Category Archives: Planning and Development

Planning and Development, Newburyport, MA, urban planning, the design, construction and organization of Newburyport’s urban spaces, architecture and activities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) This is not new.

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

2) No one was paying attention.

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

3) Do not complain after the fact.

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

4) Pay attention NOW.

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

5) Stop making excuses.

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

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

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

Things I Look for in a Newburyport City Councilor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seal of the City of Newburyport

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

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

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

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

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

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

And as a PS

Ward 1 Primary Election Results

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

Are Historic Homes in Newburyport Obsolete?

Rotary Phone

Rotary Phone

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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.

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

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

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

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

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

House before renovation © Alex Dardinski

House before renovation, photo courtesy of Alex Dardinski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

House after renovation

House after renovation

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

Where to Park in Newburyport, MA

It is sometimes difficult for visitors to find out where to park in Newburyport.  Here is a map and some parking information.

Newburyport Parking Map

Newburyport Parking Map (press image to enlarge)

The map can be found on the City of Newburyport’s website here.

Newburyport parking information

Newburyport parking information (press image to enlarge)

The parking information can be found on the City of Newburyport’s website here.

General parking information can be found on the City of Newburyport’s website here.

Paid parking Monday through Saturday is from 8am – 6pm,  Sunday from 12 pm – 6 pm. The price is .50 cents an hour.  Pay and display kiosks are in each of the lots.  The kiosks accept coins, dollar bills and major credit cards.

NRA East, NRA West, and Prince Place are all day lots. Green Street and State Street lots are time limited (3 hours). The Water Front Trust (WFT)  lot is also time limited.  And a  Newburyport resident sticker cannot be used to park in the WFT lot.

You can also pay for parking with your phone, by using Parkmobile.  To use the Parkmobile option, you can register for free here or download the mobile app.

The City of Newburyport has a tutorial on how to use Parkmobile on your iPhone, which can be found here.  And if you need information on how to use it on your Android phone, click here.

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.

Well Loved Newburyport Postcards

Newburyport postcards–whether you’re a native, have lived here for a while or a short time,  people who live in Newburyport seem to love old postcards.

Newburyport Hay Stacks, postcard

Newburyport Hay Stacks, postcard

This postcard is of the haystacks on Newburyport’s Plum Island marsh, when they built the haystacks by hand and not by machine.

YMCA Newburyport, postcard

YMCA Newburyport, postcard

This is of Newburyport’s former YMCA on State Street that burnt down July 1987.  The YMCA was at the corner of State Street and Harris Street, where the expansion of our beautiful Newburyport Library exists today.  The YMCA was so decimated by the fire, that it was un-salvageable, eventually demolished, with a few of it’s elements incorporated into the MBTA train station in 1998.

Old Newburyport Bridge, Postcard

Old Newburyport Bridge, Postcard

This is a post card of Newburyport’s old Bridge, before Rt 1 was built in the 1930s. It is a view from Water Street, downtown Newburyport, looking towards Rings Island, Salisbury, MA.

Newburyport Mall, postcard

Newburyport Mall, postcard

And this is the Bartlet Mall along High Street when the stately elm trees existed. The Court House is to the left, and High Street is to the right.

The Master Plan for the Bartlet Mall had been worked on for a very long time, by a whole lot of people, and was finally finished in 1998. Restoration of the Bartlet Mall took place in 2001, 2003 and 2005. The Bartlet Mall was restored to its original design and the avenue of elm trees was replanted so that one day the beautiful canopy of trees would exist once more..

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

Newburyport, Proposed 40R Smart Growth Update

Here is a link to the application that the City of Newburyport made for the proposed 40R Smart Growth District (It has all kinds of links and information on it), it can be found here.

Here is a photo of the proposed Minco building (it is now in the public domain), which is the cornerstone of the proposed 40R District, and that I think is  ugly.

Minco Building

The Minco building

Here are two of the new maps of the proposed Smart Growth 40R

Smart Growth 40R map

40R Smart Growth map

Smart Growth 40R map

Smart Growth 40R map

And here is a table for the Water and Sewer capacity for the 40R District which also includes the number of bedrooms and the number of apartment units.

Water and Sewer capacity and number of bedroom and units

Water and Sewer capacity and number of bedroom and units


Newburyport’s 40R Smart Growth, Trying to Bring Back Rental Units to the City, and the Data from 1989 to 2010 of the Rising Income Gap

Income percentages in Newburyport from 1989-2010 from the City of Newburyport's website

Income percentages in Newburyport from 1989-2010 from the City of Newburyport’s website

It is really hard to find a place to rent in Newburyport these days. If you go to Zillow and look for rentals in Newburyport, it’s very depressing.  That is why the city is so hopeful about the proposed 40R, which is a real effort to bring back rental units back to Newburyport.

Here is a document from the city that articulates with data the gentrification that has taken place since Urban Renewal, especially interesting is the “Income Distribution by Household, 1989 to 2010″ on page 20 (an image of the table is in this post), that document can be read here.

In 1989 the largest percentage of income was $10,000-24,999. In 2010 the largest percentage is $150,000+, and that is in 2010, when we were still in the “great recession,” and I would think in 2015 that percentage would be much, much greater now.

And here is Jerry Mullins’, over at Brick and Tree, worst fears about what would happen to the proposed 40R. That post can be read here.

And here is a link to the discussion on The Newburyport Blog’s Facebook page, it can be read here.

Previous post on the proposed 40R District can be found here.

Here are some more table from the City of Newburyport’s report “Income Distribution by Household, 1989 to 2010.”


Renters and Owners

Housing values

Housing values

Rental costs

Rental costs

And here is a map of the proposed 40R Smart Growth District.

A map of Newburyport's proposed 40R District.

A map of Newburyport’s proposed 40R District.

Newburyport’s Proposed 40R and Highway Engineers


What highway engineers might propose for the traffic circle

This is one of the things that concerns me about the proposed 40R Smart Growth District around the traffic circle. Eventually the traffic circle will need to be refigured. I can imagine that highway engineers might recommend something like the drawing above. A light with turning lanes where Route 1 and State Street meet, and a light and turning lanes at State Street and Parker Street. No one would want this (I don’t think).

Existing traffic circle in the proposed 40R District, no guidelines for future development

Existing traffic circle in the proposed 40R District, no guidelines for future development

But, at the moment, in the present draft of the ordinance, there is no mention of what should happen to that very crucial area down the line. Who knows when that might happen, 2, 5, 20 years from now?  And who knows who will be mayor or who the planning director might be, or even if a project of this magnitude could span several administrations and planning directors.


Map of the proposed 40R distrist

It would depend who was in office, if they had the vision and the moxie (courage and determination) to negotiate with MassDOT (been there, seen the best and seen the worst).

So I think it would be a good idea to have some guidelines. I think that is fair.

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.

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).


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.


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