Category Archives: Society

Society, Newburyport, MA, the people of Newburyport who come together for benevolent, cultural, scientific, artistic, political, patriotic and other purposes, and who live together as members of Newburyport’s community.

Walk Newburyport, If This House Could Talk, a Brilliant Idea to tell Newburyport’s Story

I love, love, love the idea that Jack Santos has come up with, it is so cool!  During this year’s Yankee Homecoming folks in Newburyport can take a pasteboard and a marker and write a story about their home (historic or current), and then hang it out in front of their house for the week. You can read more about it here on Walk Newburyport, if this House could Talk.

It is a simple and brilliant idea.  A phenomenal way to engage everyone in Newburyport’s story, especially the historic district — an idea that that brings people in the city together.

An example of a sign for Walk Newburyport, If This House Could Talk

An example of a sign for Walk Newburyport, If This House Could Talk

I contacted Jack and said that my house was built in 1958, and would that count.

And he wrote back, “Absolutely! could be stories about the house, the family that lives there, anything is fair game, doesn’t have to be historic house related (although I suspect for Newburyport many will be).”

God bless Jack Santos.

And what is so unusual about this idea, is that old or new in Newburyport, every home matters. This is inclusive, not exclusive.  And it’s an idea that’s about people, not just architecture, and I think that’s why the idea has practically gone viral over night.

An example of a sign for Walk Newburyport, If This House Could Talk

An example of a sign for Walk Newburyport, If This House Could Talk

One of the things that I hear about historic preservation is that often wood seems more important than people. Sometimes I think that there is some truth to this. But this idea is all about people and the amazing community that we all live in.

An example of a sign for Walk Newburyport, If This House Could Talk

An example of a sign for Walk Newburyport, If This House Could Talk

And one of my concerns is that the recent “advocacy” that is now happening by historic preservationists in Newburyport is often perceived as rigid, strident and shrill, the very thing that I would like to avoid, and one that I feel is alienating a younger generation, the very generation that Newburyport needs to carry on its story. Jack Santos is taking an absolutely different inclusive approach with Walk Newburyport, if this House could Talk and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

The images are courtesy of Walk Newburyport, if this House could Talk www.walknewburyport.com.

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.”

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.”

Three Young Men that Give me Hope for Newburyport’s Future

What these three young men have in common, to paraphrase President Kennedy, is, “Ask not what Newburyport can do for you, but ask what you can do for Newburyport.”

And for me, these three young men honor Newburyport, they link the stories of Newburyport’s past to what will be the story of Newburyport’s future.

Tom Salemi

Tom Salemi

Tom Salemi

I first got to know Tom Salemi when he became a fellow Newburyport blogger, the editor of The Newburyport Posts.  Tom had been a reporter for the Newburyport Daily News in the early to mid 1990s, left Newburyport and then returned to our wonderful city.

Much to my surprise (and I was somewhat alarmed for his sanity), Tom jumped in feet-first  into the world of Newburyport civics, and became a member of what I think of as Newburyport’s most toxic committee, the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority (NRA).

Tom became a member while the NRA was exploring the possibility of putting some buildings on Newburyport’s Waterfront.  The chaos and hostility that ensued was mind-boggling, I was sure that Tom would step down.  But Tom Salemi did not, instead he became chair of the NRA (I worried for his sanity), and has throughout his tenure conducted himself with grace and dignity, listening to the overall call for the Waterfront to remain “open,” and withstanding the onslaught of Citizens for an Open Water Front (COW) and calls by members of the Newburyport City Council for the NRA to disband.

You got to really love your city to preservere and work as a member of the NRA and to look  for a solution that has alluded the city for 50 years. This young man, Tom Salemi, self deprecating, funny, and without a hint of entitlement, gives me hope for Newburyport’s future.

Jared Eigerman

Jarred Eigerman

Jarred Eigerman

I first got to know Jared Eigerman during the push to have Newburyport have a Local Historic District (LHD).  And then, much to my delight, Jared decided to run for Newburyport City Council for Ward 2, and he won.

Jared was born in Newburyport, left our city and has now come back. He is a native son. Jared is one smart cookie, and again, self deprecating and without a hint of entitlement.  He wanted to become a city councilor not for power or to one day become mayor, but, in his words to me, “to write good laws.” And the first law/ordinance that Jared sponsored, was to protect downtown Newburyport and Newburyport’s Historic District, something that people had been trying to do for 50 years. It passed the Newburyport City Council unanimously, with the support of the “No LHD” folks and the “Yes LHD” folks.  No small accomplishment.  Yes, Newburyport historic preservationists still fight on, and people find ways to maneuver around the ordinance, but still, what an accomplishment.

Jared Eigerman honors Newburyport’s past, its stories, and wants to make sure that its history is intertwined with the story of Newburyport’s future.  And Jared Eigerman is one of the young men in our historic city that gives me great hope for our future.

Alex Dardinski

Alex Dardinski

Alex Dardinski

I don’t really know Alex Dardinski except through Facebook and talking to him while he takes his young son in his very cool bike, riding around our historic city.  Alex was born and raised in Newburyport, his family moved here in the early 1970s when real estate could be bought for $9,000. Alex has witnessed the change in Newburyport and can envision its future. And Alex is passionate about a vision to make Newburyport more walkable and pedestrian friendly, and reducing a reliance on the automobile.  He is involved in Newburyport’s Greenway and Newburyport’s Open Street Event.

Alex has also written a very thoughtful post for The Newburyport Blog on historic preservation in Newburyport, and his own personal experience of renovating an historic home.

As many people know, I love walking in Newburyport. I do it every day, and I also love historic preservation, and that may be why I resonate with Alex Dardinski so much.  And Alex is one of those people who links the stories of Newburyport’s past to what Newburyport’s story will become, and he gives me great hope for the future of Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Newburyport Full-Blown Gentrification, Beyond High End to Luxury Real Estate and Smart Growth

Yesterday when I looked on Zillow, I counted 23 properties above a million dollars for sale in Newburyport, most of them significantly above a million dollars and one for 3.2 million dollars.

I think that it is safe to say that Newburyport is now in full-blown gentrification and is going beyond “high end” to what I would call “luxury” real estate.

Million dollar house for sale in Newburyport

Newburyport house being sold for 3.2 Million (on the City’s website)

When I first moved here, the large houses on High Street and elsewhere throughout Newburyport’s Historic District were often chopped up and used as rental units. Later in the the 1990s many of them were made into condos. If one of them was turned back into its one-family state, that was mighty unusual. And when I lived downtown in the 1990s, there was a rooming house next door, and the police were there all the time (Newburyport was a very different place even a short while ago). That location is no longer a rooming house. Starting in the beginning of the first decade of the 21st Century large houses began to be turned back to one family homes. 182 High Street is an example of a place that was once a pretty rundown rental property, that was restored to its former glory.

From the film "A Measure of Change" by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport before Urban Renewal, from the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport before Urban Renewal, from the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum.

And one of the places that I’ve watched being restored is on High Street between Federal and Lime (not on the Ridge).  It used to be the Harbor School, a residential program for “troubled and neglected” young people.

It was bought after the economy collapsed, and the Harbor Schools sold it to pay its debts.  It is now being restored.  It is not being restored to the way many Newburyport preservationists would like.  It is a “down to the studs” restoration project.  It has been reconfigured inside the way people would like to live today (see earlier post).  Although it is not using the original materials (although the front door looks original!!), and the original layout, the original details have been meticulously duplicated — the house is being restored to its former grandeur.  This is not the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s in Newburyport anymore.

And that got me thinking about the Smart Growth, 40R  project around the Traffic Circle (see earlier posts).  I have many reservations about the project. It is very idealistic in its goal to get people out of their cars.  I would like very much if it succeeded in that goal.  The Minco project in its current renderings is ugly.  I do not think it is too much to ask for a “classy” gateway to Newburyport, this rendering is anything but “classy.”  I think the optimistic  projections about how the area will impact traffic and the schools are possibly misguided. All that being said, with Newburyport in full-blown gentrification, the city needs places where middle class folks, who want to live here, can reside.

The Minco Building, Smart Growth, 40R

The Minco building, Smart Growth, 40R

The Smart Growth, 40R project has been approved by the Newburyport Planning Board, and the Newburyport City Council Planning and Development Committee, and it looks like it has the votes to pass in the City Council.  This project is part of this chapter of Newburyport’s history, and I hope it materializes the way it has been envisioned.

P.S. Here is a good blog post on gentrification by Jerry Mullins.

The Newburyport Blog, What Makes Newburyport “Tick” and Google Search

 

What Makes Newburyport "Tick?"

What Makes Newburyport “Tick?”

The Newburyport Blog has all but disappeared from Google’s search engine, and I wanted to figure out why, I always have liked that question, “Why,” and got me to thinking, “What exactly is The Newburyport Blog anyway??”

The Newburyport Blog is not a place to find out where to eat or shop in Newburyport. There are many Newburyport websites now, including Google (which is almost becoming a website itself instead of a Search Engine), which would give answers to that question.

The fascination that I have, is not where to eat or shop in this wonderful historic city, but the fact that over the years the kind of restaurants and shops have radically changed (The General Store, the hardware/lumber store  have  been replaced by high end restaurants, spas, boutiques and very expensive furniture stores), and “Why” is that? and what does it say about Newburyport and how the culture in Newburyport is changing. What makes Newburyport “tick?” (the definition of “tick,” a verb, is “The motive and explanation of behavior” — that is what engages me.

The question of what makes Newburyport “tick,” was one of the reasons I was so hooked our once local political journal, The Undertoad.  Despite Tom Ryan’s very often, in my opinion, offensive, bombastic, childish and sometimes just downright sadistic approach to reporting the “underside of Newburyport,” The Undertoad’s basic premise was “What makes Newburyport tick?”

When Ulrika Gerth was editor of The Newburyport Current, she had an underlining theme, “What makes Newburyport tick??”

And Tom Salemi, the editor of The Newburyport Posts, with his journalist education, and his light, amicable, often deceivably “simple” posts, also had an underlining theme of “What makes Newburyport tick.” (Come back to blogging Tom Salemi!!)

And Jerry Mullins, God bless him, with his long, researched, valuable content (that Google  seems to ignore, so much for Google valuing “valuable content”), over at Brick and Tree, has that same theme too, “What makes Newburyport tick??”

And there are also the blogs by many Newburyport Councilors that address that very same question in a variety of ways.

The Newburyport Blog does have stuff on “gluten free,” but have you noticed the changes in restaurants, etc, gluten free has roared into out culture.

Where to park in Newburyport?? earlier post. Well, I never, ever thought we would have paid parking, but we do. It says something about our town (good stuff for a blog post).

And lots of Google search changes:

Ask for “Newburyport restaurants.” Google itself, not the webpages it “represents” in its search engine, will give you an answer.

Ask for 20+10, you will get an answer from Google, no need to go looking for a calculator on a website anymore.

Ask for information on “zucchini” and you will get Google’s answer. No need to look for a webpage anymore.

Ask for “Following Atticus,” Tom Ryan’s (Undertoad Tom Ryan) book.  Google will tell you all about it, need to got to a website?? Maybe.

Look for “Newburyport,” Google will give you an answer, maybe not a good answer, but an answer. That answer will get better, more refined, and pretty soon — no longer need to go to a website anymore.

Look for “Why Newburyport is the way it is today, culturally, socio-economically, architecturally, politically?”  That is not a simple question.  And if that sort of question is important, maybe check out The Newburyport Blog, the Newburyport City Councilors’ websites,  or go over to Brick and Tree and get Jerry Mullins take on what makes Newburyport “tick,” and maybe Tom Salemi will come back and blog again one day.

Inn Street, Newburyport, MA

Inn Street, Newburyport, MA

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.

Newburyport is Losing its Patina, and Historic Preservation

Lime Street development

Lime Street development

Definition of Patina:

“A surface appearance of something grown beautiful especially with age or use.” Merriam-Webster

If you ever watch anything on TV that has to do with old stuff, from the tonier PBS “Antiques Road Show,” to “Pawn Stars” on the History Channel, something old would be brought in, and if it has been refinished, and the original finish has been removed, whether it’s an old gun, a coin or an old piece of furniture, the value of that piece, whatever it might be, would be greatly, greatly diminished.

When I moved here over 30 years ago, Newburyport had a whole lot of soul and patina. I loved walking down the street and feel the stories behind the homes that I would walk past.

That “patina” in Newburyport is going.  And because The Newburyport Blog was started in part to help fight for that, “patina,” I’ve done a lot of thinking about “why.”

And that brings me to the renovation on Lime and Prospect Street being done by a long time resident and lover of historic houses, Gus. And that renovation has gotten people’s panties in a twist (vast understatement).

Lime Street development

Lime Street development

And this time, instead of being horrified by a “take it down to the studs, gut, reno job,”   I’ve asked myself, Ok, if Gus, the owner and “developer,” who loves historic houses, is going this route, what does it say about us in Newburyport, and us as a society.

1) Lead paint laws
When I used to walk into an old house in Newburyport and see the layers of paint, I’d think, “patina.” Now if I see layers of paint I think, “lawsuit.”  The lead paint laws have done a whole lot to hamper historic preservation everywhere.

2) Newburyport has become a wealthy community, and people expect specific things when buying a house.

3) HGTV
Yup, that is my thought. HGTV has done a whole lot to influence about what people think they want when they buy a house. And now that Newburyport is upscale, folks expect certain things.
a) Walk in closets.
b) Spa bathrooms.
c) En Suite bathroom
d) Open concept
e) Large kitchens with an island
f) Gas fireplace with a place for a large flatscreen TV over it.

Even 10 years ago, were any of these things a “must have” for your average buyer? Very wealthy people, maybe (Ok, flatscreen TVs didn’t exist even back then), but your average person, 10-15 years ago, I don’t think those things were on their “must have” list.

How we got to that “must have list,” is a whole other post or series of posts, or mulled over in all sorts of books (written by people other than me). But when a house is “developed” all those things, lead paint and the HGTV list come into play.  Not to mention people no longer tolerated drafty houses (they want to be warm in the winter and cool in the summer time, “green stuff,” they would like to save on their heating and cooling bills), and have a hard time with windows that don’t easily go up and down.

Is Newburyport losing its historic character because of the lead paint laws, how people want to live today, the influence of HGTV and the fact that we are now a wealthy community? Alex Dardinski makes a great contribution to that question, when he remarked, “I don’t want to live in Williamsburg, but in a tapestry of history rather than a single place in time,” in a reply to this post on The Newburyport Blog’s Facebook page.  And I was so impressed with his thoughtful observations, that I put his whole response up on The Newburyport Blog as a separate post.

Newburyport is now High End, it used to be a Slum

On December 7, 2007 I wrote on the Newburyport Blog, wondering if Newburyport was headed for “high-end.”

And seeing where Newburyport has come since then, even in a short amount of time, now in July 2015, the answer is definitely, “Yes.” And I’m guessing it’s going to get more and more “high end.”

Market Square, downtown Newburyport, from the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport, from the film "A Measure of Change" by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport, from the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum, press image to enlarge.

Downtown Newburyport, Water Street, from the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport, from the film "A Measure of Change" by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport, from the film”A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum, press image to enlarge.

And this is where we as a city were back in 1970. Yes, Newburyport was a slum, it is really different now (vast understatement).

The film “A Measure of Change” was made in 1975 by Lawrence Rosenblum (it was uploaded with permission by Jerry Mullins over at Brick and Tree).  It is a film that chronicles the pivotal time (Urban Renewal) when the city transformed itself from a worn-out mill town (a slum) to a vibrant destination city by using historic preservation (first in the nation to use restoration rather than demolition for urban renewal). And Newburyport is now a prototype for other municipalities across the United States.

The photos in this post are still photos from the film. The link to the film “A Measure of Change” on YouTube can be found here.

Link to a Measure of Change

Link to a Measure of Change

Downtown Newburyport, Water Street, from the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport, from the film "A Measure of Change" by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport, from the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum, press image to enlarge.

The Waterfront, downtown Newburyport, from the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport, from  the film "A Measure of Change" by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport, from the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum, press image to enlarge.

The Waterfront, downtown Newburyport, from the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport, from the film "A Measure of Change" by Lawrence Rosenblum.

From the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum, press image to enlarge

Some of The Newburyport Blog’s Favorite Historic Photographs and Images

Here are some of The Newburyport Blog’s favorite historic photographs and images.

Bossy Gillis, Mayor of Newburyport, courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection

Bossy Gillis, Mayor of Newburyport, Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection, press image to enlarge

Bossy Gillis, Mayor of Newburyport, Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection, press image to enlarge

Bossy Gillis, mayor of Newburyport, in Salem jail, courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection

Bossy Gillis, mayor of Newburyport, in Salem jail, Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection, press image to enlarge.

Bossy Gillis, mayor of Newburyport, in Salem jail, Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection, press image to enlarge.

Bossy Gillis’s garage, Market Square, Urban Renewal, found in the Newburyport Public Library’s Archival Center

Bossy Gillis's garage, Market Square, Urban Renewal, press image to enlarge.

Bossy Gillis’s garage, Market Square, Urban Renewal, press image to enlarge.

NRA land c 1920, courtesy of the Historical Society of Old Newbury

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.

Wolfe Tavern, photo courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Print Department

Wolfe Tavern, Photo of the Boston Public Library, Print Department, press to enlarge

Wolfe Tavern, Photo of the Boston Public Library, Print Department, press to enlarge

Postcard, Newburyport clam shanties with trolley

Newburyport clam shanties with trolley, press image to enlarge.

Newburyport clam shanties with trolley, press image to enlarge.

 

The Proposed 40R Minco Building is Ugly

The Minco Building

The Minco building

Editor’s note: The Minco Building, the image, as of June 19, 2015, is now in the public domain.

Map of the proposed 40R District

Map of the proposed 40R District

I cannot put an image up of the proposed Minco building because of copyright issues, but you can see it if you press here. (Editor’s note, it is now included in the post because the image, as of June 19, 2015, is now in the public domain.)

The only place left to build in Newburyport is around the train station and the traffic circle.

For years (since 2004) Newburyport has been talking about creating a “40R smart growth” district, which, “encourages communities to create dense residential or mixed-use smart growth zoning districts, including a high percentage of affordable housing units, to be located near transit stations, in areas of concentrated development such as existing city and town centers, and in other highly suitable locations.”

All of this could be very, very good, if not great, BUT, we are creating a new gateway to the city. If the new zoning 40R passes, the Minco building behind the train station will be the first project. IT IS UGLY. And it is important that it not be ugly, because it will set the standard by which other structures that (probably would be built over a 20 year period) would refer to.

ALSO… the traffic circle eventually would be eliminated. There are no drawings, no plans, no nothing that would demonstrate what that might, could, should look like. It could be great, mediocre or awful.  At this point it seems that the sentiment is pass the 40R District so that the Minco building can get built, and just hope for the best.

There are NO drawing to show, if/when actually built, what the 40R district would look like (we only have the rendering of the ugly Minco building to go by).  This is not good. And whoever is responsible, needs to get their act together and come up with these two renderings, so that an intelligent and informed opinion can be made.

Previous posts on the proposed 40R District can be read here.

The draft of the proposed ordinance can be read here.

Newburyport, a Romantic City and the Proposed 40R District

I’ve been trying to pinpoint what it is about Newburyport that I love so much. What keeps me longing to stay here despite a winter like the one we’ve just had.

High Street, Newburyport,  photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

High Street, Newburyport, photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Jerry Mullins in his blog post uses the word “romance” in connection to Newburyport, and it is an adjective that describes this small New England seacoast city north of Boston, that had never occurred to me, but it is a wonderful adjective. So I went on a hunt to see what showed up for “romanic cities.”

Newburyport's Waterfront, courtesy of the Archival Center at the Newburyport Public Library

Newburyport’s Waterfront, courtesy of the Archival Center at the Newburyport Public Library

And I found a blog post by Ken Benfield, a specialist on “smart growth and sprawl,” with this list:

  • Strong sense of place anchored by historic preservation
  • Lively, walkable, diverse downtowns
  • Compact development patterns
  • Extensive and well-used public transportation
  • Great public spaces for lively human interaction
  • Parks and quiet places mixed in with urbanity
  • Great traditional neighborhoods with a strong sense of community
  • Welcoming to people of diverse cultures

In the comment section of the blog post there was this observation:

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

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

“Cities that are dense, walkable, have accessible and vibrant public spaces, and have a vibrant mix of independently-owned businesses are the most enjoyable places to visit – and to live. It is at the intersection of these features where real neighborhoods and a sense of livability is created. These cities are also strong, have committed populations and diverse economies, and can survive many challenges. In essence, they are not only beautiful and livable, they are resilient.”

State Street, Newburyport, courtesy of Wikipedia

State Street, Newburyport, courtesy of Wikipedia

We as a city are considering making the area around the train station and the traffic circle into a 40R, Smart Growth area. I have many reservations about what is projected for that area, including the Minco Project in back of the train station (which I think is wicked ugly). And I think that Jerry has nailed the adjective for me. It may be (or not be) good urban planning, but what the vision lacks, is the “romance,” “beauty,” a “sense of place” that draws so many of us here to Newburyport.

Health Professionals Alarmed about Removing Fluoride from Newburyport’s Water System

Caduceus

I had someone in the medical field call me up last night and they were besides themselves about the possibility of taking fluoride out of Newburyport’s water system, because of what it would do to the health and welfare of our children and residents.

What I told them that it is really, really important for all the pediatricians, family doctors, internists, general practitioners, and yes, even all specialists in Newburyport and the surrounding areas, to speak up ASAP and contact everyone of our Newburyport city councilors. Apparently, dentists no longer count as doctors who have a valid opinion (which is that fluoride is essential to dental health) because they have been marginalized by the anti-fluoride folks for looking out for their own self interest, and being (I’m not kidding here) in the pockets of the chemical companies.

Our doctors have incredibly busy lives (and this is a vast understatement, and who knows if they can take the time to be proactive).  And this is only my opinion, but I am mystified that Daniel Enyink of Dr. Dan’s Natural Healing Center has the time, not only to aid in the mobilization of anti-fluoride folks in Newburyport (see earlier post), but to give testimony at other communities as well. I know how busy my doctors are.

I have read Enyink’s testimony in the minutes of other communities, and it is very convincing, but again this is my opinion, as one local health professional said to me it is “irresponsible,” and in my opinion, just plain old crazy.

An article by Dr. John Colquhoun (now deceased), written in 1997, is one of the pieces of literature that the anti-fluoride folks point to.

There was a response written in 1999 in Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, by Dr. Ernest Newbrun and Dr. Herschel Horowitz, a short excerpt is below, and the whole article can be read here.

…”Colquhoun presented no new data. His paper rehashed earlier criticisms of water fluoridation, using selective and highly biased citations of the scientific and nonscientific literature [2-10]”…

…”Opponents of fluoridation like nothing more than to have public debates on the radio, television, or in the press because it makes fluoridation seem a “controversial ” issue and gives them free publicity. In such debates with an equal number of speakers pro and contra, it appears as if the health science community is evenly divided on this issue. In fact, the overwhelming majority, probably well over 90%, of scientists, physicians, dentists, nurses, veterinarians and public health professionals fully support community water fluoridation.”

Again, the entire article which address the issue of how dangerous and crazy it would be to take fluoride out of Newburyport’s drinking water can be read here.

And as a PS, I never knew I would end up thinking about, much less researching and knowing as much as I now know about fluoride. Who knew? Who would have ever imagined?

The First Draft of the 40R District around the Train Station

I’ve seen the first draft of the new 40R Smart Growth District around the train station.

The proposed 40R District (see previous post) would allow for mixed use buildings near the train station, traffic circle, parts of Rt 1 and the area on lower State Street between Lunt and Kelly and the edge of the cemetery. There is a new updated map (see below), the larger area subdistrict B is zoned for 4 story buildings (45 ft), Subdistricts A and C is zoned for 3 story building (35 ft), and the Minco building would be zoned for 5 stories (55 ft).

Portland-Wikipedia

Four story buildings in Portland Maine, please press image to enlarge.

And I’ve gone on a hunt for some good looking 4 story buildings. I have found only one photo that is in the public domain, it is in Portland Maine.

I’m a little confused about Google’s copyright laws, and WordPress does not allow me to embed Google’s images, so what I’ve done is put links to 4 story buildings in Portland ME, Providence RI and Haverhill MA. Haverhill has, on Washington Street, what I think is a gorgeous, but rundown historic section of 4 story building. I love them.

And when you press on the links for the different cities, you can go on a “Google drive” through the areas and see what you thinks works and what does not work. Interesting stuff. Also, the buildings take a few seconds to show up after you press the links.

Portland Maine’s links can he found here, here, here, here and here.
Providence Rhode Island’s links can be found here, here and here.
Haverhill Mass links can be found here, here and here.

Newburyport-40R-Smart-Growth-Village-District-Map-1-20-2015

Updated 40R Smart Growth Village District map, please press image to enlarge.

In looking at the initial 40R draft (this is just the beginning of a large process that the city will go through) a couple of things stand out.

1) The design review is outstanding. Yah!! I hope that means that the Minco building will be forced to look awesome.

2) There is extensive input into the affordable housing aspect of the district (I’m sure the affordable housing folks with Phd’s in the subject, will have lots of input). It looked great to me.

3) Parking seems a little “skimpy” to me. A residential unit only gets one parking spot. But there is “shared parking,” with businesses and residents, which use parking at different times during the day and week, the objective being not to have lots of wasted, barren parking lots. There are so many people in this city who have Phd’s in parking, and I am not one of them. I am hoping, and pretty sure that they would figure out the “Goldilocks” version of parking, “not too much, not too little, but just right.”

4) The setbacks of the buildings are puzzling to me. There are “no requirements” on setbacks on front, side and rear yards. The way it was explained to me is that there would be no requirements for setbacks for mid-block buildings, but it might be a good idea to look at the setback requirements for intersections (and there seem to me to be a whole lot of intersections). At this point, we do not have close-up renderings of what buildings would look like in different areas of the proposed 40R District.

This is one of my main questions. I can’t imagine 4 story building around the traffic circle where Dunkin’ Donuts is and where the Bird Watcher is located. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to live on that dangerous and noisy area, and being so close to a busy traffic circle. Renderings are definitely needed.

5) Not in the 1st draft, but backup information that would be arriving in the coming weeks that would include:

(1) estimated maximum dwelling units
(2) expected sewer flows (and how to pay for them)
(3) expected traffic impacts
(4) renderings/photo-simulations of new buildings
(5) expected impacts on schools
(6) expected c. 40R and c. 40S payments from the Commonwealth
(7) expected property tax revenues

Newburyport’s 40R District around the Train Station

Newburyport is beginning the process of thinking about rezoning the area around the train station, so that there can be a mix of residential units and businesses. This is called a 40R Smart Growth District. This is nothing new, the city has been talking about this since 2004.

“Chapter 40R, encourages communities to create dense residential or mixed-use smart growth zoning districts, including a high percentage of affordable housing units, to be located near transit stations, in areas of concentrated development such as existing city and town centers, and in other highly suitable locations.”

Here is a 2015 map of the proposed 40R District. It includes the area around Lunt and Kelly, where Dunkin’ Donuts is around the traffic circle, it goes up Rt 1 by Haley’s Ice Cream and includes the proposed building by Minco at the train station.

Newburyport-40R-Smart-Growth-Village-District-Map-12-11-2014-small

The 2015 map of the proposed 40R District (press image to enlarge)

Here are the 2 conceptual drawing that were done in 2004 by the Planning Office. The view is from Parker Street coming from Newbury. The first rendering is the way it looks now, the second rendering, done in 2004 (we don’t have an update yet) is what the proposed 40R District might look like. It’s a little confusing, but if you download the two renderings and put them side by side it becomes a little clearer.

Strategic Land Use Plan-small

The 2004 rendering of how the area looks now (press image to enlarge)

Strategic Land Use Plan2-small

The 2004 rendering of what the 40R District could look like (press image to enlarge).

At the moment there is a certain “rush” to get this 40R District going, because Minco would like to build at the train station (this is nothing new, it has been going on for a while) and has a deadline (which may or may not be flexible). And the city gets money for a 40R District (we always need money).

BUT, I think that it is very important to ask hard questions during this process, and be sure to think things through.

So here are a few of my “hard” questions and concerns and reservations.

1) The Minco design at the train station has to look great. At the moment I haven’t talked to anyone who thinks that it is in anyway acceptable.

2) There needs to be a “design review” for that area. This gateway to the city can’t look awful.

3) Traffic. The maximum buildout, when last I heard was 800 units. Folks that I’ve talked to think that it would be a lot less, more like 500 units. We don’t know the exact numbers yet, but even 400-500 units is a lot.

The 2004 rendering of what the area would look like, seems idyllic to me. There are no cars. If that area were to be built out, at rush hour it would be a complete nightmare.

4) Pedestrian traffic. Even with the rail trail, there is no way to safely and or practically cross either the traffic circle or Route 1 to get downtown, even at the crossing at Rt1 at what is called “Back Bay.” People want to get from the area on foot and they want, and do try to get to State Street, which is insanely dangerous. I think at one point there was an idea for a pedestrian bridge, but, oh my, that would cost so much money.

5) I still can’t envision anyone wanting to live up along Rt1, even with the rail trail there. The view is butt ugly, with Rt1 on onside and a view of the Industrial Park on the other.

6) I also can’t imagine anyone wanting to live around the traffic circle, especially where Dunkin’ Donuts is located. The view towards Newbury as it is now, is lovely. However, I would think living next to a dangerous traffic circle would be unappealing, and figuring out a way to walk from there, much less having a denser number of people trying to exit at that location by car, raises the question of safety to me.

7) The area on State Street.  The intersection where the Court House, Parker Street, State Street and the Traffic Circle intersect is wicked dangerous. I’ve seen really bad accidents there. If that area becomes densely populated, that intersection becomes even more dangerous. And I don’t like the prospect of getting MassDOT involved–Salisbury Square is a cautionary tale for everyone, of what never to do, and of how MassDOT can really mess up an area.

So, I totally get building at the train station if it is done well. And I have a lot of questions about building in the other proposed areas. And I hope, that through this process we don’t ram this through because of Minco’s deadline, and the fact that we would like the money from the state.