The Disappearing Newburyport Iconic Chimney

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

Newburyport, Chimney
Newburyport, Chimneys, Google Maps

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

Chimney, Newburyport
Chimneys, Newburyport, Google Maps

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

Chimney, Newburyport
Chimneys, Newburyport, Google Maps

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

Chimney, Newburyport MA
Chimneys, Newburyport, Google Maps

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

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

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

Federal Street Overlay, Newburyport MA
Federal Street Overlay, Newburyport, Google Maps

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

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

A Fun Way to Recycle Plastic Bags

Recycle_BagRecycle_BagLook, not only do I get that plastic bags are detrimental to our wetland and coastal areas, I agree with it.  However, instead of an outright ban, I’d like a reasonable and practical effort to minimize the use of single use plastic bags.  And I understand that Market Basket has been unresponsive to this issue (and the single use plastic bag industry must be as well, since their “recycle and reuse” logo is so tiny, you can hardly see it), and I hope that the proposed ban forces Market Basket to have a meaningful dialogue with the city council and residents about how to solve this issue.

And this is what I don’t understand.  First of all, it would be a giant PR move for both the single use plastic bag industry and the supermarket industry if they put big, huge colorful “reduce, recycle, reuse” logos on their plastic bags, with where to recycle them (i.e. at Market Basket or Shaws) in big bold letters, instead of in fine print at the bottom.  Both industries would be heroes instead of goats. Seems like a pretty good idea to me. If both those businesses/industries did that, we might not be having this local fight over plastic bags, that we are having now, and they would help the environment all over the place. This would be a good thing.

recycle-machine copy
Fun slurping recycling machine

The other thing is, that if I was an inventor, or if I was the plastic bag industry, I’d find me an inventor, to have a fun way to recycle the plastic bags once they got to the supermarket.  If I was an inventor, I’d invent a machine that slurped the plastic bags in one at a time and gave a penny for each plastic bag, or a penny for 5 plastic bags (whatever is economical and fair).  First of all, little kids (or even grown-ups) would be mesmerized by a machine that slurped plastic bags.

And when you could first get money for returning cans, people were scouring all over the place, cities, suburbs, to find cans to make some extra money.  If you had a fun machine that slurped plastic bags AND got a little dough in the process, I bet the same thing would happen, and I bet you would have a whole lot less single use plastic bags wandering around our environment, and I bet they’d be reduced in a major, major way, pretty quick.  It would be a huge PR win for the plastic bag industry, and they wouldn’t be so vilified and it would be fun to boot. And it would be a good thing for the plastic bag industry to work with environmentalists  to help solve problems for a win-win solution.

Peeps, My Bad and a Rubber Chicken

I was going to call this post, “The Mayor is Scary,” but then I decided against it, more fun with the weird title (and part of the title will actually make sense).

I went for a walk a few weeks ago and ran into an old, old acquaintance, and during the conversation, a little out of nowhere, my old acquaintance said to me, “The mayor is scary.”

I can’t tell you, with multi-multiple variations on that particular theme, how many times I’ve heard that sentiment. And if you are a reader of the Newburyport Blog, you’ve either probably said it, or heard it too.

What came out of my mouth in response, (and I think I said this the very first time someone asked me about Donna Holaday, when she first ran for Newburyport City Council), Donna’s husband is a serious, at one time, a real big-time rock and roll (Wikipedia link here) guitar player/singer, who sings a song with a rubber chicken on his head (also in the Wikipedia link) — really. And Joe Holaday has to be one of the most grounded and kindest people I know.  How scary can someone be who’s married to someone who performs a rock and roll song with a rubber chicken on their head, who is also grounded and kind, be? (Unless funky rubber chickens frighten you.)

And this is a woman, who in a recent City Council meeting, gave a history, without notes, with lots of confusing detail, about the Plum Island Water and Sewer mess. Let me tell you, I was impressed.

This is also a woman who can be politically deaf. It is one of her shortcomings. I saw it when Mayor Holaday was a city councilor and I’ve seen it as mayor.  My own personal experience was when it looked like the City could save a bunch of money by turning off all the street lights (really and truly).  I was upset, especially when I got a hold of the list.  And when I made the list public on the Newburyport Blog, a lot of other people were upset too.

Could I tell that the mayor was a little dismayed with me? Yes. Did I take it personally? No.  And Mayor Holaday and the Energy Advisory Committee came up with one brilliant solution, it was a win-win-win solution (way, way too complicated to explain here, but you can sort of understand it, a little bit, here).

Do I disagree with the mayor on some stuff? Yes. Do I wish that Mayor Holaday put more emphasis on things that are my passion, like historic preservation?  Yes.  Do I think she’s perfect? No?  Do I think that she is a good mayor? You betcha.

And I do have an anecdote. I had worked on first “saving” High Street, when it was almost destroyed by MassDOT (then MassHighway) back in 1999 (my intro to local Newburyport politics), and I worked on a Master Plan for High Street for 6 years.  When, in a weird political hurricane, it was denied existence (it was eventually resurrected and sits in the Planning Office, somewhere), then City Councilor Donna Holaday was the only person who called me up, and she said how sorry she was, and how she appreciated all the years of work that I had helped put into the project. That’s something you don’t forget.  At least, that’s something I don’t forget. And that is the Donna Holaday I know.

New Newburyport City Council Committees

The Newburyport City Council has very important committees where the difficult work of the City Council gets done. The president of the Newburyport City Council appoints the people on the committees.  For 2014 the Newburyport City Council committees are as follows:

Budget and Finance:
Chair-Charles Tontar, Ed Cameron, Robert Cronin

Planning and Development:
Chair-Ed Cameron, Barry Connell, Jared Eigerman

Neighborhoods and City Services:
Chair-Barry Connell, Ari Herzog, Meghan Kinsey

License and Permits:
Chair-Allison Heartquist, Bruce Vogel, Meghan Kinsey

Joint Education:
Chair-Meghan Kinsey, Allison Heartquist, Larry Giunta

Public Utilities:
Chair-Ari Herzog, Jared Eigerman, Bruce Vogel.

Public Safety:
Chair-Robert Cronin, Larry Giunta, Charles Tontar

General Government:
Tom O’Brien, Bruce Vogel, Mayor Donna Holaday

Chair-Robert Cronin, Larry Giunta, Tom O’Brien

Newburyport Carpetbaggers, the 95%


One Newburyport City Councilor (Dick Sullivan) got up in the Newburyport City Council chambers and lamented that all these “newcomers” were coming in and telling the folks who were born and raised here what to do.

Another Newburyport City Councilor (Tom Jones) got up (Thursday night) and said how Newburyport was a working class town, and seemed to intimate that it was still a working class town.  No it’s not. In the year 2012, Newburyport is an upper-middle class city, quickly approaching a upper class enclave – especially when Mr. Karp starts building.

Honey, it ain’t your father’s Newburyport anymore.

If you haven’t noticed the carpetbagger thing has really, really gotten out of hand lately.  You don’t just have the carpetbaggers who came in the first wave, in the mid to late 1970’s and very early 1980’s,  right after Urban Renewal renewed.  There was a wave in the late 1990’s after the MBTA came back to town. Remember that, a big housing spike when a lot of the old timers cashed in.  I remember folks saying  that it was a joke that anyone would want to live in Newburyport’s South End. There was a lot of bitterness about how high the taxes had gotten because of the housing boom, but that money bought more house not so far away, in a place where there weren’t so many doctors, lawyers and financial folks. Where the working class folks felt more comfortable.

And then the super duper influx around 2005, when Mr. Karp bought so much land and real-estate downtown.  Yup, and people have just kept coming, with more and more money, lots more money.  And the old-timers, the natives, they pay attention and they vote, but their numbers just ain’t what they used to be.  It’s not your father’s Newburyport by any stretch of the imagination, no how, no way, any more.

Kathleen O’Connor Ives Running for State Senate

Kathleen O'Connor Ives for State Senate
Kathleen O'Connor Ives for State Senate

On September 4, 2007, I met then candidate for Newburyport City Council at Large, Kathleen O’Connor Ives (Katy).

I found Katy to be delightful, smart, gutsy and energetic, someone who could be a real asset to Newburyport. But being a newcomer to Newburyport, I really and truly did not think she had a prayer in the upcoming elections.

It’s pretty gutsy to come into town and decide to get that involved in your new place of residence–to run for Newburyport City Councilor at Large.

And that she most probably didn’t stand a chance, but was running anyway, and against some pretty steep competition–a very accomplished incumbent and two former mayors no less.

That said a whole lot about Katy Ives.

And as I walked and talked around Newburyport, what I found was that everyone, once they had met Kathleen O’Connor Ives, wanted to see her on the Newburyport City Council (really, I’m not kidding).

And that’s no small accomplishment.

At first it was the more progressive folks and centrist folks that seemed to take a shine to Ms. Ives.

However, when I started to talk to more conservative folks, they had the same reaction. They liked her too.

And somehow Katy was overcoming the old Yankee suspicion about anyone “new,” combined with the old Yankee attitude of “you pay your dues.”

And Katy proved me wrong. She won. And Kathleen O’Connor Ives has turned out to be the Newburyport Councilor at Large everyone hoped she would be, winning two more terms handily for Newburyport City Councilor at Large.

Sound familiar.

Yup, Kathleen O’Connor Ives is now running for Massachusetts State Senate for the First Essex District. And as one of her supporters said, “In an old boy, old boy world, Katy may not be the most connected candidate, but she’s the smartest.”

And do not count Kathleen O’Connor Ives out in this election for Massachusetts State Senate on Thursday, September 6th. Once her voting constituency meets Katy Ives, they will have the same reaction that the people of Newburyport did in 2007, 2009 and 20011. And they will know she would be terrific as their state senator, and they will vote for Kathleen O’Connor Ives on Thursday, September 6, 2012.

Kathleen O'Conner Ives for State Senate
Kathleen O'Connor Ives for State Senate

Katy’s website can be found here.

Katy’s Facebook page can be found here.

Newburyport Street Lights Could Stay ON and Save Energy

Bottom line–Newburyport’s street lights could stay ON and we could save mucho money and energy. One of those wonderful win-win situations in politics, that comes along every now and again, and is so amazingly wonderful.

Yup, this is from a blogger who has not been a fan of anything to do with messing around with street lights (vast understatement).

I was so skeptical of the new consultant being proposed by the Energy Advisory Committee (EAC), that I didn’t go to the meeting last week to see what he had to say. My loss, big time.

But I did talk to a whole lot of people that were there.

And, yup, this guy, Mr. George Woodbury, appears to be the real deal.

Newburyport City Councilor Bob Cronin, who appears to be dubious about consultants for Newburyport, had this to say about Mr. Woodbury on his blog.

“I don’t like consultants. I believe that in-house staff should be able to accomplish most tasks. I sat in on the Neighborhood and City Services and Public Utilities meeting. The proposed lighting consultant seems like the real deal, retired US Army Colonel (West Point grad), retired Lexington DPW Director and national expert on privatizing streetlights. The knowledge he imparted in the hour meeting was incredible. No one in-house could seemingly pick up the ball and run with it like he appears to be able to do. It would take years to learn what was in his head. He suggested he could reap a savings in the hundreds of thousands of dollars yearly while making us a greener community. He has locally worked or is working with Lowell, Lexington, Brockton, Acton, and Fitchburg to name a few, he travels nationally.”

As I understand it, the vote for hiring Mr. Woodbury would be on the City Council floor Monday February 28, 2011. And Katie Ives, the chair of the Public Utilities Committee, would explain in detail why this is such a good deal for the city of Newburyport, MA.

Newburyport Street Light Meeting

The Newburyport Council Public Safety Committee will be holding a street light meeting on this upcoming Wednesday:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010
City Hall Council Chambers

National Grid is invited. And the Energy Advisory Committee (EAC) has been invited to present their plan to shut off 501 street lights to the Newburyport City Council.

The chair of the Public Safety Committee, Bob Cronin, anticipates a presentation that includes maps as well as the criteria used in the EAC’s process.

There will be a general overview, without discussion of which particular lights would be shut off. That detailed discussion will happened at a later date, and will be scheduled by each of the 6 Newburyport Ward Councilors:

Ward 1 Allison Heartquist
Ward 2 Greg Earls
Ward 3 Bob Cronin
Ward 4 Ed Cameron
Ward 5 Brian Derrivan
Ward 6 Tom O’Brien

Newburyport City Councilors will be able to ask questions first, and then there will be a public input portion.

This is in effect a public hearing on shutting off Newburyport’s street lights.

Newburyport, Turning Off Street Lights–Constructive Alternatives

It appears to me that if the city does decide to turn off Newburyport Street lights, residents and citizens have choices.

One is a short term solution, and the second is a more longer term, creative and very exciting alternative.

The short term solution for residents and citizens would be, if they wanted to, to adopt or sponsor a street light. Initial information for adopting a street light can be read here.

A more long term solution would be to work with the Newburyport Planning Office, the Newburyport Historical Commission, architects, professional exterior urban lighting designers as well as environmental experts. The model for this solution would be Light Boston. The goal would to have a vibrantly and creatively lit night time downtown as well as creatively lit streetscapes that would also address environmental concerns.

Light Boston, the model for a long term solution, supports the passage of Dark Sky legislation, which among other things, addresses the issue of “light pollution.” Light Boston’s goal is to reduce energy consumption, eliminate high glare and spill light, promote energy conservation and enhance environmental quality of life. All of these things are also the goals of Newburyport’s Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC).

Light Boston has the enthusiastic backing of Mayor Thomas Menino. And their goals would address concerns of business, residents and citizens of Newburyport, making Newburyport an even better place to live work and play.

“Many architecturally and historically significant public and private buildings, numerous monuments and parks, and lively streetscapes help define the City of Boston. However, many downtown and neighborhood areas of the city lack urban legibility at night which diminishes residents’ and visitors’ enjoyment of the social and aesthetic quality of the city, creates safety concerns and inhibits economic vitality.

Light Boston is the leading organization in the city working to address this issue through imaginative, effective, and environmentally responsible exterior lighting. Exterior lighting can be used as an effective urban planning tool to:

  • Enhance social activity and economic growth by extending city life for residents and tourists into the evening and night
  • Improve the aesthetics and urban legibility of the city
  • Contribute to public safety
  • Highlight and complement Boston’s unique urban environment

By advocating for illumination as a vital component of urban design, Light Boston seeks to encourage interest, understanding, and appreciation of the city’s unique historic and cultural heritage.”

From Light Boston’s website.

Newburyport Turning Off Street Lights and Adopt a Light

I called Kim Schneider at National Grid and asked her about their policy of private citizens “sponsoring” street lights, if the city of Newburyport actually does come to the conclusion to turn off street lights.

(“Phase 1” of the plan to turn off street lights would be to turn off 510 street lights, but if there is a “phase 1,” I am assuming that their would be a “phase 2.”

The Energy Advisory Committee (EAC) has an audit of proposed street lights to be turned off in Newburyport. The list is extensive.

The complete Excel data sheet from the EAC of the proposed lights to be turned off can be downloaded here.

A shorter version (shortened by me) of the Excel data sheet, that is easier to read and has basic information, can be downloaded here.)*

What I was told was that Newburyport’s street lights are owned and maintained by National Grid. The city is the client. And that any citizen can “adopt” a street light.

“My” street light is 50 watts and would cost $12 a month to “sponsor” or “adopt.”

If the city does decide to go through with shutting off street lights, I may not only adopt “my” street light, but many of the neighborhood street lights. The one neighbor that I have talked seemed to be relieved and liked the idea of going in on the initiative, if it actually comes to that.

I was told that we are in the New England North division. The number there is 978-725-1015. I would get a recording, but to ask for the “Street Lighting Specialist,” about adopting a light, and that they would call me back.

*(The criteria for keeping street lights on are 1) marked crosswalks (not places where streets intersect and people cross the street), actual painted lines, 2) Busy areas, 3) Speed limit over 30 mph, 4) Dangerous conditions. At the end of the data sheet you will see those 4 criteria and then a “Y” (yes, shut off) or a “N” (not shut off). The list of streets and some addresses are at the beginning of the data sheet.)

Newburyport, Extreme Green and Light Boston

Gillian Stewart in her recent blog post coined a phrase that I had never heard before, “Extreme Green.”

And that sort of sums it up for me. I find that I am unable to have a conversation with many of Newburyport’s Green community (not all), because I feel as if, if I don’t agree with them, I’m a bad person, uninformed, unaware, oblivious, uncaring. This does not work for me.

Newburyport’s Energy Advisory Committee (EAC) has come up with an audit of street lights that are proposed to be turned off. The list is extensive.

For more information and to download the list, which is on an Excel data sheet, press here.

And in my walks and talks with people about the issue of turning off street lights in Newburyport, someone told me about “Light Boston,” which I did not know about.

These are a few quotes from Light Boston’s website. All of these quotes could be applicable to Newburyport, another walkable, historic city, one that I also think of as “A city set on a hill.”

“By increasing lighting in Boston, we can extend our welcome to tourists and enhance the quality of life for all those who enjoy our walkable city. I hope you will support this important Light Boston, Inc. initiative to light up the city.” Thomas M. Menino, Mayor, City of Boston

“Many architecturally and historically significant public and private buildings, numerous monuments and parks, and lively streetscapes help define the City of Boston. However, many downtown and neighborhood areas of the city lack urban legibility at night which diminishes residents’ and visitors’ enjoyment of the social and aesthetic quality of the city, creates safety concerns and inhibits economic vitality.
Light Boston is the leading organization in the city working to address this issue through imaginative, effective, and environmentally responsible exterior lighting. Exterior lighting can be used as an effective urban planning tool to:

  • Enhance social activity and economic growth by extending city life for residents and tourists into the evening and night
  • Improve the aesthetics and urban legibility of the city
  • Contribute to public safety
  • Highlight and complement Boston’s unique urban environment

By advocating for illumination as a vital component of urban design, Light Boston seeks to encourage interest, understanding, and appreciation of the city’s unique historic and cultural heritage.”

“Improving nighttime environments benefits all of our residents and helps address safety concerns while increasing civic pride in local landmarks.”

Newburyport–List of Proposed Street Lights to be Turned Off

The Energy Advisory Committee (EAC) has a list of proposed street lights to be turned off in Newburyport, MA. The list is extensive.

Some of those street lights, I do not know which ones, are already in the proposed city budget. This I did not know.

The complete Excel data sheet from the EAC of the proposed lights to be turned off can be downloaded here

A shorter version (shortened by me) of the Excel data sheet, that is easier to read and has basic information, can be downloaded here

(The criteria for keeping street lights on are 1) marked crosswalks (not places where streets intersect and people cross the street), actual painted lines, 2) Busy areas, 3) Speed limit over 30 mph, 4) Dangerous conditions. At the end of the data sheet you will see those 4 criteria and then a “Y”; (yes, shut off) or a “N”; (not shut off). The list of streets and some addresses are at the beginning of the data sheet.)

On the audit, not only are neighborhoods dark, but large areas of High Street, Water Street, Liberty Street, State Street. I counted 10 decorative historic street lights on State Street that are recommended to be turned off. And there is a question about whether (13 decorative historic lights/lamps around the Green Street Parking Lot and 18 decorative historic lights/lamps a around the Playground) a total of 31 historic lights/lamps on Inn Street should be turned off, and about whether 14 historic lights/lamps on Market Square should be turned off. It’s on the list, I’m not making this up.

If you have a problem with this audit, and a recommendation that is already in the budget about street lights in Newburyport being turned off, please contact Mayor Donna Holaday, Newburyport City Councilors and write a Letter to the Editor at the Newburyport Daily News.

Mayor Donna Holaday’s contact information:
Newbuyrport City Hall
60 Pleasant Street, Newburyport, MA 01950

Contact information for the Newburyport City Council can be found here.

If you are unsure of what your Newburyport City Councilor looks like, press here.

If you wish to email a Letter to the Editor at the Newburyport Daily News contact:
Merrily Buchs

Newburyport–Turning Off Street Lights

Yesterday I did some research on turning off street lights. What I found is that towns and cities all over America and in Europe are turning off street lights to save money. Sometimes environmental issues are sited, as in Newburyport’s proposal, often it seems citizens are given a choice between turning off street lights and higher taxes.

I had a long and constructive correspondence and conversation with one of Newburyport’s Energy Advisory Committee (EAC). They graciously emailed me a copy of the lights that are proposed to be shut off in Newburyport, MA (it is public record).

The complete Excel data sheet can be downloaded here.

A shorter version (shortened by me) of the Excel data sheet, that is easier to read and has basic information, can be downloaded here.

Seeing the list, which is extensive, my reaction was one of shock. Basically Newburyport’s neighborhoods would be dark.

When I called the member of the EAC, my concern to them was that when people understood the extent of the proposal, the reaction could be so strong and visceral, an instinct to protect family and property, that a constructive dialogue might not be possible. That the whole process could turn into a destructive experience, not unlike many in Newburyport that I have seen. They understood and agreed, and for that I give them a great deal of credit.

The criteria for keeping street lights on are 1) marked crosswalks (not places where streets intersect and people cross the street), actual painted lines, 2) Busy areas, 3) Speed limit over 30 mph, 4) Dangerous conditions (how this criteria was defined, I forgot to ask, from my experience, unfortunately, a great deal of Newburyport’s sidewalks are hazards). At the end of the data sheet you will see those 4 criteria and then a “Y” (yes, shut off) or a “N” (not shut off). The list of streets and some addresses are at the beginning of the data sheet.

As I understand it, the EAC has been working on this proposal to turn off Newburyport’s street lights for a year, working with volunteers, including Newburyport High School’s Environmental Club. My understanding is that this list is still a work in progress.

Newburyport–Turning Off Street Lights–Not Such a Bright Idea

When I read the proposal by the Energy Advisory Committee to turn off 30% of Newburyport’s Street lights in the Newburyport Daily News yesterday, my reaction was not unlike my first sighting of Newburyport’s Wind Turbine, which as I recall, was to give it the finger.

It made me so angry, that I decided to sleep on the information before writing a post that could be full of expletives. (The working headline for this post yesterday was “Turning Off Newburyport Street Lights–A Really Stupid Idea.” The title has been toned down somewhat.)

I grew up in New York City. One of the frustrating things about living in New York City was that it was not safe to go out after dark– i.e. big time for crime and muggings.

One of the things that I really love about our small, coastal New England city is that it is safe and fun to walk around the city after dark (which living in New England often occurs as early as 4:00 PM).

The city since I moved here almost 3 decades ago, has become a growingly safer place to live (I definitely would not have walked around certain areas after dark). And yes, Newburyport has become more affluent, but that does not necessarily mean less crime, especially if you turn out 30% of the street lights. Good grief. Certain visitors from out of town (I spot them often in Newburyport, MA, they stick out big time) do break into cars and homes. How much easier would it be to do so on nice darkened residential streets.

And, we are a “smart growth city,” i.e. we are encouraged to try and bike and walk in our walkable city. Hard to do so if the streets are dark. And as I said before, certain times of year it gets dark as early as 4:00 PM.


If the Energy Advisory Committee would like us to be “green” as far as street lights go, how about thinking about solar street lights.

Expensive you ask? Yes, but some of our US cities have done so with Federal grant money.

The city of Louisville Kentucky purchased its equipment from a grant to the Partnership for a Green City, from the United States Department of Energy.

The town of Dania, Florida’s solar street lights were funded by a grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Hurricane proof no less and no problem with power outages.

I’m all for green, but I’m not for green and stupid.

Newburyport Rail Trail, to the Water

When the leaves are still on the trees in New England October, when the light has changed with the seasons, and the sun is slanted low in the sky, it can be quite dark on the ground. But when the leaves fall, all of a sudden it seems as if the blinds have been pulled away and the daylight can now get through. Sometimes it feels quite bright and delightful, and at other times, especially on overcast days, it seems as if the landscape has been stripped.

Last Sunday, it was another one of those amazing warm, mid-fall New England days, sunny, after the leaves had fallen from the trees, and I thought I would take a look at the second, or first part of the Clipper City Rail Trail, depending on where you might start from. I walked down to Market Street again, and walked along the Newburyport Rail Trail towards the mouth of the mighty Merrimac River.

I am always surprised when I hear hostility towards the Newburyport Rail Trail, and again, it’s usually a feeling that this very extensive project is stealing money from the rest of Newburyport, MA. And as I’ve said in an earlier entry, the money comes from a completely different funding source, one that can only be used for something like this. So why not us? Why not Newburyport, MA? And the Clipper City Rail Trail presents long term benefits for making money for the City of Newburyport.

The Rail Trail that leads towards downtown Newburyport is the part that I took a gander at on Sunday.

And I was amazed again at the enormity of the project. Here is a photo of just one of the many pieces of equipment that is being used.


Here is a photo of the paved pathway leading to what will be the boardwalk around, under the bridge to downtown Newburyport, as well as a boardwalk in the other direction, to Cashman Park (all blocked off at the moment).


And here is a photo heading back towards Market Street, where the very complex construction of the Newburyport Rail Trail is evident.


And we have a lot of people to thank for this very exciting addition to our city, but one person in particular for me stands out. And that is Geordie Vining of the Newburyport Planning Office. It has always seemed to me that this particular project, which has been ongoing for so many years, has been a true “labor” of love.

The Newburyport Rail Trail

Entrance to Newburyport's Rail Trail--High Street
Entrance to Newburyport's Rail Trail--High Street

Sunday was one of those amazing, “this is why we live here,” kind of gorgeous, mild fall days. I had not checked on Newburyport’s Rail Trail for awhile, so I thought that I would go down to Market Street and see if I could walk down to the new bridge across Low Street, that was put in this past August.

The bridge over Low Street  headed toward the train station.
The bridge over Low Street headed toward the train station.

One of the questions that is often asked is, why is the city putting money towards a very expensive Rail Trail, when it could use the money for other things, in particular schools.

The answer to that, is that these kinds of projects have a completely different funding source, than, for example the Newburyport Schools do.

The Rail Trail from underneath the High Street over pass.
The Rail Trail from underneath the High Street over pass.
Route 1, which is right next to this part of the Rail Trail (one would never know it).
Route 1, which is right next to this part of the Rail Trail (one would never know it).

This is from the city’s website:

“Funding for the design of the Clipper City Rail Trail came primarily through grants from MHD (Massachusetts Highway Department) and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), as well as the Community Preservation Act (CPA). The City hired Stantec (formerly known as Vollmer Associates) to develop the design for the facility. The City also secured the commitment of $3 million in federal and state funding for construction of the trail as part of the regional Transportation Improvement Plan. The primary source of funding is the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Improvement Program, which is designated specifically for projects that help reduce congestion and tailpipe emissions including by definition bicycle and pedestrian pathways. (This funding source cannot be used, for instance, for work on conventional roads or bridges, or schools and other general needs.) The reliance on federal funding requires that the MHD take charge of advertising, contracting, and managing the construction of the project once the design is completed. The City works closely with the MHD Resident Engineer to manage the contractor during the construction phase.”

From the Low Street bridge going up towards High Street.
From the Low Street bridge going up towards High Street.

These are some of the photos that I took. As you can see Newburyport’s Rail Trail is still under construction, but you can begin to get an idea just how remarkable an asset to the city that it will be.

Newburyport’s Farmers Market

Baker optimism. Baker resilience.

My father would say that long spring rains in May and June are great for the fish (trout), that as a result the summer scenery is lush. And, yes, he certainly would be correct in the summer of 2009. He might even look out the window, or step out the door, breath in deeply the sunlighted day, and say something like, “It’s a Perfect Day for Banana Fish,” quoting the title of a favorite short story by J. D. Salinger.

My mother might look at the sky and say that it, “is a Bluebird day,” and today on this mid July day of 2009, shemost certainly would be correct.

The wild thunderstorms of the early morning of this day in July 2009  sound to me like the thunderstorms of New England summers.Having checked the Weather Channel last night, I am prepared, I put my head under the covers and hope that “they” are right, that these thunderstorms would be followed by clearing come 10AM, and what would follow would be a quintessential New England Bluebird day.

At 11 AM I am startled that the morning has already “gotten away” from me. The sky is indeed clearing, just as predicted. I put my head out the door, and say to no one in particular, “It looks like it may be a great day for Banana Fish.”

And getting my key, I start what has become a wondered ritual, now all 4 weeks in a row. I walk down hill towards the mighty Merrimac River, towards Newburyport’s Tannery, to what is already beginning to feel iconic, the Farmer’s Market on Sundays from 10:00-2:00.

The people on the street that I meet have already been there and back. I wonder if the “pie guy” will still have a slice of homemade apple pie.

The place, like the last three weeks before, two in the rain, is teaming. There is only a short line in front of the “pie guy,” who now recognizes me, and yes, there is still a delicious slice of homemade apple pie to be had, that I know will make my day. I tell his young helper to wrap it tightly, because this delicious morsel is to go.

And I wander around Newburyport’s growingly iconic Farmers Market, admiring the folks with bags and baskets brimming with even more nutritious stuff than a homemade piece of apple pie–heads of lettuce, homegrown peas, beets. I cling to my apple pie as I watch Newburyport come together, young, old, middle aged, newcomers, old timers. There are no political power struggles going on to the naked eye,but a blending of the entire town in an organic way, over such things as local brownies and beets, in what is shaping up to be a Bluebird day and quite possibly a great day for Banana Fish.

Wind Turbine and Living With It

I got this email from a reader of the Newburyport Blog and was given permission to share it:

Mary- I have been very interested in your blogging about the turbine. I am one of the people affected by it and I want you to know not everyone feels the same in the neighborhood. At the moment it can be difficult for people in the neighborhood to listen to each other or be able to hear a differing opinion about it. Right now, it appears it could be difficult to agree to disagree. There are couples where one can hear the turbine and the other cannot. People see and hear things differently.

I am probably one of the longest members of the neighborhood–I remember cows down in the industrial park and the airport out where the cheesecake company is. The neighborhood has always been a more quiet section mostly because of the cemetery and back then it was a majority of old spinsters. Now, it is people with families. Neighborhoods naturally go through changes as people die or move away.

Yes, the turbine is big but how can I want a greener world without supporting it in my own backyard? The flicker lasts an hour at the most right now. For me the noise is minimal–I lived next to the airport in East Boston for awhile so I know what a jet plane sounds like. I find that there are lots of other noises in the neighborhood that can be more distracting–the trains warming up, dogs barking or our kids out running around–these can be louder than the turbine. I am willing to learn how to live with it, but I know that many of my neighbors look at it each new day and get angry all over again.

I look at the turbine as a symbol just like all those white steeple churches on the greens around New England were a long time ago–it is the new model for a “city upon the hill”–for me it is Christian charity. I feel that it can be difficult for some in the neighborhood to stand back and see that it is a global thing where anything that gets us off oil helps in the long run and is good for all.

I guess I want you to understand some of us are learning to live with the turbine and move on. We have trees in our backyard and that is a simple solution to how it looks. Actually, it can sometimes look very cool. I want to see it get painted like the gas tanks in Boston–how cool would that look! Anytime you want to come over and take a gander you are more than welcome. Flicker is at its best as the sun is setting. We are supposed to be most affected during April and then again in July. It will be interesting to see how it goes. Thanks for listening.

Wind Turbines with Less Oomph

What I really have wanted to write about, and have hesitated, very politically incorrect, especially in the midst of “Greater Newburyport Earth Day Celebration,” is my research into wind turbines in Copenhagen, one of the world’s, if not the world’s greenest city, and Costa Rica, one of the world’s, if not the world’s greenest country.

I was told about Copenhagen by a reader of the Newburyport Blog, who also sent me the video of Jay Leno demonstrating his wind turbine (see previous post). And always liking a good learning curve, I was very much interested in reading about how such an old European city would incorporates large wind turbines in a populated area.

Well they don’t.

They have a beautiful arch of large wind turbines out in the bay. Photograph of the turbines here and here.

And I came across this quote:

“There are many advantages in placing these big electricity factories in the ocean where the wind blows at maximal speed. Also, the Danish public seems to approve of wind turbine energy as long as the turbines are not too visible and standing in their back yard!”

From here.

Would this makes us in Newburyport rethink our wind turbine ordinance, erecting large wind turbines so close to the population of Newburyport, MA?

And from what I can make out, Costa Rica has their country’s large wind turbines away from populated areas as well.

I get it, the argument is that smaller wind turbines like the one Jay Leno was demonstrating in the previous post, just do not have enough oomph. But my question would be, even Copenhagen, with a claim to the greenest city in the world, doesn’t want large turbines in their back yard. And any large wind turbine in Newburyport’s Industrial Park would be in Newburyport’s back yard, so maybe in Newburyport it would be Ok if we had a wind policy that was in scale to where we as a city live, work and play, and that we might think about having less oomph as a way to go.