When I first moved here back in 1981, as I remember it, it never would have occurred to anyone to demolish an old building. Downtown Newburyport had been restored and restoration was spreading to the rest of Newburyport’s Historic District.
The idea was to remove years, if not centuries, of wallpaper, skim-coat the old plaster walls, update heating and electrical, put in much needed insulation, repair sills and rotting windows, sometimes remove years and often centuries of accumulated paint.
As far as I remember, demolition was never even on the radar. Preserving local neighborhood character was a given.
So what has changed?
People write PhDs on the subject and PhDs on the solution, this blogger doesn’t have the answers. One heartening thing, however, is that the Newburyport Preservation Trust has among its membership the kind of brain trust that could address these kinds of issues. And for that I am quite relieved and grateful.
I think we are definitely at a crossroad. Depending on your point of view our unique historic heritage is already eroding or is on the verge of eroding due to over-development. I feel that it has happened slowly and incrementally and that some of us now look around us and say, “What in the world has happened or is happening?”
It’s not like our City government is sitting idly by. It is not. In fact our City government has been very proactive over the last 4 or 5 years. We now have a 12 month demolition delay, a site plan review; we have a host or zoning changes and amendments that address the problems, including the zoning amendment that is coming up that specifically addresses “infill” in Newburyport, MA. We now have various zoning overlays and are working on our first local historic district—the Fruit Street Local Historic District. Good for the City of Newburyport, MA. I don’t think anyone in our City government would like to see the erosion of our historic heritage.
But in spite of everything that the City of Newburyport has and is doing, the climate, attitude towards protecting our historic resources appears to have changed.
It seems that the first thought is to demolish historic buildings instead of valuing there worth. I find this disturbing and I know that a lot of other people feel the same way.
I also think that if this trend continues it will have short and long term economic consequences for our City, because Newburyport will no longer be a exceptional place to live, visit, work and play.