his thought is that,  “Ultimately, houses must remain relevant,” and that we are in a cultural sea-change that is the equivalent to the advent of indoor plumbing.

Alex’s other thought is that it would be a mistake to lock homes into one era of history, which is what the The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards calls for. For historic preservationists, this would be a radical way of thinking.

I like houses in Newburyport that have been added onto, that are a mixture of different eras, because it tells the story of not only the house, but of the people in Newburyport who inhabited that house.  And I like the idea that a modern addition to a house, if done thoughtfully, is adding to the story, not destroying the historic integrity of the home.

My first draft of a new mission statement for Newburyport’s historic preservation might be, “A thoughtful renovation that honors the past, makes a property relevant in the present, and preserves its story for future generations.”

The National Historic Preservation Act is Celebrating its 50th Anniversary – Something that Newburyport’s Urban Renewal benefited from

The National Historic Preservation Act is celebrating its 50th Anniversary, I had no idea! This is something that Newburyport’s Urban Renewal benefited from! http://www.nps.gov/subjects/historicpreservation/NHPA-50.htm

Newburyport, State Street

Newburyport, State Street

“After World War II, the United States seemed poised at the edge of a limitless future, and its vision of progress was characterized by the sleek and the new. Urban renewal was seen as a way to clear out the slums, get rid of “obsolete” buildings, make space for an exploding population, and accommodate the burgeoning car culture. Wide swaths were demolished: entire blocks, neighborhoods, business districts, all razed to make way for the new. By the 1960s, urban renewal had changed the face of the nation’s cities.

But out of this wholesale erasure of the old grew the most important law governing how we treat those places that define our past: the National Historic Preservation Act. It was the first national policy governing preservation and it would shape the fate of many of our historic and cultural sites over the next half-century. There had been earlier measures to foster preservation—the Antiquities Act of 1906 and the Historic Sites Act of 1935—but none were as sweeping or as influential as the National Historic Preservation Act.

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson convened a special committee on historic preservation. The committee studied the dismal situation, then delivered a report to Congress. Their report, called With Heritage So Rich, became a rallying cry for the preservation movement. Up until that time, the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) had documented 12,000 places in the United States. By 1966, half of them had either been destroyed or damaged beyond repair. The HABS collections, the committee wrote, looked like “a death mask of America.” The federal government needed to take the reins, said the authors. Federal agencies needed to make preservation part of their missions.

Before the year was out, Congress passed the National Historic Preservation Act. It was the most comprehensive preservation law the nation had ever known. The act established permanent institutions and created a clearly defined process for historic preservation in the United States.

Historic structures that would be affected by federal projects—or by work that was federally funded—now had to be documented to standards issued by the Secretary of the Interior. The law required individual states to take on much more responsibility for historic sites in their jurisdictions. Each state would now have its own historic preservation office and was required to complete an inventory of important sites. The law also created the President’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the National Register of Historic Places, an official list not only of individual buildings and structures, but also of districts, objects, and archeological sites that are important due to their connection with the past. Federal projects—or those using federal funds—were now subject to something called the Section 106 review process: Determining whether the work to be done would harm a site and if so, a way to avoid or minimize that harm.

With the passage of the act, preservation in the United States became formalized and professionalized. The National Historic Preservation Act was tied to a growing awareness of the past and of community identity. Many communities realized that there was an unexpected economic force behind preservation. The act helped foster heritage tourism, attracting visitors who wanted to experience the past in ways that no book or documentary could match. The distinctive character of old architecture and historic districts became a powerful draw for many Americans, and antidote to anonymous suburbs and strip malls.

The 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act is an opportunity to reflect on the significance of this singular piece of legislation. The law is perhaps the nation’s most important advocate for the past. Buildings and landscapes that serve as witnesses to our national narrative have been saved. The quality of life in our cities and towns has been improved by a greater appreciation—reflected in the law—of such intangible qualities as aesthetics, identity, and the legacy of the past.”

http://www.nps.gov/subjects/historicpreservation/national-historic-preservation-act.htm

Newburyport Historic Preservation – Old Growth Wood vs Massachusetts Lead Paint Laws

In my mind many of the “new” regulations and laws have created a problem for historic preservation.

People who love old houses often talk about why wood in old homes is so important. There are also the Massachusetts lead paint laws. Lead paint often covers this wonderful old growth wood, which is one of the reasons that so many houses are gutted. I thought I would put both an article on why “old-growth” wood lumber is so valuable which is, or has been found in the old homes in Newburyport, along with a summary of the Massachusetts lead paint laws.

Old and New Growth Wood

Old and New Growth Wood from Alamo Harwoods Inc

Old Growth Wood

Why Old Growth Wood is Better, by Scott Sidler of the Craftsman Blog

“Old-growth wood is lumber that was grown naturally in vast virgin forests. The forests of nearly every continent have some areas that are still untouched where trees haven’t been harvested for our use yet. These trees grew slowly due to limited light and competition from the other trees. Because of this slow growth rate the growth rings on the trees were packed very tightly together which gives the wood some big benefits which I’ll discuss in a just a minute.

In America we began seriously depleting these virgin forests during the industrial revolution and by the 1940s most of them were gone. Lumber prices began to spike as Americans looked for substitutions for our lumber addiction. Enter second-growth and new-growth wood.

Tree farms began to produce lumber for the growing demand and the fastest growing species like Pine were selected for this reason. The trees grew in open areas with little to no competition for sun which caused them to grow very quickly so they could be harvested in 10-20 years as opposed to old-growth wood which may be from trees as old as 200-300 years old before being harvested.

Let’s look back at the picture above. The old-growth siding has 29 growth rings in this 3/4″ thick sample compared with the new-growth piece that has only 7 rings including the pith (the center of the tree). That’s a much faster growth rate, so lets see why this fast growth may not be as good as the slower growth of old-growth wood.

Benefits of old-growth lumber.

1. More Rot-Resistant – Sure we have woods like Pressure Treated and Accoya (which I use often) but old-growth wood is the original rot-resistant wood. The slow growth process creates greater proportion of late wood (summer/fall growth) to early wood (spring growth). Late wood is the good stuff that adds this rot-resistance. Also, older trees develop heartwood at their center which is not only beautiful to the eye, but it is extremely durable and resists rot in ways that other wood can’t.

2. More Stable – Wood moves. It contracts when it’s dry and expands when it’s wet. This can cause joints to open up, paint and finishes to fail prematurely and a host of other issues. But old-growth wood (due to the tight growth rings you can see in the picture above) does not move nearly as much as new-growth. It is immensely more stable and therefore keeps everything where it needs to be from siding and framing to windows and doors.

3. Stronger – The denseness of old-growth wood makes it a much stronger wood able to carry heavier loads across longer spans. The span rating for framing lumber continues to fall each time the lumber industry revisits it. Wood is getting softer and weaker as the years go by so old-growth is definitely worthwhile option especially if you already have it in your house.

4. More Termite-Resistant – Termites don’t like hardwoods. Don’t get me wrong here, termite-resistant is not the same as termite proof. Termites will still eat old-growth wood, but they prefer soft, moist wood (read: easy to chew). Old-growth wood is harder and drier than new lumber and it does not make as tempting a meal for termites.”

Lead-Based Paint by Bart Everson on Flickr

“Lead-Based Paint” by Bart Everson on Flickr

Massachusetts Lead Paint Laws

“Massachusetts enacted one of the nation’s first state lead poisoning prevention laws in 1971. The original statute embodied the principle of primary prevention, which remains at the heart of the current law. Since 1971, Massachusetts property owners are required to permanently control specified lead-based paint lead hazards in any housing unit in which a child under the age of six resides. The 1971 law provided for enforcement of this duty by both a newly-created state Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program within the Department of Public Health and by local boards of health. In addition, the law enlisted the help of the tort system for enforcement by providing that property owners would be “strictly liable” for damages resulting from failure to make a child’s apartment lead-safe. (“Strict liability” means that owners are liable even if they didn’t know that lead-based paint hazards were present.)

The law was revised in 1987 in three ways. First, the amendments sought to improve the quality and safety of abatement work by requiring use of trained and licensed contractors, relocation of occupants during abatement, and daily and final cleanup in units undergoing abatement. Second, the amendments were designed to substantially increase the number of units brought into compliance by providing financial assistance (a $1,000 state income tax credit and a grant/loan program) and mandating that prospective purchasers of residential premises receive notice about the lead law and have the opportunity to get an inspection. Finally, the amendments embraced the principle of universal blood lead screening, mandating that physicians screen children and that health insurers cover screening costs.

In 1993, the law was amended further still. Compliance costs were lowered by allowing owners to use interim controls for up to two years before permanently containing or abating lead-based paint hazards. Other cost-reducing provisions allowed the use of encapsulants and eased safety precautions when children would not be endangered. Owners were provided with a larger state income tax credit ($1,500/unit), and a new state fund was set up to provide funds for lead hazard control. Finally, owners who obtain certification from a licensed inspector that interim controls or abatement have been performed are no longer held strictly liable, and insurers are required to provide coverage for any negligence claims (short of gross or willful negligence) that may be brought against such owners.”

(This is just a summary of a very complicated law.)

From the National Center for Healthy Housing

The Massacussetts Lead Paint Laws can be seen here, and here, What Does the Massachusetts Lead Law Require.  “The Lead Law requires the removal or covering of lead paint hazards in homes built before 1978 where any children under six live. Lead paint hazards include loose lead paint and lead paint on windows and other surfaces accessible to children. Owners are responsible with complying with the law. This includes owners of rental property as well as owners living in their own single family home. Financial help is available through tax credits, grants and loans.”

In the Property Transfer Lead Paint Notification one of the things that is required is to, “Tell the buyer that, under the Lead Law, a new owner of a home built before 1978 in which a child under six will live or continue to live must have the home either deleaded or brought into Interim Control within 90 days of taking the title.” 

De-leading a home is expensive, so it is understandable why a homeowner, even though they might not have a child under six, who will eventually want to resell their home, might not want their home to contain any lead paint. It is also understandable why a developer who is building a home that potentially could be used by a family, would not want that home to contain lead paint.

What is Historic Preservation in Newburyport in the year 2015

What is historic preservation in Newburyport in the year 2015?  This is a question I now ask myself.

112 High Street, one of my favorite dwellings in Newburyport is for sale. It is the grey house on the corner of State and High. It is a double house, and the part that is for sale also goes along State Street.

112 High Street, Newburyport

112 High Street, Newburyport, photograph from Coldwell Banker

This is the description:

“First time for sale in over 45 years! The Grand Pope-Mosely House c. 1855/1894. This landmark home is one of the finest examples of Colonial Revival with Georgian influence in Newburyport. With its exceptionally fine architecture, gambrel roof, roof balustrade, faux Palladian window, oversized curved windows, 7 fireplaces, heavy crown moldings, 10+ ft. ceilings, elegant circular staircase, back stairway, pocket doors, pine floors through-out all 3 levels and many more classic historic features throughout the home. Private “Beacon Hill” style Courtyard; off-street parking for 2 cars. This prime, in-town location offers a wonderful opportunity to experience the Newburyport lifestyle. The property is in need of exterior/interior renovation back to its grandeur of yesteryear. Property being sold “As Is”.

It is 3,518 square feet. It is on the market for $699,000.  There are “modern” houses in Newburyport’s Historic District selling for much, much more.

I haven’t been inside, but I’m guessing that it lacks some crucial modern amenities like lots of large bathrooms and walk-in closets and an open concept.  From the photos online, the floors look painted, which is how they were 45 years ago, and are, in my mind, charming. I’m sure it is loaded with lead paint, a now selling nightmare-panic.

And it is absolutely stunning.

Ten years ago, this amazing home would have been a “catch.” Today, it is being sold “As Is,” with a caveat that is full of apologies.

110-112 High Street, Newburyport, Historic Survey

110-112 High Street, Newburyport, Historic Survey, courtesy of the Newburyport Historical Commission

I talked to one/many of our local, very knowledgeable real-estate brokers, and what they tell me is that people coming into town now want a new house in an old shell, to quote one broker, a “faux antique.”  And, yes, they are right.

To go back to Alex Dardinski’s guest post where he has this wonderful comment, “I don’t want to live in Williamsburg, but in a tapestry of history rather than a single place in time.”   How is that done with a property like this one in the year 2015, with the lead paint laws and the HGTV must have list (see earlier entry) :

1) Walk in closets
2) Spa bathrooms
3) En Suite bathroom
4) Open concept
5) Large kitchens with an island
6) Gas fireplace with a place for a large flatscreen TV over it
7) No lead paint
8) Warm in the winter, cool in the summer, insulated, no drafts
9) Windows that go up and down easily
10) Up to date wiring (no knob and tube wiring)

This is a question that I ask myself, and I have no answer.

Newburyport Election Results 2015

Newburyport Election Results 2015

Ward 1
Edward Waldron
Sharif Zeid

Winner:
Sharif Zeid

Ward 4
Charles Tontar
Sean McDonald

Winner:
Charles Tontar

Newburyport City Council-at-Large

Lyndi L. Lanphear
Gregory D. Earls
Sheila A. Mullins
Barry N. Connell
Laurel R. Allgrove
Bruce L. Vogel
Robert A. Germinara
Joseph H. Devlin
Edward C. Cameron, Jr.

Winners:

Gregory D. Earls
Barry N. Connell
Bruce L. Vogel
Joseph H. Devlin
Edward C. Cameron, Jr.

Unofficial Election Numbers

Council-at-Large unofficial 2015 election results

Council-at-Large unofficial 2015 election results

Ward 1 unofficial 2015 election results

Ward 1 unofficial 2015 election results

Ward 4 unofficial 2015 election results

Ward 4 unofficial 2015 election results

School Committee unofficial 2015 election results

School Committee unofficial 2015 election results

(With thanks to Joe DiBiase for the fancy graphics!)

 

Election 2015 Results (unofficial)

Election 2015 Results (unofficial) from the Newburyport City Clerk

Election 2015 Results from the Newburyport City Clerk (unofficial). Thank you so much Richard Jones!!

 

Newburyport Election Day 2015

Newburyport Election Day 2015

A collage of Newburyport Election Day 2015, for a link to the entire album please press here.

Voting for Newburyport City Council Candidates

Be sure to VOTE!!
Election Day:
Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Ward 1

Edward Waldron III
Sharif Zeid

Ward 1 has two very bright men running for Newburyport City Council, both love their city, both are willing to step up and serve Ward 1.   They have different styles, and differing views on some of the issues.  After the Ward 1 primary “Meet and Greet” it was my impression that it was Sharif Zeid’s race to lose.  However, Ted Waldron has been working very hard.  I will be very interested to see who the good people of Ward 1 choose to elect on November 3, 2015.

Ward 4

Charles Tontar
Sean McDonald

I cannot imagine why the folks in Ward 4 would not re-elect Charlie Tontar.  Charlie works hard, shows up, pays attention, communicates with his constituents, is accessible (he holds his “office hours” for anyone who wants to talk to him, every Saturday at Riverside Cafe), understands budgets, and really wrestles with issues before he votes on them.

Sean McDonald has a different view of some of the issues before the city.  Sean has started to blog, and whether he wins or loses, I hope that he continues.

 Newburyport Candidates-at-Large

Instead of endorsing anyone, I’m going to take the unusual route and talk about why I am NOT voting for 3 of the candidates and why.

A) Robert Germinara

When I went looking for a website for Mr. Germinara, I discovered that he had been arrested for assault. I’m not going to link to the information, I think the Mr. Gerninara and his family have enough to deal with. Civility and an ability to have a dialogue (see an earlier entry) are important to me in a City Councilor.

B) Lyndi Lanphear

Ms Lanphear called me a Nazi (you bet I have a hard copy of that comment). Civility and dialogue are big on my list for City Councilor.

Ms Lanphear also made this unfortunate post on a Facebook page forum:

Lyndi Lanphear: “Fyi. Do you know that a big section of lower merrimac st is without water and apparently has been since yesterday. They called the city to complain but no one’s going to fix it until tomorrow. So much for our excellent infrastructure that can support 500-600 new apartments! Fix what we have first !”

Ed Cameron, who has is also running for City Council replied in a calm and constructive manner with all the facts.

Ed Cameron: “My understanding in talking to the City’s DPS is that there was a water break late Friday night on Merrimac Street. The break was fixed, service was restored with the exception of one household which requires more extensive repair from the City’s water main to their house. That household now is using water fed from a hydrant so they do have some water service. The more complete repair will take place tomorrow.”

(Yes, Ed Cameron definitely has my vote.)

Constructive dialogue and getting the facts right are very big on my list.

C) Laurel Allgrove

I cannot find anything out about Laurel Allgrove.  In this day and age I think that it is vital to either have a Facebook page or a website as a way to communicate with your possible future constituents. Again, dialogue and in this case information is important for me as a City Councilor.

Here are the rest of the Newburyport City Councilors-at-Large who are candidates.  On November 3, 2015 Newburyport citizens will be voting for 5 seats.

Ed Cameron, 17 Oakland St, Incumbent
Barry Connell, 36 Woodland St, Incumbent
Greg Earls, 25 Milk St, former City Councilor and mayoral candidate
Sheila Mullins, 7 Parsons St
Bruce Vogel, 90 Bromfield St, Incumbent
Joseph Devlin, 3 Dexter Lane

Here is a list of all the candidates running for City Council and Newburyport School Committee with either their website and or Facebook page.

Here is a link to a list of video interviews of all but 2 of the Newburyport City Councilors that are running, both in Ward races and At-Large races. The videos have been produced by Citizens for Environmental Balance (CEB) and they are very informative.

And here is a link to the Newburyport City Councilor-at-Large debate held on October 20, 2015. The sponsers were The Daily News of Newburyport, the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce, WNBP radio, and Port Media.

Newburyport Local Pulse podcast with all 9 Newburyport City Councilors-at-Large.

WHERE TO VOTE on November 3, 2015

Where to Vote

Where to Vote

Voting is a privilege, we are so lucky to be able to vote.  And these candidates, all of them, have done the difficult thing by showing up, and all of them are willing to serve this wonderful city.  They all deserve the dignity of people getting out to vote.

And if you do not know where to vote, there is  a very cool tool to find out where to vote in Newburyport, Tuesday, November 3, 2015.

You just enter your street number, the street’s name, and your city or town, or your zip code, and it tells you exactly where to go (it even tells you which ward you are in, and how to get in touch with the City Clerk). It can be found here.

Ward 1 — Methodist Church, 64 Purchase Street
Ward 1 Plum Island — Plum Island Boat House, 300 Northern Boulevard, Plum Island
Ward 2 — Brown School, 40 Milk Street
Wards 3 and 4 — Hope Church, 11 Hale Street
Wards 5 and 6 — The new Senior Community Center, 331 High Street  (In the past, these wards voted at the Bresnahan Elementary School.)

_____________________________________________________________________

The Order for the Newburyport City Council-at-Large candidates as they will be on the ballot.

Councillor-at-Large 2 YEAR TERM

(9 CANDIDATES FOR 5 SEATS…IN ORDER ON THE BALLOT)

Lyndi L. Lanphear
Gregory D. Earls
Sheila A. Mullins
Barry N. Connell (Candidate for Re-Election)
Laurel R. Allgrove
Bruce L. Vogel (Candidate for Re-Election)
Robert A. Germinara
Joseph H. Devlin
Edward C. Cameron, Jr. (Candidate for Re-Election)

Newburyport 2015 ballot

The Absentee Ballot which looks like the November 3, 2015 ballot

The Newburyport Absentee Ballot which looks like the November 3, 2015 ballot. This is the Ward 5 ballot, all the ward ballots will look different.

City Councilor-at-Large Debate, Tuesday, October 20, 2015

City Councilor-at-Large Debate, 2015

Newburyport City Councilor-at-Large Debate

Tuesday, October 20, 2015
7:00 p.m.
The Nock Middle School Auditorium

(90 minutes long)

It will also be carried on Port Media, the city’s cable TV station.

The sponsors are The Daily News of Newburyport, the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce, WNBP radio, and Port Media. The debate will be moderated by WNBP’s Peter Falconi. Panelists will be Daily News Editor John Macone and Chamber Legislative Affairs Committee Chairwoman Mary Anne Clancy.

The election is Tuesday, Nov 3, 2015

A list of the candidates running for Newburyport City Council and Newburyport School Committee with website and Facebook information.

And here is a link to the Newburyport City Councilor-at-Large debate that was held on October 20, 2015.

Newburyport Local Pulse podcast with all 9 Newburyport City Councilors-at-Large.

My Opinion — The Worst Website in America, and Hurray for the People who are Standing Up and Speaking Out Against it

Newburyport, Massachusetts, my beloved hometown, got “grazed” by, in my mind, a horrible website called RoadSnacks.  That got me curious and I started looking into it.

The website is run by Christopher (Chris)  Kolmar and his partner Nikolaos (Nick) Johnson, of  Chasing Chains, L.L.C., 210 Strolling Way, Durham, North Carolina  (see previous post).

“Our goal is to show you the real side of places that not everyone wants to hear. We use data to create bite-sized snacks of shareable information about places and cities across the country. We call it the ‘other’ side of regional infotainment.”

Worst Website -- RoadSnacks

The labels that they have put on cities and towns across the country are things like “The Worst Cities in ___ State.”  Or even worse,  “The Most Dangerous Cities in ___ State.”  And this is hurting communities and the people who live in them all across the country.  And people are standing up and speaking out against  Christopher (Chris) Kolmar and his partner Nikolaos (Nick) Johnson of RoadSnacks, and I am wicked proud of them.  Here is a list partial of people who have had the courage to speak up and speak out.

People who have stood up to Christopher (Chris) Kolmar and his partner Nikolaos (Nick) Johnson (yes, “standing up to” implies standing up to bullies).  And these are just some of the many people who spoken out — it is a long, long list.

1)  Dr. Andrew J. Pegoda, Texas,   “An Open Letter to Chris Kolmar and Nick Johnson of RoadSnacks: Please Remember People Have Feelings”

“How would you feel if your hometown or present home came up on a viral list as among the worst places to live? Especially, if you didn’t have the means to relocate or make things “better” (a subjective state)? Imagine the 5 year-old or the 45 year-old sitting in front of the television or computer hearing that their home is among “the worst” places in Texas?”

“Additionally, your list, likely not intentionally but the effect is the same nonetheless, embodies and perpetuates racism. It could cause business to avoid areas where such business could really be needed in terms of jobs and services provided. “

2)  Molly McWilliams Wilkins, Georgia,  “In Defense of Small Towns”

“I’m immensely bothered by these list articles, and I even have to write some for the website I work for but let me tell y’all: I call each of the places I’m writing about, assuming I don’t have first hand knowledge of the sites. I do my research. I don’t hide behind numbers and algorithms and all that other nonsense. You know why? Because I, and the people I work for, realize something very important.

You can’t put a number on heart. You can’t measure the reach of souls.

An algorithm can’t accurately measure the worth of a smile and a heartfelt hug or handshake.”

“But you need to consider the soul, and heart, of the places you write about. And realize that there are some who not only choose to live in them, but cherish their hometowns.”

3)  Mike Parker, North Carolina,  “RoadSnacks’ blast gives me indigestion”

“He also admits that his conclusions are not really scientifically based as much as “opinion-based data” and “not to be taken for fact.” “

“….demeaning”

“My dad once told me: ‘Son, figures don’t lie, but liars can figure.’ “

“For the record: I am proud of the place I choose to call home.”

4)  Aaron Brown,  Minnesota,  “Warm greetings from Minnesota’s northern hellscape”

“Before you fall over yourselves rushing to see the site, know that it’s click bait. Believe it or not, RoadSnacks.net is not a repository of our century’s finest thinking, but a website that profits when people look at their ads. It lacks the dignity of a site like this one, which has the class and intellectual merit to attract far fewer readers while making almost no profits whatsoever.”

5)  Barry Saunders, North Carolina,  “Rockingham deserves better from RoadSnacks”

“…many wonderful people there who are struggling to turn it around.

The last thing they need is some smarmy hipsters poking fun at it for what they call ‘infotainment.’ ”

“…it’s easier to pick on struggling municipalities in which you’ve probably never et a Vienna sausage than to look into what’s causing the problems you so erroneously and cavalierly catalogue – for infotainment.”

Worst Website Roadsnacks

6)  Brian Blueskye, California, “In Defense of DHS: An ‘Analysis’ Recently Declared That Desert Hot Springs Is the Worst Place to Live in California. Here’s Why We Disagree.”

” ‘The two people who run that website, they do one of those lists on every state,” Betts said. “They’re click-whores. They’re just doing that to build traffic. How can they possibly analyze all 50 states?’ “

“People who know me will vouch for the fact that I’m not much of an optimist. So believe me when I tell you that I see Desert Hot Springs as a decent place to live, that’s filled with people who care about their city, being led by a city government that’s working to solve problems.”

7) North Carolina, “OUR VIEW: Defy, don’t just deny, county’s ‘worst’ labels”

“We questioned the source — a three-month-old website that posts provocative localized listicles meant to serve as cheap clickbait that draws eyeballs to its advertisers.”

“..we reminded ourselves and each other about the natural beauty and local amenities Richmond County has to offer. From Hitchcock Creek, Hinson Lake and the Sandhills Game Lands to Discovery Place Kids, Rockingham Dragway and the Hamlet Depot and Museums, we listed the many things that make our county a truly great place to live.”

“That’s what’s really important, after all. Proving provocateurs like RoadSnacks dead wrong is just the icing on the cake.

Forget denial, Richmond County. This is a challenge that calls for defiance.”

8) Mark Saal, Utah, “Ogden second worst? That couldn’t be worse”

“It simply makes no sense.”

“— henceforth and forever I wasn’t going to report the source of these vacuous helpings of intellectual cotton candy. Mostly because the companies that compile these lists are what we in the business affectionately refer to as “publicity whores.”

“…an attempt to attract as much media attention as possible.”

“And finally, as authoritative as I’d love to consider RoadSnacks (D’oh! Mentioned it again), it’s important to note that the “company” — possibly just some 20-something with a computer, living in his parents’ basement — is headquartered out of Durham, North Carolina. North Carolina, people.”

Worst Website--RoadSnacks

9)  Mark Muckenfuss, California, Who asks the question, “Does Nick Johnson want to become the most hated man in America?”

“What’s wrong with Nick Johnson? Does he really want to become the most hated man in America?”

“I only know (Nick Johnson) because the guy used to work here at The Press-Enterprise. A nice enough fellow. At least he seemed so at the time. But now I’m wondering if he has a death wish.

Johnson has made it his job to tell people they live in terrible places. And that usually doesn’t make them very happy. They tend to get a wee bit sensitive when you say, “Hey! Your home town? That place you love? It’s a toilet.”

Johnson doesn’t actually say that. But he and his company compile lists of the worst cities to live in.”

” ‘I’ve had some really sappy letters sent to me that made me feel sad about doing this and we almost stopped. They said ‘You hurt everyone’s feelings,’ and we said, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t do this.’ ”  “…But then he (Nick Johnson) looks at the traffic on the website.”

10)  Steve Urbon, Massachusetts, “Worst? Buddy, you don’t know the meaning of worst — Mayor Jon Mitchell took the printout I had handed him, made a face and held it up like a soiled diaper”

“Some crackpot website in Durham, North Carolina, had messed around with some statistics…”

“You would think that if you’re going to publish something online that serves as cheap “linkbait,” you could at least get the numbers right.”

“If you’re going to cite four statistics and get at least two of them wrong, that does call into question the seriousness of this enterprise. And a three-year-old Google Maps photo of a deserted Union Street suggests you’ve never been here.”

11)  Tasnim Shamma, Georgia,  “Faulty Data Is Behind Georgia City’s Most Dangerous Ranking”

This article quotes the FBI which urges people not to use their data.  However, Christopher Kolmar and Nick Johnson do use this FBI  data in compiling some of their lists. The FBI warns against using the data, and this is what the FBI has to say:

“UCR (Uniform Crime Reporting) data are sometimes used to compile rankings of individual jurisdictions and institutions of higher learning.  These incomplete analyses have often created misleading perceptions which adversely affect geographic entities and their residents. Despite repeated warnings against these practices, some data users continue to challenge and misunderstand this position.”

“When providing/using agency oriented statistics, the FBI cautions and, in fact, strongly discourages data users against using rankings to evaluate locales or the effectiveness of their law enforcement agencies.”

The article quotes Robert Friedmann, the director of the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange at Georgia State.

“…the rankings are irresponsible clickbait. It makes people panic and can affect a city’s local economy if it prevents people from moving there.”

12)  Sam Burnham, Georgia, “A (Real) Georgian’s response to RoadSacks Top 10”

“I have friends that live in some, I have spent nights in some, played high school football games in some. I know these small towns. These are the places that produce the finest watermelons, peaches, pecans, and onions in the world. Many of these towns have storied histories, intricate architecture, even museums.”

“I’ve never felt in danger in Vidalia, Thomaston, Cordele, etc. I can’t say the same for the metro.”

“Give me real Georgia.”

13) The Mayor of Kinston, North Carolina,  “Responding to Crime Ranking Websites”

“Your ranking reports represent misleading marketing strategies that could be considered unscrupulous trade practices that can severely threaten economic development projects for the communities you rank. I am copying the Attorney General to request a review of your ranking methodology, which is designed to scare citizens and even consumers. Some companies have been known to utilize your misleading data to send marketing material soliciting the purchase of home security systems.”

Why Christopher Kolmar is not on my Happy List (and he Shouldn’t be on Your’s Either)

Chris Kolmar first crossed my radar when the website he owns wrote a not so complimentary “info-entertainment” snippet about the city I love so much, Newburyport, Massachusetts.

WANTED--Chris Kolmar

1) This is not Mr. Kolmar’s first rodeo.

This is not Christopher Kolmar‘s first rodeo, his words, not mine. Chris Kolmar appears to be a boy genius when it comes to viral, content marketing.  He has written several terrific articles and got the blog, that the company the he worked (still works??) for, to become a household name. I actually took some of his suggestions and used them in the previous post. This guy is a smart cookie, no doubt about it.  I was wicked impressed by his previous work.  His latest websites — not so much.

2) Chris Kolmar is young.

He graduated from college in 2009. So maybe at this writing he is 27 or 28.

3) In my opinion, his new website(s) demonstrate an uninformed, graceless immaturity.

Mr Kolmar seems to be using his terrific talent, in my mind for money, notoriety and lots of traffic to his various websites (i.e. money, fame and money).

The little info-entertainment snippet on my beloved hometown contained a tweet (as part of the website’s “data”) from a “kid,” probably a very nice kid, who listed their hometown as Amherst, MA (which btw is not Newburyport – an expert? one wonders…data??).

"Thorn in my side", on Flickr, Broo_am (Andy B) Creative Commons License

“Thorn in my side”, on Flickr, Broo_am (Andy B),  Creative Commons License

“Thorn in my side”, on Flickr, Broo_am (Andy B),  Creative Commons License

4) Mr. Kolmar’s website gets its data wrong.

The list is very long of people pointing out all the mistakes in the data on Chris Kolmar’s websites (I refuse to give the name or link to the websites, because that is exactly what Mr. Kolmar would like — it’s clicks, clicks, clicks — links, links, links).  So Mr. Kolmar’s often, in my mind, cruel observations, seem to be based on data that is at times inaccurate.

5) Chris Kolmar has hurt a lot of communities and the people that live them.

Wow, the list of people and communities (especially communities that are struggling) that, in my opinion, he has hurt with his cruel and graceless immaturity is lengthy.  If he ever enters a 12 step program, which in my mind could not be soon enough, the list of amends he would need to make would be in the 100,000s (really).

6) Christopher Kolmar is hurting small businesses.

Yup, the small business in Newburyport that he portrayed in his info-image from Google Maps, a small business that has been loved by our community for decades, was depicted in the most unflattering way (and it’s a great looking place).  And apparently I am not alone in this opinion — that Mr. Kolmar finds the worst images and angles for the places that he writes about — again, cruel, cynical and thoughtless stuff.

NO Chris Kolmar

7) Mr. Kolmar will probably succeed in this new endeavor like crazy.

And Christopher Kolmar will probably succeed in this recent (started in May 2015) endeavor,  because, I believe he is playing on people’s basest emotions in a slick, sloppy, cynical way.  As almost every “news” organization knows, kind, thoughtful stuff doesn’t get readership or viewership like a really good catastrophe, or when someone says something really cruel and mean.

(I would say that Chris Kolmar is the polar opposite of the three young men that give me hope for the future of Newburyport, Massachusetts.)

8) Contact Christopher Kolmar and his partner Nikolaos (Nick) Johnson

You can send them an email, people probably won’t, but this is the email addresses that I used, plus an old one for Chris Kolmar that I found:

Chris@HomeSnacks.net, Nick@HomeSnacks.net, info@HomeSnacks.net, christopher.kolmar@gmail.com (email from 2012)

And there is always snail mail.

This is the information that I have on the company:

Our goal is to show you the real side of places that not everyone wants to hear. We use data to create bite-sized snacks of shareable information about places and cities across the country. We call it the ‘other’ side of regional infotainment.

Chasing Chains, L.L.C.
210 Strolling Way
Durham, North Carolina   27707

9) People who have stood up to Christopher Kolmar and his partner Nikolaos (Nick) Johnson (yes, “standing up to” implies standing up to bullies).  And these are just some of the many people who have done this — it is a long, long list.

A)  Dr. Andrew J. Pegoda, Texas,   “An Open Letter to Chris Kolmar and Nick Johnson of RoadSnacks: Please Remember People Have Feelings”

“Additionally, your list, likely not intentionally but the effect is the same nonetheless, embodies and perpetuates racism. It could cause business to avoid areas where such business could really be needed in terms of jobs and services provided. “

B)  Molly McWilliams Wilkins, Georgia,  “In Defense of Small Towns”

“But you need to consider the soul, and heart, of the places you write about. And realize that there are some who not only choose to live in them, but cherish their hometowns.”

C)  Mike Parker, North Carolina,  ” ‘RoadSnacks’ blast gives me indigestion”

“My dad once told me: ‘Son, figures don’t lie, but liars can figure.’ “

D)  Aaron Brown,  Minnesota,  “Warm greetings from Minnesota’s northern hellscape”

“Before you fall over yourselves rushing to see the site, know that it’s click bait. Believe it or not, RoadSnacks.net is not a repository of our century’s finest thinking, but a website that profits when people look at their ads. It lacks the dignity of a site like this one, which has the class and intellectual merit to attract far fewer readers while making almost no profits whatsoever.”

E)  Barry Saunders, North Carolina,  “Rockingham deserves better from RoadSnacks”

“…it’s easier to pick on struggling municipalities in which you’ve probably never et a Vienna sausage than to look into what’s causing the problems you so erroneously and cavalierly catalogue – for infotainment.”

F)  Brian Blueskye, California, “In Defense of DHS: An ‘Analysis’ Recently Declared That Desert Hot Springs Is the Worst Place to Live in California. Here’s Why We Disagree.”

” ‘The two people who run that website, they do one of those lists on every state,” Betts said. “They’re click-whores. They’re just doing that to build traffic. How can they possibly analyze all 50 states?’ “

G) North Carolina, “OUR VIEW: Defy, don’t just deny, county’s ‘worst’ labels”

“That’s what’s really important, after all. Proving provocateurs like RoadSnacks dead wrong is just the icing on the cake.

Forget denial, Richmond County. This is a challenge that calls for defiance.”

H) Mark Saal, Utah, “Ogden second worst? That couldn’t be worse”

“— henceforth and forever I wasn’t going to report the source of these vacuous helpings of intellectual cotton candy. Mostly because the companies that compile these lists are what we in the business affectionately refer to as “publicity whores.”

“…an attempt to attract as much media attention as possible.”

“And finally, as authoritative as I’d love to consider RoadSnacks (D’oh! Mentioned it again), it’s important to note that the “company” — possibly just some 20-something with a computer, living in his parents’ basement — is headquartered out of Durham, North Carolina. North Carolina, people.”

I)  Mark Muckenfuss, California, Who asks the question, “Does Nick Johnson want to become the most hated man in America?”

“What’s wrong with Nick Johnson? Does he really want to become the most hated man in America?”

“Johnson has made it his job to tell people they live in terrible places…”

” ‘I’ve had some really sappy letters sent to me that made me feel sad about doing this and we almost stopped. They said ‘You hurt everyone’s feelings,’ and we said, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t do this.’ ”  “…But then he (Nick Johnson) looks at the traffic on the website.”

J)  Steve Urbon, Massachusetts, “Worst? Buddy, you don’t know the meaning of worst — Mayor Jon Mitchell took the printout I had handed him, made a face and held it up like a soiled diaper”

“Some crackpot website in Durham, North Carolina, had messed around with some statistics…”

“You would think that if you’re going to publish something online that serves as cheap “linkbait,” you could at least get the numbers right.”

K)  Tasnim Shamma, Georgia,  Faulty Data Is Behind Georgia City’s Most Dangerous Ranking

This article quotes the FBI which urges people not to use their data.  However, Christopher Kolmar and Nick Johnson do use this FBI  data in compiling some of their lists. The FBI warns against using the data, and this is what the FBI has to say:

“UCR (Uniform Crime Reporting) data are sometimes used to compile rankings of individual jurisdictions and institutions of higher learning.  These incomplete analyses have often created misleading perceptions which adversely affect geographic entities and their residents. Despite repeated warnings against these practices, some data users continue to challenge and misunderstand this position.”

“When providing/using agency oriented statistics, the FBI cautions and, in fact, strongly discourages data users against using rankings to evaluate locales or the effectiveness of their law enforcement agencies.”

The article quotes Robert Friedmann, the director of the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange at Georgia State.

“…the rankings are irresponsible clickbait. It makes people panic and can affect a city’s local economy if it prevents people from moving there.”

This is an article from Jacob Harris, who predicted this way back in 2014.  Jacob Harris is a senior software architect at The New York Times and this article is from the Nieman Journalism Lab, part of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University.

“Nobody can say exactly when the trend first started, but in 2014 we saw the first major outbreaks of bogus data distributed by private companies just so it would go viral online.”

“To be blunt, all of these stories were unredeemably awful, riddled with errors and faulty assumptions. But accuracy wasn’t the point. All of these examples of “data journalism” were generated by companies looking for coverage from online news organizations. The goal is a viral feedback loop, where the story is reaggregated by others, the site surges in its organic search rankings, and the study is tweeted for days even by haters like myself. For these purposes, they were perfectly designed to exploit the nature of modern news distribution online.”

This is what Distresses me about the Smart Growth 40R Process (and it’s not what you think)

This is what distresses me about the Smart Growth 40R Process.

By sinabeet on Flickr, "Hand say Hand Listen, Creative Commons License

By sinabeet on Flickr, “Hand say Hand Listen,” Creative Commons License

By sinabeet on Flickr, “Hand say Hand Listen,” Creative Commons License

The problem is with the citizens of Newburyport who are not paying attention, not with the elected officials and folks on volunteer boards who made the Smart Growth 40R District happen.

1) This is not new.

The 40R was first proposed way, way back in 2004.  This idea is not new to Newburyport. People are presenting this new zoning law as if it just came out of the blue. They are wrong.

2) No one was paying attention.

  • If people had been paying attention to the 40R as early as January 2014, things might have turned out much differently.
  • I was blogging about it since January 2015, and no one was listening, and I couldn’t get anyone to listen.  I actually went around and talked to people explaining that this was probably one of the biggest long term projects that Newburyport was looking at, and it would affect everyone.  I actually had people turn their backs on me and walk away while I was talking in mid-sentence.  No one cared.
  • I talked to at least one city councilor who had reservations about the project, and they couldn’t get anyone to listen either.  We both agreed that trying to get people to pay attention was like talking to a wall.

3) Do not complain after the fact.

If you do not show up and pay attention EARLY in the process when things are being decided and problem solving is taking place, do not complain after the fact.

4) Pay attention NOW.

This is a multi decade project that will go through multiple administrations and planning directors. The 2 things that are on the docket now is the Graf Road Pump Station and the Minco Building.

5) Stop making excuses.

If you really care about this project, and just don’t want to complain about it, follow those 2 initial projects, the Graf Road Pump Station and the Minco Building.  If you cannot make it to meetings, talk to city councilors and other people who do attend those meetings.  You can find out who is interested by asking around (I do), or reading the minutes (I do), which are online on the city’s website, see who shows up and contact them. Reading the minutes of the meetings helps too.

6) Stop throwing people under the bus because you think that they are not listening to you.

The time to get elected officials and volunteer boards to listen to you is in the BEGINNING of a project when decisions are being made — not after all the work has been done. Stop throwing elected officials and volunteer board members under the bus, because you were not paying attention when this 40R Smart Growth District was being worked on.

Things I Look for in a Newburyport City Councilor

Gandhi quote: You must be the change you wish to see in the world

You must be the change you wish to see in the world – Gandhi

There is a local Newburyport election coming up on Tuesday, November 3, 2015 for Newburyport City Councilors at Large, and City Councilors in Ward 1 and Ward 4, as well as Newburyport City School Committee members (for a list of candidates please press here).

There are a number of issues on people’s minds — the Waterfront, Schools, 40R Smart Growth District, Historic Preservation, seem to be the 4 that come to my mind. And each of the two Ward races have their own specific issues.

There are 2 characteristics that I look for in a City Councilor, whether I agree with their stances on certain issues or not.

1) An ability to have a dialogue with their constituents. Not to give the people that they represent their “spiel” on their stance on certain issues, but an ability to truly listen to the people that they speak for.  And also an ability to explain how they feel on a particular issue at that moment, which is different than a spiel — it assumes that City Councilors are problem-solvers, not people who proselytize. I think one of the worst things for a person talking to a City Councilor is to feel ignored, to feel invisible and to feel as if their insights are insignificant.

The issues in front of the city are all complex, and often have no easy answers, because life, people and civic issues are complicated. And to come to a conclusion on how to solve problems as a civic leader is not an easy one, and at the end of the day decisions are made.  And as a caveat to Newburyport’s electorate, it helps to get involved at the beginning of whatever issue/process is at hand.  To show up on the Newburyport City Council floor for the first time, at the second reading (which is the last reading of when something passes) with a short tempered opinion, is not part of a problem solving approach. In civics, it is a two way street.  Show up and pay attention early, and then tell what you believe to be the truth about an issue that you believe in, but show up, pay attention and get the facts first.

2) Civility. I think that this is a very important characteristic, and vital in having the ability to have a dialogue, build trust and problem-solve.  If someone, in the course of my civic involvement, has called me a “Nazi controlling zealot,” which is their right in a society that values free speech, it is difficult for me to imagine that person being capable of a civil, problem-solving dialogue as a city councilor.  It is also hard for me to imagine voting for a city councilor who has been arrested for assault. I believe in second chances, but this would give me pause in voting for someone as an elected official (although it has been pointed out to me that we had a mayor run the city from jail, and that the city named a bridge after him).

And another caveat to the Newburyport electorate. It would be great if civility worked both ways. The abuse that city councilors can get from the people that they try their darndest to represent, is often astounding and just downright mind-boggling.

Slouching towards Bethlehem, Newburyport’s Smart Growth, 40R District

Seal of the City of Newburyport

When Newburyport’s 40R Smart Growth District passed on the second reading by the Newburyport City Council on Monday night, I had sort of a sinking feeling, a slight feeling of foreboding.  Not necessarily because I think it might not work, and that really smart people, who care a great deal about our city, did their very best to create it over an 11 year period. My guess is that as a city we will “Slouch towards the 40R Smart Growth District” over the next couple of decades, parts of it working, parts of it sort of working and parts of it, not so much.  10-20 years from now, the city will have some idea if this was the “best of ideas,” or the “worst of ideas,” or something inbetween.

(And for all of you who are up in arms about the 40R District, the next actual concrete thing on the Smart Growth 40R docket, is when the Minco building comes up in front of the Planning Board for review (which is probably pretty soon) — if you cared enough to sign a petition about the 40R, please be there and speak up about it!!)

My foreboding, as I think and mull on it, is the feeling of “backlash” and “hysteria,” about what this project represents to I would say to a good 85% of the people that I talked to.  What I hear over and over and over again, is that there is so much happening in the civics/political world of Newburyport, the Smart Growth 40R District being the most recent, that people feel overwhelmed by it all and feel that things are out of control.  And they feel this very, very strongly.  Notice the use of the verb “feel.”  As a friend of mine says, “Feelings are not facts.” But, when it comes to the world of local politics, especially 4 weeks out from an election for Newburyport City Council (see earlier post for the candidates), the feeling/fact thing is important, and could (we will find out) be a motivating factor in the election.

When I talked to people yesterday and the days before that, yesterday being the primary election for Ward 1, one of the major things on folks’ minds, aside for the smell from the Water and Sewer Plant, you got it, the 40R Smart Growth District. And who did they vote for (I am sure there are many other reasons as well, I’m not saying that this is the only one), they voted for Sharif Zeid , an incredibly bright and engaging young man, who at the Ward 1 Meet and Greet, talked very eloquently about his reservations about the size of the 40R District. I was sitting at the back of the room at the Emma Andrews Library and Community Center, and you could almost see peoples’ heads going up and down in agreement.

(Just as a btw, the fact that a mere 10% of the voting population showed up to vote in the Ward 1 Primary for City Council is a bit discouraging, voting is a privilege, and who you vote for has consequences.)

This upcoming City Council election on Tuesday, November 3, 2015 is important for all sorts of reasons. Be sure to vote.  Make sure to vote with your head and your heart, and not with your panic button.

And as a PS

Ward 1 Primary Election Results

Sharif Zeid 143,  Ted Waldron 98,  Mike Ferrick 33
Mainland:  Sharif Zeid 130, Ted Waldron 65
Plum Island:  Sharif Zeid 13, Ted Waldron 33

Are Historic Homes in Newburyport Obsolete?

Rotary Phone

Rotary Phone

Historic preservationist, you are up against a cultural wall that has not been there before. Somehow you all need to take that into consideration.

For historic preservationists — think on this analogy. Once you’ve had an iphone, would most people ever go back to an old rotary phone.  The answer for 99.9% of people is NO.

And that is part of what you are up against. The old rotary phone probably still works, and it is made really well, but nobody cares, it was archaic decades ago.  Touch tone phones and now smartphones — and once you got a hold of a smartphone, everything else seems obsolete. And that is a little bit of the way historic homes are regarded these days, antiquated and obsolete. Yes, that is the awful and terrible reality.

It was not that way even 10 years ago, but it is that way today.  Ten years ago a historic home was assessed at a much higher rate than a new or “newly restored” home. That has changed. An older home on High Street that needs “remodeling” (which many historic preservationist would think is gorgeous just the way it is),  is probably assessed at 1 million dollars less than a “down to the studs reno” job that has been “updated.”

And when these new homes are staged, a realtor probably would tell you to get rid of that antique furniture and the oriental rug, that is if you want to sell it. They are gone with the wind too.

I do not know what historic preservationists do with this “new reality,” and whether it is a Newburyport thing or a larger nationwide thing. It’s not as simple as “the building inspector” as my buddy over at Brick and Tree hopes. I think it is much, much bigger than that.

Smartphone

Smartphone

Is Newburyport no Longer a Place where the Middle Class are Welcomed?

money

Within the last year I’ve had two experiences that I hope, hope, hope are not indicative of a trend.

I need some things done around my reasonably modest dwelling, and I went looking for quotes.

For the first undertaking, I got one quote from a young man, who was highly recommended, it was 7.5 to 5 times higher than other quotes.  This was a young man in his 30s. Apparently he felt that, if I was willing to pay such an exorbitant price, it was gravy for him, otherwise he wasn’t interested.  I said no, and told everyone about him, and everyone I told was pretty shocked.

It happened again, about 10 months later, a completely different sort of task.  Another young man in his 30s. This time it was only 4 times the going rate. And when I asked if the person would accept a lower price, because it was so outrageous (and I was very, very tactful), the reply I got, “It just doesn’t make sense for me to spend anymore time on this so I’m going to pass on the job.” Believe me, as a consumer, I am allowed to asked questions, get quotes. I’ve never before felt as if I’d been “fired” by someone I asked whether or not they might be able to assist me.

If I lived in Salisbury or Amesbury, would I have gotten this same treatment? I’m guessing, probably not. But then again, if I lived in Salisbury or Amesbury, they might not have even bothered to return my phone call, because apparently so much money can be made off of the people who now live in Newburyport, MA.

I was talking to a friend about the “chutzpa” (shameless audacity, impudence) and dismissiveness, and they said, it’s probably because of the kind of people moving into Newburyport now.  There is now a gorgeous multi-million dollar home within sight of where I live (it was not a multi-million dollar property before, see earlier post), a middle class family is not going to buy that one.

It feels as if Newburyport has gone over a tipping point. It feels as if this is not a place for the middle class, i.e. teachers, nurses, accountants, middle class professionals to find a home anymore. There was once a spot where there was a balance of the “old guard/natives” and the new arrivals. The carpetbaggers had come in, but they were teachers, nurses, accountants, people with small businesses, artists, craftsmen, writers, even some doctors and lawyers. It feels as if Newburyport may soon no longer be hospitable to those folks either.

Are we going from gentrification, which has been described as “the conversion of working class areas into a middle-class area,” to an exclusive, luxury municipal location that only the very wealthy can inhabit–what Nantucket has now become? And Stephen Karp hasn’t even started to build yet.

Newburyport, The Stretch Code and Historic Preservation

Rennovation on Lime Street, September 2015

Rennovation on Lime Street, September 2015

Jerry Mullins over at Brick and Tree is on a tear about the city’s Stretch Code.

Jerry is right, the Stretch Code does not apply to historic buildings in Newburyport. This is from the Q&A from the Green Communities Grant Program (page 4):

12. Does the stretch code apply to historic buildings?
Both the stretch code and the base energy code exempt historic buildings listed in state or national registers, or designated as a historic property under local or state designation law or survey, or with an opinion or certification that the property is eligible to be listed.

According to Jerry this information is not being explained in a comprehensive manner by the folks responsible at City Hall. And unlike Jerry, I am unwilling to throw the mayor and the building inspector under the bus, because I think that it is more complicated.

The EPA has a pamphlet on “Energy Advice for Owners of Historic and Older Homes,” in which they give great advice and information, and also talk about “comfort levels.”

When I bought my first home in Newburyport in 1981, a historic home, it never occurred to anyone I knew to take an old historic home down to the studs. We did a lot of things recommended by the pamphlet by the EPA, but we were also willing to live with a lower “comfort level” for the privilege of living in a historic house. Yes, the houses were drafty* but that was just part of the deal, and also the codes are very different today, then they were in 1981.

My impression is that folks who are buying homes today in Newburyport want a 100% “comfort level.” It’s not just what the building inspector may or may not be saying, bottom line, the people moving here now often want a new home inside an old shell, (please see a previous post about other things that folks want, and Alex Dardinski’s very thoughtful reply). How to balance historic preservation, and all the regulations and expectations in the year 2015 in Newburyport?? I do not think that there are easy answers to that question.

Alex Dardinski articulated his point of view, “I don’t want to live in Williamsburg, but in a tapestry of history rather than a single place in time.”

Rennovation on Lime Street, September 2015

Rennovation on Lime Street, September 2015

*This is from “Energy Advice for Owners of Historic and Older Homes”

“Walls: To insulate or not to insulate?
Wall insulation can be problematic in historic structures as it is difficult to install properly due to the unpredictable nature of historic walls.
• There may be old knob and tube wiring in the wall which would present a fire hazard.
• Blocking, fire stops, or forgotten or obsolete chases will result in cold pockets. Anywhere the insulation does not or cannot reach, such as the junction between the exterior wall and the floor joists, can create thermal bridging. These cold pockets and thermal bridges set up areas where moisture can condense. (Imagine a cold glass on a hot day and the beads of water than form on the glass to understand this concept.)
• Any time you have moisture in the wall, the possibility of decay and mold increases.
• Pumping in dense pack cellulose insulation in the walls can cause the keys that attach plaster walls to the supporting lath can be broken, necessitating repairs.

The trouble and expense of insulating historic walls may not be the best bang for your buck. Once you have air sealed and insulated your attic, tuned up (or replaced your furnace), and completed some of the higher priority energy saving techniques you might then consider insulating your walls but get advice from an expert. By undertaking these other energy-saving measures first, you may find that your comfort level goes up and your energy expenses go down significantly without the need to insulate the walls.

Tip!
If your home dates to the 1850s or earlier and its frame is made of wood, there is a good chance that is has post and beam construction rather than balloon framing. This is an important consideration if you’re thinking about adding insulation in the walls.

Without modern vapor barriers and insulation, air and moisture in the house moved more easily between inside and outside. Adding insulation to the wall cavities without understanding how the house functions as a system and without establishing new ways to circulate air through the home can cause moisture to accumulate. High moisture levels can result in mold and rot, creating serious problems for the homeowner as well as unnecessary expense.”

Newburyport Ward 1 Primary Election, 2015, Meet the Candidates

Ward 1 Primary Election Results

Sharif Zeid 143,  Ted Waldron 98,  Mike Ferrick 33
Mainland:  Sharif Zeid 130, Ted Waldron 65
Plum Island:  Sharif Zeid 13, Ted Waldron 33

Newburyport Ward I Primary Election (Tuesday, September 29, 2015) Meet the Candidates

Meet the Ward 1 Candidates

Meet the Ward 1 Candidates
The Primary is Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Emma  L. Andrews Library and Community Center
77 Purchase Street
(on the corner of Purchase and Marlboro)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015
6:30 PM

The Candidates are:

Michael Ferrick,
Edward Waldron III, Facebook Page
Sharif Zeid, Website

Map of Ward 1, Newburyport, MA

Map of Ward 1, Newburyport, MA (press image to enlarge)

Here is a list of all the candidates running for City Council and Newburyport School Committee on Tuesday, November 3, 2015, with links to websites and Facebook pages.

No Mandatory Composting in Newburyport

If I lived in a red-leaning Southern State, I would be viewed as a dark-green, environmental socialist.  In Massachusetts, I think I would be viewed as a light-green environmental trouble maker, pain in the butt.

When it comes to mandatory composting in Newburyport (we are not there yet, but that is the endgame). “NO.”

Newburyprt composting bin

Newburyprt composting bin

As a friend of mine said, “No is a complete sentence.”

A lot of people I know are really, really excited about the two year pilot composting program that Newburyport is “experimenting” with (the Newburyport Organics Pilot Program, Towards Zero Waste Newburyport) .  For them, “It’s the bomb.” And I’m thrilled for them.

As the old saying goes, on this one, “Live and let Live.” For all the folks out there who are wicked excited — Awesome!! And there are lots and lots of folks, who if it is compulsory, will not comply, period. And they are too afraid to speak up, because they feel as if they are being manipulated and railroaded into eventually having mandatory composting.

“No is a complete sentence.”  On mandatory composting, “No.” And for those who are excited, go for it, just do not make it obligatory for every resident in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Newburyport’s Future, Balancing the Love of New with the Love of Old, Historic Preservation

This is Alex Dardinski’s reply on Facebook to an earlier post of mine, “Newburyport is Losing its Patina, and Historic Preservation.”

“I don’t want to live in Williamsburg, but in a tapestry of history rather than a single place in time.”

House before renovation © Alex Dardinski

House before renovation, photo courtesy of Alex Dardinski

I think about this concept all the time in my work life designing products,  as well as my personal life, restoring a historic Newburyport home — how to balance the love of new with the love of old? The term I always come back to is “palimpsest,” which in architectural terms would be the traces of the many years of use and reuse upon a facade or plan.

I struggle with the notion of doing a perfect museum grade restoration for many of the reasons that you have stated. I have lead paint concerns with my young family. I want a more open plan than the carpenters of the 19th century could provide. I want to have some modern conveniences too. I also want my house to have some patina, some soul. A connection to its past with real quality materials that were crafted when the house was built.  The best find I ever made in my house was evidence that my house was “converted” from a square 2 story box into a stately 3 story second empire victorian by the Caldwell Rum family. That was an earth shattering revelation. I wonder how controversial that was at the time. It was a pure case of gentrification, circa 1870! But that is my favorite detail about my house and that part of its history makes me love it even more.

We MUST have some essential historic protections and zoning that keeps the character of our city intact. But I don’t want to live in Williamsburg either, but in a tapestry of history rather than a single place in time.

The first room I renovated when I was 25 years old was truly in need of a gutting. It was heavily water damaged and the horsehair plaster was falling off the walls. I took out the plaster, accidentally destroyed most of the trim, then went the lath, then I added modern insulation and rewired it all. It was 100% new. Now that is the most soulless sheetrock clad room in my house.  So since that overreach, I have tried to fix real problems more surgically. Leaving many traces of the past as I go, knowing that in 100 years the work I do today will be part of the historic archive too — that the work of every tradesperson that will have touched my house adds to the “palimpsest” of the house.

On a larger scale, that is the story of Newburyport. The first period houses sat far apart from one another on large tracts of land. You see houses that once fronted the river, but now are 2 or more blocks away from the banks. They might face the wrong way from the street and seem odd until you close your eyes and imagine the wide open acres that separated these early structures from one another, long before the streets were fully laid out.

Second period houses came and filled in the density of our historic neighborhoods. That early construction boom must have come as a shock, but it makes the density (and one could argue the sense of community we enjoy is because of it) of our little city. Mid century Italianates then Victorians that must have seemed like modernist heresy to the purely colonial streetscapes of the early 1800’s.  But in retrospect where would we be without them today? They add such color to the fabric of the town.  In the period following the depression and post industrial Newburyport, many bad architectural choices were made, largely out of poverty, and so many of them have been erased in our city’s recent evolution.

So I guess my image of “the right thing to do” on my house of for the town in general is also still evolving. But I know that every change came with controversy. We must recognize that the best changes stand the test of time and the worst most often do not.  We won’t be a town of vinyl siding in 100 years. The good choices will stand and the McMansions and the other the hasty choices will be largely edited away.  We will still be a historic town, a beautiful town. And the things happening today even if controversial will be but one part off the palimpsest of the city’s history.

Editor’s Note: Many thanks to Alex Dardinski for his thoughtful, informative and optimistic addition to The Newburyport Blog.

House after renovation

House after renovation