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.”

Mobile Phones and Historic Preservation and Losing Newburyport’s Story

I have this theory that mobile phones are changing our culture in ways that its inventor never would have imagined.  And the cell phone has been amazing in many ways, and, I think that they have had some unintended consequences.

The street artist Bansky had something to say about one of those unintended consequences.

Mobile Lovers, street art by Bansky
Mobile Lovers, street art by Bansky

Mobile Lovers, street art by Bansky

And I’m wondering what the impact of the culture created around mobile phones has on historic preservation.

With a cellphone culture “immediate and superficial gratification” is taken to a whole new level. It’s a Buzzfeed way of getting information.

What turns up when I search my mobile cell phone for “Newburyport” is Tripadvisor, restaurants and places to shop. The Newburyport Daily News used to be in the top two on a desktop computer.  It’s now more difficult to find the Daily News on a mobile device. It’s hard to find  detailed local content. It’s difficult to find real meaningful, thoughtful content.  Mobile devices are not geared for reading profound and thoughtful knowledge. It’s a Buzzfeed, quick bullet-point, mobile world.

And this has to have some “interesting” effects.

It feels in the new mobile world (which is now global) “new” very suddenly, almost wipes out anything “older.” And sometimes I wonder if  people now look at historic homes with the mindset, as something to be replaced, like an old version of an iphone.

If this is remotely true, and the previous post about HGTV and Newburyport losing its patina, is remotely true, historic preservationist need to rethink their approach. They need to adapt.

This is from Bernice Radle  (now part of HGTV), a preservationist in Buffalo, NY.

“Few people understand the changing nature of preservation, because our reactionary language looks backward and is architecture-centric. We’ve too often allowed ourselves to be framed by others as nostalgic – seeking to return to the past because we can’t cope with the reality of life today.”

There are so many people scrambling to preserve not only Newburyport’s historic homes, but Newburyport’s story as well. And I think for so many people, Newburyport’s story feels as if it’s being lost, it is slipping away, and they are puzzled and sometimes slightly panicked about what to do.

Zoning Overlay NOT a Local Historic District (LHD)

Unfortunately the Newburyport Daily News has repeatedly reported that a Local Historic District (LHD) is being proposed.  This is NOT the case, there is NO LHD period.  I am extremely disappointed in our paper of record.  I feel that it is the paper’s responsibility to inform and educate people, not to scare them. To me saying that this proposal is a LHD is like shouting “Fire” in a crowded room, when there is no fire, for me this is unfortunate and irresponsible journalism.  I expect more from the Newburyport Daily News.

Newburyport City Councilor Ed Cameron has clarified what is being proposed in the comment section of the latest Newburyport Daily News article on the subject.  Here it is:

Several clarifications to this reporting are necessary:

First of all this is not a single proposal by Councillor (Jared) Eigerman. He has submitted three separate zoning ordinance changes. Although they can be seen as related, they are each separate.

The three are:

1) a proposal establishing an Interim Downtown Overlay District is zoning that would preserve our historic downtown. Currently there are zero protections since the deed restrictions related to the HUD rehab of downtown which were in effect from 1971-2005 have lapsed. The Planning Board which oversees downtown site plan review would be the Special Permit Granting Authority.

Please note that Councillor Eigerman’s submitted change for downtown zoning is not a local historic district. A local historic district is created under Massachusetts Gen. Laws Chapter 40 C. What is proposed is a zoning change, not a local historic district, and is covered by Massachusetts Gen. Laws Chapter 40A. In this proposal, the local Historic Commission is not involved.

2) a proposal establishing an Interim Demolition Control Overlay District is zoning which would establish protections regarding teardowns in the Federal Newburyport Historic District established in 1984. The ZBA would be the Special Permit Granting Authority in these cases.

3 ) a proposal to amend our off-street parking regulations so that developers who are making a use change or building a new development and want to use public parking to meet their parking requirements will have to pay for it.

Please note that the Council Planning and Development Committee and Committee of the Whole did not “balk” at approving these zoning changes last night. The process is that these zoning changes will go to a Joint Public Hearing of the Planning Board and the Council’s Planning and Development Committee, an opportunity for the public to give input. Any zoning change in Newburyport must go through this process before the City Council takes action. That meeting has been advertised in the Daily News and will occur on Wednesday, February 19 at 7 PM at City Hall.

More details are here:

Councillor Ed Cameron”

Editor’s Note:  This is a comment  from John Macone, the Editor of the Newburyport Daily News, in the comment sections in the latest article in the Newburyport Daily News.  I appreciate it a lot.

” Thank you for your comments. I agree with commenters who have said this is not a true local historic district proposal, as set down in state law. However, it is also clear that these zoning amendments seek to achieve some of the same protections/property restrictions that the LHD contained.

I’ve changed the headline to better reflect the intent of Councilor Eigerman’s proposals. Also, we will be following up shortly with a comprehensive explanation of the similarities and differences between these proposals and the LHD proposal.
John Macone, editor”

The headline was changed to: “Historic Protections Proposed for Downtown.”

A Really Good Compromise on Newburyport’s LHD

This sounds like a really good compromise on Newburyport’s Local Historic District (LHD) sponsored on Monday night by Newburyport City Councilors Katy Ives and Bob Cronin. Excellent work!!  I hope it is one that the Newburyport City Councilors see as a “win-win” alternative.

The proposals address what Councilor Ives called the “most egregious” situations affecting our historic assets in the city of Newburyport, i.e. demolition, as well as protecting downtown Newburyport, the restoration of which is responsible for the revitalization of a once dying city.

A very well written article in the Newburyport Daily News about the the proposals sponsored by Councilors Katy Ives and Bob Cronin can be read here.

Tom Salemi’s Latest Posts

I like the last two posts over at Tom Salemi’s Newburyport Posts.

The first one  “Give it Time,” on Jared Eigerman’s immensely sane Letter to the Editor in the Newburyport Daily News.

“Our hope is that the councilors can cut through the noise and emotion and debate the pros and cons of the LHD concept rationally.”

And Tom’s second one today, “Wasn’t them” the decisive response in today’s Newburyport Daily News to what Tom labels “one of the oddest letters of the LHD debate,” which, as he points out, got 10 comments, and Tom wonders:

“Ah, the end of Anontyranny. Anonymousity?

Still working on it….”

A New Blog in Town

There’s a new blog in town. The NRA Today (Newburyport Redevelopment Authority).

The very first entry says:

The next few months promise to be exciting time for the city. With the arrival of spring comes an opportunity to complete the renewal of the city’s waterfront, creating a space for all residents and visitors to enjoy.

As the process unfolds, we’ll post details here allowing residents to chart our progress. We’ll keep an update list of our meetings and hearings with the hope that you’ll attend and share your thoughts and hopes for the two central pieces to Newburyport’s historic water front.

If you’re unable to attend our meetings please examine the minutes to our past meetings. They’re compiled on City Hall’s web site. You’ll find a link to the minutes and our meeting agendas to the right.”

NRA land c 1920, courtesy of the Historical Society of Old Newbury, press to enlarge.
NRA land c. 1920, courtesy of the Historical Society of Old Newbury, press to enlarge.

And in the background of the new NRA blog there is a very cool photograph of downtown Newburyport, NRA land c. 1920, courtesy of the Historical Society of Old Newbury (press the image to enlarge).  You can see all the buildings that existed before the demotion that took place in 1968.  If you look real closely you can see where Bossy Gillis’ gas station is still standing (see previous post), next to the firehouse.

(If you download the photograph, would you make sure to give the Historical Society of Old Newbury credit. Thank you.)

Content Syndication and SEO at The Newburyport Blog

George looks at me and says, “Dahling…”

“Dahling” George? “Dahling?” First it was “Oy Vey,” and now it’s “Dahling.”

The frogs pow-wow around my computer.
The frogs pow-wow around my computer.

The “Oy Veh” thing was suspect enough for me and the readers of the Newburyport Blog that your wonderful Newburyport “pedigree,”  George Cushing of Frog Pond at the Bartlett Mall, might be suspect.  But what in the world has the political consultant to the Newburyport Blog been watching? (And, really, do buttoned up old Yankees [not many buttoned up old Yankees around these days, at least they seem to be dwindling here in Newburyport], say “Dahling,” I don’t think so.)

George and the twins pow-wow around my computer.  They point out to me that another site  is getting a whole lot of credit for stuff that I write on my blog, even images, good grief.  Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for the Newburyport Blog going out the window.

George rolls his eyes at me and continues, “Dahling, how could you have known? Stop beating yourself up.”

(George has obviously been watching some sort of combination of Dr. Phil and Bubbles Devere [aka Matt lucas], good grief!)

George, I’m not “beating myself up,” so get a grip. These folks could not have been nicer.  They wanted to promote the Newburyport Blog, and put at least, count’m, 5 links back to the blog on every post they syndicated!  Who could ask for more than that!!

But what do do.  With some sadness, I get in touch with these kind folks, and ask them if they would take all the content down that is from the Newburyport Blog. Sigh. And maybe Google will sort it all out in a week or so, and Google would realize that, moi and the Newburyport Blog writes this stuff.

The twins, aspiring political consultants for The Newburyport Blog
The twins, aspiring political consultants for The Newburyport Blog

“You could have done your homework, you know.” Say the Twins (aspiring political consultants to the Newburyport Blog).

“Say what?”  I say, and am in a little bit of a huff. Twerpy little frogs!!

But they are right. And this is from Google itself (which I had never seen before).

“Syndicate carefully: If you syndicate your content on other sites, Google will always show the version we think is most appropriate for users in each given search, which may or may not be the version you’d prefer. However, it is helpful to ensure that each site on which your content is syndicated includes a link back to your original article. You can also ask those who use your syndicated material to use the noindex meta tag to prevent search engines from indexing their version of the content.”

Who knew. I would feel weird asking someone not to index (i.e. having their stuff show up on Google etc.) stuff on their sight, even if it was my stuff. And from a technical point of view, it could be mighty hard, especially if folks would be using a blogging software like WordPress.

So Google puts one in one weird dilemma.

Local Historic District (LHD) and High Street in 1971 from P.Preservationist

High Street, Courtesy of the Library of Congress
High Street, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

The P. Preservationist has written a fascinating story about the effort to have High Street be a Local Historic District (LHD) in 1971.

The P. Preservationist has gone to the Newburyport Archives and done some mega research.

Everyone here at the Newburyport Blog, me and the frogs, are mighty impressed. This is definitely a must read.

P. Preservationist points out that there are differences today:

First, we have far fewer Townies present today and they represent a minority in our political scene.  Second, our demographics have changed.   We have a large percentage of people who have moved here precisely because of the historic neighborhoods.  Third and most importantly, the class structure that so bedeviled Bossy Gillis and John Marquand no longer exists.”

High Street, © Sally Chandler, 2004, Courtesy of "Historic Gardens of Newburyport"
High Street, © Sally Chandler, 2004, Courtesy of "Historic Gardens of Newburyport"

He has a marvelous quote which, as he points out, is reminiscent of today:

“High Street resident, Elizabeth L. Whiting complained, ‘Surely informative ideas of the many, gently and rationally expressed, deserve as much attention than the ideas of the latter [opponents] which are presented in deliberately caustic and irrelevant oratory.’ ”

You can read the whole post here.

False Statements on the “Say No to LHD” Mass Mailing

Disclaimer here:  Dr. Heersink who wrote a Letter to the Editor on on February 27, 2011 is my favorite doctor in Newburyport. As a doctor he is amazing.  I just happen to disagree with his stance on the proposed Local Historic District (LHD).

In the letter, among other things, Dr. Heersink defends the “Say No to LHD” (which he is a member of) literature that was mass mailed (2,700 pieces of mail) about 10 days ago.  The frogs and I on the Newburyport Blog have put our heads together and where to begin to counter all the allegations made in this disingenuous mailing.

Now usually I don’t like the comment section of the Newburyport Daily News, but the Newburyport Daily News has clarified their comment policy recently, so it looks like I won’t be called a “Nazi controlling zealot” any more, because that would be “racist and abusive.”  So whew! (I hope.)

There was a reply to Dr. Heersink by “GloryBe456” (another poster thought it was moi, not so).  It’s a little strident for the Newburyport Blog’s taste, but since it makes so many points that the frogs and I agree with, I thought I would quote it on the Newburyport Blog (and it may capture the anger and frustration that is out there with “Say No to LHD”).

GloryBe456  (Whoever you are, and the spelling was corrected by moi-I am the Editor of The Newburyport Blog after all.)

“If Dr. Heersink is a member of “Say No to LHD”, then he should know that, considering the people he’s working with, the errors are not inadvertent, but on purpose.

If the members of this group knew city law, they would know that all members of all boards and commissions have to be city residents.  But, “inadvertrently” they stated in their mailing that LHD commission members didn’t have to be.

Another “inadvertent”  error is that people are going to be fined left, right and sideways if they do something the LHD commission doesn’t like.  Well, isn’t that interesting – did you know that the ZBA, Planning Board and Conservation Commission and Tree Committee and Building Inspector can levy fines, too? Guess when the last time was that happened?  That’s right, never.

Yet another “inadvertent” error was that all work requiring a permit will force homeowners to go in front of the LHD Commission.  Oh, really? WRONG!!!! a small fraction of work currently requiring a permit would require review by an LHD Commission.

Shall I go on?

Funny, the “Say No” group states that LHDs will DECREASE the value of your home.  At the same time, in his letter, Dr. Heersink, a Say No member, states that it’s irrelevant if the LHD INCREASES your property values.  Really? Which is it, Dr.?  Show me your data, Say No, that LHDs decrease property values.  You can’t.

Let’s keep going – “Say No” claims that “no construction, alteration, moving, demolition, etc.” will not be permitted without a “certificate of approval”.  WRONG AGAIN!  It’s called a “check off” at the building department that what the applicant is looking to do doesn’t come under the LHD commission’s jurisdiction.  Same was planning and zoning stuff is taken care of now.

Another incorrect “fact”. That the study committee has agreed to a “phased approach” to implementing the LHD throughout the national register historic district. WRONG! there is no ‘agreement’ to “phase in” more of the district.  IF anyone wanted to try such a thing, the ENTIRE process that the study committee has gone through would have to be started ALL OVER AGAIN – and good luck with that!

Costs of owning your home will increase by being in an LHD. WRONG! they are not requiring expansive features, finishes, etc.  Like vinyl siding? You’ll SAVE money in the end by not installing it because you won’t trap moisture in the walls of the house (which would lead to mold and moss growth, sheathing that will never dry out and have to be replaced – the removal of these things later will end up costing you way more than you think you “saved” on painting and regular maintenance had you not put it on to begin with.

Finally, all of the things the “Say No” people have listed as “at your expense” and “at the homeowner’s expense” are NO DIFFERENT than how the ZBA and planning boards work now.  the building inspector himself has ordered people to hire structural engineers “at the homeowner’s expense” if he sees a problem with a project.  So, stop the fear-mongering. Better to spend your time learning how your government works first.”

“Say No to LHD” Campaign

It is possible that only Tom Salemi could approach the whole Newburyport’s Local Historic District (LHD) thing with humor, marked with wisdom and humility. (Alas, the Newburyport Blog‘s experience is what my fellow blogger recommends in his Newburyport Today article, that we be “a community” and “stay classy,” might not actually be possible in what has been dubbed, and what I thought had disappeared, but has seemingly been resurrected, “Cannibal City.”)

A bagel
A bagel

Tom opens his article with his experience of being aggressively approached in front of Abraham’s Bagels by one of the “Say No to LHD” folks on their anti-LHD campaign, at 8:30 on a Saturday morning, as he was trying to get some breakfast (great bagels from Abraham’s Bagels, a thumbs up from this born and raised in New York, New Yawker, who knows from bagels, a “blow in,” a “newby,” moi, who has “only” lived here, in Newburyport, for 31 years) for his family.

In his piece in Newburyport Today, Tom Salemi (the author of the well loved blog, Newburyport Posts) writes, “But let’s all do this right.  Let’s handle this with the same grace that we’ve employed with the IBEW protests.  We don’t need to roll in the mud.”

And I agree with Tom, what is necessary is “an informed and engaged public,” Tom’s words.

And what Tom Salemi points out with grace and dignity, is at this point, the “Say No to LHD” folks are giving people information filled with inaccuracies and omission of the facts.

And, yes, this makes it difficult to have  an informed and thoughtful discussion.

I guess aggressively handing out information in front of Abraham’s Bagels was not enough. The “Say No to LHD”  folks have made a mass mailing-2,700 pieces of mail (which one of my neighbors, when they received the mailing, thought was going to be an anti-drug missive), including the flyer handed out in front of Abraham’s Bagels, full of misinformation, scare tactics and omission of the facts.

As one friend said to me, on one of my many walks around my beloved historic city, “It’s hard to get a positive message out there when the default reaction is ‘No,’ and you are dealing with lies” (their word, not mine).

You can read Tom Salemi’s article at Newburyport Today, February 16, 2012, “Take the Bagels, Leave the Petition,” here.

The online petition in favor of Newburyport’s Local Historic District (LHD) can be found here.

Boston Globe Article about Newburyport’s Local Historic District (LHD)

There is an article in today’s Boston Globe on Newburyport’s Local Historic District (LHD).  There are some excerpts below.  You can read the entire article by Brenda Buote here.

“The proposal has reignited a decades-old dispute between those who believe a local historic district is needed to guide future development and protect Newburyport’s rich heritage, and homeowners who view the proposed commission as an assault on their property rights…

Newburyport is widely considered one of the most architecturally rich areas of the country. High Street, for example, includes many Federal-style homes that were built between 1778 and 1818, at the height of New England’s maritime culture, as well as a number of homes that represent a greater variety of architectural styles, from bungalows to Colonials and Greek Revivals…

“There is a totally different kind of development pressure today than there was in the 1970s,’’ said Sarah White, chairwoman of the city’s Local Historic District Study Committee, noting that “many property owners on High Street have been approached because they have deep lots that could support another structure. For years, we’ve been relying on luck and the largesse of a lot of people who don’t want to sell to developers. The question is, how much longer do we want to rely on luck?’’…

Local historic districts offer the strongest form of protection for structures deemed worthy of preservation, giving a locally appointed commission the authority to review proposed changes to exterior architectural features visible from a public way. Under state law, such districts can be created by local ordinance, but require two-thirds majority approval by the municipality’s city council or town meeting…

White said the study committee is working to address the concerns of those opposed to the local historic district, and will be modifying language in the draft ordinance before the panel’s final report reaches the City Council…

Rather than having authority over buildings that are more than 75 years old, the commission would likely only review proposed alterations to buildings constructed before 1930, White said. In addition, the study committee plans to eliminate language requiring review of roofing materials, and add a residency requirement mandating that all members of the commission live in Newburyport….

White stressed that the levying of fines would be “rare, an absolute last resort,’’ and was quick to point out that if the commission is established, it would not be able to expand the district’s boundaries on a whim; a study committee would have to examine the issue, and any proposed change would have to be approved by a two-thirds vote of the City Council. Likewise, if the commission wanted to extend its powers to include purview over new items, such as paint colors or landscaping, such a change would have to be approved by at least eight of the City Council’s 11 members, White said, to meet the two-thirds requirement.”…

Rooting for Newburyport’s Local Historic District

I‘ve written a Letter to the Editor in favor of Newburyport’s Local Historic District (LHD).  It hasn’t appeared yet.

And after seeing the thrashing that takes place (often very personal) in the comment section of the Newburyport Daily News to people who write pro-LHD Letters to the Editor, I am feeling a certain amount of dread.

One of the things that I imagine will be pointed out, because it was pointed out about another couple who wrote in favor of the LHD, is that, at the moment I do not live in an historic home.  At the moment I live in 1950’s infill, and my home is not in the proposed LHD.

Yesterday when I was walking and talking, someone asked me why I am bothering to support Newburyport’s proposed LHD.

In 1999 MassHighway almost destroyed historic High Street, and I was part of the fight that stopped MassHighway from harming the roadway.  It was through that process that I became passionate about the historic quality and beauty of High Street and learned, for the first time, about the possibility of an LHD, and how a Local Historic District would help to preserve the beauty and historic quality that not only enriches my soul, but also as the gateway to Newburyport, is vital to the city’s economy.

I have had the privilege of living in 2 historic homes, both are included in the prosed LHD.  And I thought to myself, how would I feel if I was still living there, especially if I had not been involved in or followed Newburyport’s civic process.

I think my first reaction would be one of panic, I get this, that someone was going to control where I lived, my home, my personal sanctuary. Then, when I calmed down, I think I would want to know exactly what was involved, what “they were going to do to me.”  I would go to the city’s website and read everything about the proposed Local Historic District.

And then when I read the draft and the guidelines, there would be somethings that I would agree with and somethings that I would not agree with.  I would and do disagree about not being allowed to have skylights in the proposed LHD ordinance.  I think that the ordinance needs to reflect how people live today, and in an old home, the attic is a place where families can expand, and a skylight allows expansion without changing the roofline of the home.

The other major question I would have is windows and lead paint.  I love old windows and the wavy glass, but what about the price and possibility of actually removing lead paint from historic windows? That would be a real concern of mine.

And hopefully, I would contact the LHD Study Committee at lhdsc@cityofnewburyport.com and contact my Newburyport City Councilor with my specific concerns, go to the public hearing and express those specific concerns, and trust that the City of Newburyport and the Local Historic District Study Committee is sensitive enough to public opinion to not only listen to those concerns, but to  actually do something about them.

The Comment Section of the Newburyport Daily News

The comment section of the Newburyport Daily News on the pro-LHD Letters to the Editor–Oy Vey!!

I’ve been told that when real names are required, that people are a lot more civil.  In fact I was told this my my fellow blogger Tom Salemi over at Newburyport Posts, who is a master at the whole comment thing.

I would love it if the Newburyport Daily News would require real names and and check them the way they do with Letters to the Editor.  I think the “conversation” taking place would be a lot more constructive.

Would people be so nasty and sometimes just downright vicious if they had to put their real (verified) name and maybe a real photo, so people would know what they look like?

Would the folks who make those less than civil remarks, make them to the people’s face, in front of other folks, let’s say on the street, in front of witnesses?

I’d like the commenters that comment on the pro-LHD Letters to the Editor (as of today there have been 20, you can count them here), to “man-up” and not hide behind anonymity.

Newburyport Local Historic District Study Committee

I read the opinions and comments in the Newburyport Daily News from some of the folks who aren’t wildly in favor of the Newburyport Local Historic District Study Committee (NLHDSC).

The hostility and misinformation about the the LHD Study Committee is really over the top, and to quote one of the anti LHD folks, it sounds to me as if it’s often those folks who are made up of “histericals!” (their quote, not mine).  Good Grief!!

Lets look back, shall we?  The Newburyport LHD Study Committee was appointed by the mayor (just like all other boards and commissions in our democratic Newburyport government), Mayor John Moak and and the Study Committee was passed by the Newburyport City Council on June 25, 2007.  (All by the book.)

This is not some “new” idea, by some “volunteer helpers” (their words, not mine) who suddenly sprung out of nowhere to make peoples lives a living hell.  Hello.

On the Study Committee there are some very reasonable and knowledeable folks.  Doug Locy who was the chair of the Newburyport Planning Board for years.  Ed Ramsdsell, who has been the chair of the Newburyport Zoning Board of Appeals for years (both terrific men with a great deal of integrity).  Sarah White, who was president of the Newburyport Preservation Trust, a very impressive gal.  And how about Doug Bolick? long time and highly respected Newburyport attorney (a very reasonable fellow-not an “histeric”). Margaret Whelch, who has done an incredible amount for our historic city over the years.

These folks are not crazy Nazis that suddenly sprung up out of thin air, unbeknownst to anyone in particular.  And they are not “Histericals.” And the folks who come up with these wild, misinformed ideas and misinformation on the Newburyport Daily News are the ones in my mind who are sounding hysterical, not the well thought out process (whether you agree with it or not) by the City of Newburyport.  Good grief.

(And BTW, the folks on the Newburyport LHD Study Committee really are “historic home advocates,” the real deal. I hate to see anyone call themselves an “historic home advocate” without some very solid credentials.)

Globe Article about Newburyport Election, Tuesday November 8, 2011

There is an article in Sunday’s Boston Globe by Brenda J. Buote, about Newburyport’s election this Tuesday, November 8, 2011. It includes information at how important it is to the future of Newburyport’s Local Historic District.

An informal poll of residents by local blogger Mary Baker Eaton revealed that many voters were unaware of the importance of the upcoming election, even though the winners of Tuesday’s ballot contest will help shape the future of downtown Newburyport.

When the new City Council convenes in January, local leaders will weigh a proposal that would create a Local Historic District, which would protect the downtown area and High Street, the principal gateway to Newburyport and the cornerstone of Newburyport’s Historic District. Named an endangered resource by Preservation Massachusetts, High Street dates to the 17th century. From its humble beginnings as a country road, the city’s signature street has evolved into a socially prominent roadway of national renown. It is home to Newburyport’s only National Historic Landmark, the Caleb Cushing House.

If embraced by city leaders, creation of a Local Historic District would protect the exterior appearance of properties along the 2.48-mile High Street and the commercial downtown between Federal and Winter streets to ensure that any planned changes would not detract from the district’s historic character. The intent is to protect historical architecture and encourage new construction compatible with the surrounding buildings.

Two of the at-large council candidates – Sullivan and Giunta – are opposed to the Local Historic District. The others have voiced support for the concept.”   (The other candidates in favor of the Local Historic District (LHD) are Ed Cameron, Barry Connell, Mike Early, Ari Herzog, Steve Hutcheson, Katy O’Connor Ives.)

You can read the whole article here.

Newburyport’s Central Waterfront, Election 2009

The differences between the two candidates running for Mayor of Newburyport in the 2009 election, Donna Holaday and James Shanley are beginning to emerge. And the one, unbelievably significant distinction is their plan for Newburyport’s Central Waterfront.

The Central Waterfront is not the land owned by Stephen Karp and New England Development, but the two “dirt parking lots” on either side of the Firehouse Center for the Arts, that the city has been fighting about for the last 40 years. It has always turned out to be a political third rail.

Jim Roy, the editor of the Newburyport Liberator, is one of those people who has fought for an Open Waterfront, and knows the most minute, tiny and important information about this whole long 40 year process. In the latest issue of the Liberator, which is out now, Jim has two very good interviews with both mayoral candidates. And in the next issue, due out this weekend, there will be an Op-ed piece by Mary Lou Supple, former chair of the NRA, in response to the interviews, specifically concerning the Central Waterfront. (I get my copy of the Liberator at Richdales, but you can find issues of the Liberator all over town.)

The position of James Shanley would go something like this–during Urban Renewal (The Newburyport Daily News did an excellent series on Urban Renewal called “A Port in Progress”), the city tore down a whole lot of historic buildings that were once on those two dirt parking lots. The city could put back buildings that would be in scale, that would run parallel to Water Street, leaving both access and views of the Merrimac River, that would resemble the wharfs, taverns and shops of earlier days, with places to sit and enjoy the mighty mouth of the Merrimac River.

Donna Holaday’s position is crystal clear. NO buildings. That space is “the Jewel of the city.” There should be a park period on the Central Waterfront, which is what the citizens of Newburyport have said that they wanted and have vigorously fought for, for at least 30 plus years. It’s time to get on with it, and make this long awaited vision finally come to fruition.

The Central Waterfront has always been Newburyport’s political third rail. I think that Mayor John Moak was “surprised” by the visceral response that he got early in his administration back in the winter, fall and summer of 2006 when he wanted to pave the central waterfront for parking. Mayor Moak was only talking about cars, not buildings. I think if we put aside 40 years of “discussion” that we as a city have had about the Central Waterfront, we would be opening one incredible can of worms.

Political Insight

My father, who was very astute at politics, once told me that the “establishment” wanted then President Clinton to fail because they didn’t want a “cracker,” ie “poor white trash” in the White House. Conservative Republicans trying to impeach the president over a blow-job would seem to confirm my father’s observation.

So I believe conservative Republicans when they say that they would like President Obama to fail. This is a “cracker” with a twist. He’s Afro-American.

Socially conservative Republicans are also so radical in their dislike for anyone who is tolerant of abortion or gay rights, much less making legislation etc. for those causes to happen. There is no room for compromise on those issues. That’s why I’m so proud of my friend Frank Schaeffer, a once a radical social conservative Republican turned moderate, who lives right here in our Newburyport community and writes often for the Huffington Post and has scores of best sellers.

I am proud, relieved and moved by our new president, but there surely are folks out their in our nation who would and are and have been trying to destroy him. Being accused by Sarah Palin of “Palling around with terrorists” is only a glimpse of what is out there. “Live and let live” does not appear to be the guiding principle.

So yes, President Obama can be gracious and hope for bi-partisanship, but, I don’t know where the quote comes from, “We have met the enemy and the enemy is us,” but it seems applicable, unfortunately, in this case.

The other thing that I’ve noticed is how the media is twisting facts to get attention. This includes places like the Huffington Post. I watched the exchange between Senator John McCain and President Obama on the new possible presidential helicopters. Senator McCain approached the subject with a little humor, it was obvious that this was something the two of them had talked about. President Obama was downright funny in his response, and Senator McCain was smiling and nodding his head.

One would never know this by reading or listening to the media. It was war between the two once presidential candidates. And either Senator McCain was a soar loser, or President Obama was put on the spot, depending on the coverage. Neither was true. This is getting old.

I always wondered why my father watched C-Span so much. I now know. Unfiltered information, from which a vastly intelligent man, like my father, could draw his own conclusions. His daughter is now learning, and I wish I could call him up and let him know.

Dehumanizing Social Media

This will make me hugely popular. We finally have a president who speaks thoughtfully and in complete sentences–even paragraphs. I find this refreshing.

And I look at Twitter and for the most part, it verbally looks like a Google Earth close up of a mangled beaver swamp. (Yes, I know our new president Twitters, but he Twitters with a purpose and in complete sentences.)

And yes, I ripped off the Google Earth thing from a blog post on the Huffington Post called “What Sentence Diagrams Reveal About President Obama”, by Jason Linkins. The quote was, “By contrast, the diagrams of typical George W. Bush sentences are indistinguishable from Google Earth close ups of small rodents, drowned in mud puddles.” I like that quote. Obviously, I like it a lot.

Yesterday, much to my surprise, people emailed me, and not only don’t seem to be fond of “comments” on blogs, etc, but appear to find a lot of the social media stuff, the virtual-contact, meaningless, dehumanizing, especially if it takes the place of face to face, person to person, real human contact.

Works for me.

I actually phone folks who leave comments on blogs, etc., who have problems with the Newburyport Blog, because I have this quaint belief in human contact, or at least voice generated contact, as a way of communicating. I’ve yet to have one of those phone calls returned. Voicemail is such a wonder when it comes to avoiding “stuff.”

I am being very cynical today, but it appears to me that social media, Twitter, Facebook, is often used as a great Search Engine tool (SEO) to get blogs and websites to rank high on search engines. A bastardization if you would of its probable original intent.

And for an educated society, to have one of their major communicating tools take the form of 140 characters or less, is to me is a huge, waving, red flag. Are we going from a nation of sound-bites, to a nation of “tweets?” A nation where thoughtful sentences and paragraphs are a thing of the past–a passé, elite Liberal agenda. I hope not. I’m a big fan of the well written, and spoken, at times lengthy, written word.

Newburyport Comments

All along the way the Newburyport Blog has been criticized now and then for not taking comments. Even as it commenced, with a lofty goal of “civil” discourse, it was pointed out to moi, that the Newburyport Blog was no blog.

In the category of “how soon we forget.” For the most part, I’m not a big fan of the comment thing. Having seen the mean spirited, cannibal like comments from early discourse, on the Newburyport site, “Cannibal City,” and now watching the comments on the Newburyport Daily News (which I wonder if they regret, the Newburyport Daily News that is), when I started out, I set cement like parameters, guidelines for “commenting.” Not only were there no anonymous comments, but comments were to be emailed in, with a name and phone number, so that I could verify who sent them (and I did), a little like a letter to the editor, to try and keep the discourse “civil.”

I also knew of so many people who were actually devastated by comments made on blogs, and devastating people was not the aim of the Newburyport Blog.

Civility did not last long, and neither did the cement like comment thing, all of which is chronicled in the first 1-9 months of the Newburyport Blog, for anyone who might actually be interested.

I also found out, because legally a blog is a publication, that I not only could get sued for whatever I wrote, but also for the content of comments on the blog which other people wrote, and even for refusing comments, if I had comments, on the Newburyport Blog. It was a big, “good grief, who needs this,” sort of thing.

Way, way too complicated, and worrisome for moi.

I finally gave up on the comment thing, and figured that people would eventually get their own blogs, which is exactly what has happened. And now we have a whole lot of blogs, all about Newburyport, MA from all kinds of different points of view.

And I would add that I think the master of defusing nasty stuff on the comment thing is Tom Salemi over at the Newburyport Posts. It is a talent I simply do not possess.

On Frogs and the Once Being Toaded Dilemma

As many long time readers of the Newburyport Blog know, I have a fondness for frogs.

Actually my fondness for frogs developed as a defense against being “Toaded.”

A little background here, because how soon we forget.

There was a time, long, long ago, when Tom Ryan ruled the political Newburyport earth, and had a local political journal called “The Undertoad.” Mr. Ryan had an astounding radar for what drove any particular human being nuts. And if a Newburyport human being crossed a particular Tom Ryan code of ethics, that human being got “Toaded,” i.e. slammed in the Undertoad, and all their particular buttons got wildly pressed.

It was not a pleasant experience for those who entered into the very, very long (and actually it was becoming somewhat distinguished) list of the Newburyport Toaded.

I figured, writing the Newburyport Blog, that it was only a matter of time, before, I too would get Toaded. But Mr. Ryan went on to bigger and better things, like being given the Human Hero Award by the MSPCA-Angell Animal Medical Center, receiving it at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, and headlining the award ceremony with Emmylou Harris. Not a bad gig.

My big defense against getting Toaded–a bunch of stuffed frogs. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Now, it seems a little out of touch with reality. Oh well.

But the frogs and I had a grand old time (and for goodness sakes we still may). There was a good deal of eye rolling, especially by male readers of the Newburyport Blog, about my beloved frogs. I was told once that no serious reader would read any post that contained green critters, except this person had read all the posts containing green critters. Go figure.

I was also told that because of the frog thing, I was totally whacked. Yes, “No Comment.”

However, it is my experience, that weirdly, the more political power an individual actually had, the more they actually liked my cadre of green things. A sort of interesting frog political Rorschach test.

I was listening to a friend talk about a (national) politician, and they were talking about this person not exactly being a “prince,” but no “frog” either.

And that got me to thinking. Maybe all those readers who didn’t like my frogs, were actually frogs themselves. And no amount of frog kissing would ever turn them into “princes” or bring about some sort of fairy tale ending, like being honored at the Kennedy Center for a humanitarian award and headlining that 21st Annual Animal Hall of Fame dinner with Emmylou Harris.

Ain’t life grand.