Short Term Solutions at the Expense of the Character and Integrity of Newburyport, Massachusetts

After reading an earlier blog post regarding former Mayor Matthews, I was shocked to hear some of his proposed plans for the city of Newburyport. Could you even imagine our lovely city today if some of those ideas came to fruition? An oil tank farm on Low St.? What really struck me is how blatantly obvious it is to us now that these are terrible ideas and that they would have ruined the city. It seems like we really dodged a serious bullet in those days, however, I’m sure at the time there was a segment of the population that may have supported those ideas. Jump forward to today, and you can almost sense that we face the same type of questions today, decisions that will determine the fate of Newburyport for future generations.

It seems that Mayor Matthews plans were short term solutions to improve Newburyport financially. I’m sure the oil pipeline and garbage incinerator would have meant fast cash for a down-trodden Newburyport, and I’m sure many people argued that it would keep taxes low, etc. etc. Thankfully, local citizens with more foresight realized how devastating those projects would be to Newburyport, that had they been built we would have crossed a sort of “point of no return” which would have led our city down a very different path and ultimately to a very different destination than the one we’ve arrived at today. Those citizens stood up to the local government in town and made them listen to their ideas, their thoughts, their fears and concerns and made the government realize that they indeed, work for us.

Again, jump ahead to the present. We are again faced with important decisions, many of them short term solutions designed to make some fast cash at the expense of the integrity of the city of Newburyport. Do we really want a huge condo complex built on the Woodman farm? In 20 years would we prefer to look at giant development there or would we prefer to look back and say, thank god we got together and prevented that project and kept such a critical piece of land as open space? Would we look back and laugh at how foolish an idea the project was at the time and how lucky we were to avoid such an irreversible situation? The same can be said about the waterfront, do we want to look back at this point in time and say, “What were we thinking? Pave the entire waterfront and charge people to park in all the lots downtown? We must have been crazy!” or do we want to look back with regret and say,” I sure wish someone would have stood up and said something, came up with a better plan, protected such an integral part of the character of Newburyport.”

I’ve tried hard throughout this post to avoid this cliché, but I don’t think I can hold out any longer, “Those who don’t understand history are condemned to repeat it.” I hope that we are fortunate enough to have some of those citizens with great foresight that can stand up to the critical issues of the day and come up with better solutions, be it Woodman Farm, the waterfront, infill, bike lanes, parking, over development, the senior center, or whatever. There are those that will say you can’t stand in the way of progress, but years ago progress meant having a tank farm across the street from the middle school, and thankfully we avoided that disaster. It’s ok that to preserve the things that make this city special, its ok to hold on to the character and traditions that have grown in this place and it’s ok to stand up and say no to projects that only seek to make a quick buck for the city while devastating everything we love about it.

Ben Laing, Newburyport