Newburyport, Good, Bad Infill

So I’ve been thinking for me, what would constitute good or bad infill?

I walk all over Newburyport, especially the South End, and there are examples of infill everywhere. You can see the different additions and alterations that people have made over the years and centuries to different houses, and I for the most part, I like them, because they tell the story of the people who not only lived there, but who have lived in the City of Newburyport.

You can tell when someone needed a mudroom or often an addition on the back for a kitchen.

I know the house that I lived in when I first lived here had two additions put on sometime during its lifetime. One, a kitchen at the back and a sunroom that was put in on the North side of the house for some reason. Why a sunroom on the North side of a house who knows, except that that’s where they must have felt they had the most room.

And, it was a Victorian replica of a Greek Revival house, tin ceilings and all. I loved it.

And at one point in the neighborhood where I live bay windows must have been all the rage. There’s even a very old colonial with a bay window. For me it all adds to the “patina” of the City.

So when does infill, additions alterations become “bad” infill. Well quite aside from the density and added mass and bulk thing…I think for me infill crosses the line when it overwhelms or obliterates the story of the people who have gone before. No matter what their story was, good, bad or indifferent, it is still part of Newburyport’s story.

When the citizen’s of Newburyport fought so hard to save High Street, they wanted to keep the “patina” of the road and the shape of the road because it told the story of all the people who have come before us.

So I think that’s why in part I have such a visceral reaction when someone demolishes a home and puts a mega mansion up in its place. It seems to dishonor the past. Or when an addition to an existing home totally overwhelms the existing house and is out of character with the neighborhood, it seems to disrespect the people who have lived here before us.

It’s why (not to harp on this one more time, but to harp on this one more time) I have such difficulty with the Five Cents Savings Bank demolishing One Temple Street. It wiped out the story of all kinds of amazing human beings.

So I think that the emotional “trigger point” for me is when a project doesn’t add to Newburyport’s story, but demolishes or overpowers that story. Because I think every story, no matter how small or how big, is part of the whole. And it would be a good idea, in my mind, if each piece gradually added to what would ideally be the organic and intrinsic growth of our small city.

Mary Eaton