A letter regarding Montvale

I’ve had Montvale on the brain, and I decided to put up a draft of a letter I’m planning on sending to City Councilors (list here) later this week.  I’m not sure it will convince anyone, but it’s somewhat cathartic to write in a more rational manner than is my wont.

Dear Councilors:

I am writing to urge the Council not to expand the Montvale Historic District to include the tennis court at One Montvale Road.  I am not a resident of the district; nor am I a personal friend of Ms. Todd or Mr. Tibrewal.  I write as a resident of Worcester who has grown increasingly frustrated at the need to involve city government in what is essentially an issue of taste. 

The residents of the Montvale Historic District who support expanding the district to include the tennis court property have two arguments in favor of the expansion. The first is that the parcel of land has historic significance and that the property was mistakenly not included in the district when it was established in 1993.  The second is that the district needs to be expanded in order to protect the historic district’s integrity and to preserve the feel of the neighborhood. 

Regarding the first point: of course, parcels of land themselves can be considered historic.  Take, for example, the Hill of Tara in Ireland, which is being threatened by the encroachment of the M3 highway, or the Wilderness Battlefield, a Civil War battlefield where a Wal-Mart is being proposed.  Both of these are cases where the land itself holds historic significance, and where development on that land would cause permanent cultural damage.  

The tennis court site at One Montvale Road holds no such historic significance.  This parcel of land was not part of the original historic district plan because it was not part of that property at the time the house was built; there is no other historic event that occurred on this property that would warrant its inclusion in the district.  Regarding the assertion that it had been mistakenly excluded, according to the minutes of the Historical Commission Meeting of 11 October 2007, Shantia Anderheggen , author of the Proposed Montvale Local Historic District Preliminary Report, had been contacted and indicated that the boundaries had been carefully examined; one can only conclude that this property was excluded on purpose.  If the Montvale Historic District is expanded to include this property, the integrity of the district, far from being assured, is in fact compromised.  The City of Worcester would be making a statement that the residents of an historic district are the ultimate arbiters of what does and does not belong in their district; actual historic significance would be secondary to the will of the neighborhood.

I am sympathetic to the concerns that the residents of the Montvale Historic District have about the potential for change in their neighborhood.  Many Worcester residents, myself included, have seen significant changes to our own neighborhoods in the same time period that the Montvale Historic District has existed.  On my own street, we have had houses shoehorned into any lot where a house can fit, with little discretion paid to anything but the profit of the developer.  The Montvale residents have successfully prevented a new house would not be built in their neighborhood, made sure that their neighborhood does not get overrun with traffic during the rush hours, and negotiated with an important non-profit to ensure that the integrity of their neighborhood is upheld.  The difference between most residents of Worcester and the Montvale residents is that we do not have the luxury of living in an historic district; many of us do not have the financial or political wherewithal to challenge changes that will affect our property values or neighborhood’s quality of life.

James Crowley made the statement (quoted in Dianne Williamson’s column of 20 December 2009) that his neighbors are “committed to Worcester even though they ‘could live in Westboro’ or a surrounding suburb.”  Previously, in the Telegram article “Montvale proposal on hold; Councilors to visit historic district” from 25 March 2008, Crowley said that “People in the neighborhood are committed to the concept of a historic district. If the district is not protected, the people could lose their commitment to it. (The historic district) has been a good thing for our neighborhood and for the city.”  It is good to see that his and his neighbors’ commitment to both his neighborhood and this city has grown in the past year and a half. 

But the goal of this city and its government should not be merely to appease its more appealing residents in order to stave off an exodus to the eastern suburbs.  If that were the case, Ms. Todd and Mr. Tibrewal are just as redeemable: they are young and hardworking and (perhaps best of all) have willingly chosen to live in Worcester, despite having no family ties to this area.  Let’s leave likability and sympathy out of this. 

The question at hand is whether an historic district needs to include buffers that hold no historic value; whether neighbors have the right to dictate to other neighbors which backyard accoutrements are acceptable; whether it’s acceptable to include a piece of property in an historic district only so that the Historical Commission, rather than the Zoning Board, can decide on what can be included there.  Of course no one wants to see his neighborhood negatively impacted, but the appropriate place to address those concerns is with the ZBA, not by adding a property to the Historic District.  We cannot and should not use those districts for purposes other than those for which they were created.

Signed,

Nicole, Worcester

The print media’s Montvale coverage

Because my blog is sometimes nothing more than an ode to Jeff Barnard (also, because I’ve been working on a letter to the City Councilors about Montvale and figured I may as well share my research with someone who cares), here’s the T&G and WoMag complement to his summary of Montvale blog coverage:

December 3, 1991 — T&G — Montvale activism before the historic district, “Park Avenue groups oppose new zoning”

March 24, 1993 — T&G — preliminary approval for establishment of Montvale Historic District, “Council attacks pothole scourge

April 30, 1993 — T&G — “Preservation Worcester gives out annual awards to four city projects” (including Montvale; how times have changed…)

September 29, 1996 — T&G — the advent of the no-right-turn signs onto Sagamore on the evening commute, “Traffic problems get neighbors’ blood racing

December 16, 1996 — T&G — “More than 400 tour historic city houses

March 22, 2002 — T&G — “Plan for new home in Montvale rejected

December 6, 2004 — T&G — “Holiday history; Visitors stroll through city’s landmark homes

October 19, 2007 — T&G — “Earful of anger for AAS“; first mention of the “old cork tennis court”

October 24, 2007 — T&G — brief mention in “Historic building sits amid Water Street work

March 13, 2008 — T&G — “Expansion proposed for historical district; Montvale residents, AAS clash over plan“; article includes:

Robert E. Longden, a lawyer representing the American Antiquarian Society, said only those buildings, structures or sites that have architectural or historical significance are supposed to be included within local historical districts. He contends the tennis court lot does not meet the necessary criteria because it was not part of the setting of either the Daniels House or Lyell house when they were constructed.

The heirs to the Lyell property also have said no mistake was made in leaving the tennis court property out of the historical district because no effort was ever made to originally include it within the district.

March 17, 2008 — T&G — “Move is afoot to enlarge two historic districts

March 18, 2008 — T&G — “Beware attack of the 6-foot history fiends“, Dianne Williamson’s first column on the issue

March 25, 2008 — T&G –“Snob zoning has no place in America“, Dianne Williamson’s second column on the issue

March 25, 2008 — T&G — “Montvale proposal on hold; Councilors to visit historic district“; money quote from Mr. Crowley (cue Ozzy Osbourne, please):

“People in the neighborhood are committed to the concept of a historic district,” Mr. Crowley said. “If the district is not protected, the people could lose their commitment to it. (The historic district) has been a good thing for our neighborhood and for the city.”

March 26, 2008 — T&G editorial, “Not so fast; Committee was right to block historic district ‘end run’

March 31, 2008 — T&G — op-ed by Crowley, “AAS should be subject to same scrutiny as others

April 3, 2008 — WoMag editorial — “West side story

April 16, 2008 — T&G — “Dispute finds middle ground; Historic district, AAS compromise

April 19, 2008 — T&G editorial, “Welcome agreement; Compromise defuses Montvale Road dispute”

July 25, 2008 — T&G — “Antiquarian society’s plans are approved

end of 2008 — WoMag — “Best of 2008“, under “Most unlikely NIMBY protest” (note to the editorial staff at Worcester Magazine: if Jeff Barnard does not get “Best non-Worcester Magazine blog” this year, I’m going to pour two litres of Diet Moxie down Jeremy Shulkin’s throat the next time I see him.)

October 25, 2009 — T&G — “Tennis court brouhaha is at love-love“, Dianne Williamson’s third column on the issue

December 3, 2009 – WoMag Worcesteria column

December 16, 2009 – WoMag, “The people’s court

December 20, 2009 — T&G — “No love lost over this tennis court“, Dianne Williamson’s fourth column on the issue

December 24, 2009 — T&G — “Homeowners hit tennis court vote; Historic-district conflict may escalate

The Benefits of Being Romanian

Part of my ethnic background is a small group closely related to Romanians.  Our language is considered a dialect of Romanian, but our clothing, food, music, and most of our culture doesn’t really align with that of the Romanians from Romania.  My ancestors were transhumant shepherds, from a place in the Balkans that is decidedly not Romania; our days as shepherds ended when my great-grandfather left his flock and came here to work on the railroad.   (My husband is also descended from transhumant people, and it is on that rock that our relationship is built.)

If you asked me what I am, I would say “Romanian,” though that’s not really what I consider myself.  (I will note that my father does consider himself to be Romanian, and he and I disagree on whether our ethnic background includes us in the larger Romanian umbrella.)  If I felt like you might be interested, I might try to explain my ethnic background further.  At that point, you’d say, “Oh! You’re a gypsy.”  But I’m not, and that’s why I usually stick with calling myself Romanian.

There are limited benefits to being part of an ethnic group no one has heard of.  Sure, it’s exotic to say things like, “Researchers think that there are less than 300,000 of us worldwide!” or “My native language is almost extinct!”  But then I read an article in a British newspaper that says that my culture is essentially dead, barring the occasional festival in a country I’ve never been to, and I wonder if all of us get miscounted because we refer to ourselves as “Romanian” to get out of a long explanation. 

When people think of Romanians, if they do at all, it’s usually in the context of a late night when you’ve turned on the History Channel and they’ve got a documentary on about the Real Dracula.  I get a strange thrill akin to ethnic pride when shows like that come on.  I love movies like The Prisoner of Zenda and The Merry Widow, featuring Ruritania or Marshovia as stand-ins for Romania (or a country immediately bordering it).  This is not to say that the Romanians have no flaws — they have a tendency to scheme and are (in my opinion) a touch duplicitous, and are way too fond of sauerkraut for my taste — but there are definite benefits to being Romanian.

Shortly after I graduated from college, I took a trip to Italy with some of my friends.  We’d made reservations at a cheap hotel in Florence, but when we got there, the gentleman at the desk showed me the reservation book.  Someone (probably with a last name similar to mine) had called and first changed the number of people in our party and then cancelled our reservation altogether.  The notes were right there in the book, so it didn’t look like he was scamming me.  He had no rooms available for us at one of the busiest parts of the Italian tourist season.

Then I took a look at the side of his desk.  There were some pictures that looked suspiciously like Romanian countryside.  “Are you Romanian?”  I asked.  “Because I’m Romanian!”

“I’m not Romanian,” he replied excitedly, “but I love Romania!  I go there three times a year.”

The next thing we knew, we had a room at his sister’s (nicer, better-situated) hotel, for the same rate at we would have paid at his place.  Ah, the benefits of being Romanian.

The best part of being Romanian (or, at least, claiming to be Romanian) is that the Romanians are the most musical people I have ever encountered.  Any occasion can cause them to burst out into four-part harmony, there’s a song for everything, and I believe everyone in that country claims to be a poet as well.  Perhaps it’s natural for a people who have been overrun by so many foreign empires and dictators to turn their sorrows into song, but my experience has been that many of the songs come out of a real joie de vivre and not sadness. 

Naturally, the Romanians have a lot of Christmas carols, and those carols are what I grew up with.  I don’t always know the words or tunes of some English and American carols, but it doesn’t bother me because the Romanian carols are the best in the world.  (I always like to say that the Romanians love singing so much they have carols about caroling, and here is the proof.)

If you only hear two Romanian Christmas carols in your whole life, you should listen to this clip, which includes my two favorites.  The second one (about the 2.45 mark) is the one that we have to listen to over and over again in the car, because it’s our sons’ favorite.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

What I Learned From Blogs This Week

I’ve put up a couple of items on the Virtual Assignment Desk for the coming weeks.

I’ve also decided to do a regular job (once a week) of rounding up the news/citizen journalism from blogs — though I welcome any nominations for someone else to do a roundup or the Virtual Assignment Desk aspect of things.

Bill and Jeff point us to a kinder, gentler, simpler time, a time before historic districts, when Worcester appeared in National Geographic as an example of something quintessentially American (and not as some bizarre anthropological study).

In addition, Bill discusses rumors of Best Buy’s impending move here and here.

Sean does a great job analyzing Robert Z. Nemeth’s endorsement of Scott Brown.

Jeff has done a great job continuing his chronicle of the Park on North Lake Ave saga.  (here, here, and here).  Daily Worcesteria (Jeremy) also posted pictures here.  Jeff also nominates Jeremy for the “Scott Zoback Memorial Award for Journalism in Worcester”; I’m reserving judgment until Jeremy agrees with my opinion that Tab is the nectar of the gods.

Jeff also made my husband cry (or maybe he was just screeching “High Pressure!”) and summarized One Montvale so I don’t have to.

Karl discusses tipsy-and-driving, which doesn’t have quite the same ring as drinking-and driving.

Posters: ALB–related (via Tracy) and Chairs of Worcester (via Sean).

I would love to see more people blogging, especially about topics and events that the news media doesn’t cover.  So, if you’re on the fence about whether to start a blog, consider taking an event from the Virtual Assignment Desk (or something that I’ve missed) and writing about it.  Be sure to contact Jeff so that you can be included in the Worcester Blogroll.

One Montvale: Ugh!

I was able to go to the Economic Development Committee meeting last night, but was unable to stay for the full Council meeting.

At the committee meeting, I got the impression that Palmieri was irritated that the couple (Todd and Tibrewal) hadn’t accepted any of the proposals by the Montvalians.  You know what?  They shouldn’t have to make concessions to bullies.

Well, Merry Christmas, Montvale.  This is the point where I actually start calling City Councilors in anger.  Not because I think it will make a difference, but because it’s the right thing to do.

In related Telegram-not-covering-anything-well news, the challengers that may or may not have sparked the charter change were not mentioned by name in this article.  Casello’s presence didn’t rate a sentence, and Frank Raffa was referred to as a “candidate who received 185 write-in votes by announcing his District 2 candidacy the day before the election in November.”  Perhaps Lee Hammel took Eddy’s comment that “If no one official runs against an incumbent it’s not the incumbent’s fault” (7.57 mark) to mean that no challengers should be mentioned by name.

(For those of you who don’t pick up the In City Times hot off the presses, Cheez Wiz, Rose’s new columnist/replacement for Jack Hoffman, referred to Raffa as both “Ruffo” and “Rufo.”  Who thought a five-letter name was so easy to mangle?  Or ignore entirely, as in the case of the Telegram.)

In other news, Phil Palmieri is now the District 3 councilor (see last paragraph) — sorry, Clancy!

One Montvale: Decision Tonight

Jeremy will be at the Economic Development Committee Meeting, and I will likely be there as well.  (I’ll be the one with the can of Tab.)

The meeting will be in the Esther Howland Room at City Hall; for more information on Howland, who attended the alma mater of both my mother and sister, see here and here; also here for a portrait that got her voted “Least Likely to Start a Commercial Business Having to do with Love” in high school.

On Class

(This post is inspired by this and this. It’s also a complete indulgent rambling post that I’m just writing for myself, so if you don’t already like how I write, you certainly won’t like this.)

When I was a girl, I thought class was something that women developed in the same way that certain body parts develop. I thought that it was an effortless process, that one day I would wake up and look in the mirror and realize that for the past month, I’d been a classy lady, and that I would continue on in my classy way for the rest of my life.

Of course, I was wrong.

I knew for sure that this was wrong when I was 28 and my brother’s bride said to my mother, “I want a classy wedding.” She was, of course, referring to my wedding, but she had the mistaken impression that my lack of class translated to the rest of my immediate family, especially my mother, who has more class in her little finger than my sister-in-law will ever have, and who has tried in vain to instill class in me.

What many of the more egregious posters on the Telegram website lack is not taste, but class. Class is the ability to impress upon people not only your own self-worth, but to raise up their self-worth by your mere presence. Class is not just refinement in personal appearance, and it’s certainly not only good taste. It doesn’t require money, it doesn’t require education. It requires someone to love and respect themselves in a way that causes others to behave better. I obviously don’t have that gift, and I never will. I wrote that previous post out of anger and disgust, and it did nothing to raise dialog to a more intelligent level. I am sorry for the latter, but not sorry at all for the former.

Now, as for why I didn’t post that on the Telegram website, or why I didn’t sic my blogger friends on the Telegram commenters: I don’t think what I had to say would fit into their comment word limit. My blogger friends (all four or five of them) have their own forums in which to express their opinions. I don’t know that all of them have the same opinion of the Telegram website that I do. I do wish that there would be better monitoring of the website and removal of offensive comments, because I think that private entities have a right to censor at will. Ultimately, though, if someone had the patience or attention span to read my whole post through, and to mull it over, they would have the patience to re-think some of the more offensive things that they post.

Jeff has a greater confidence than I that our society has the potential to grow more literate. With the advent of the internet, there is a greater opportunity for people to read, and a much greater opportunity for them to write and have a readership, whether it be texting or emailing or tweeting or writing blog posts. I think the internet age (and the related phenomenon of personality-based, completely biased, infotainment programming) has gone a long way towards shortening our attention spans.

This is not to say that I think there was ever a golden age of reading, or that the news from 100 years ago wasn’t more biased than it is now, or that I’m anything more than a selective luddite. I think that when people look at the past as a “golden age” or “better time”, what they are really pointing to is a missed opportunity. There was a time (and perhaps this is just memories of The Age of American Unreason replaying in my head) when we had an opportunity as a society to become more cultured, more educated and – yes! – to have better taste, and I think that opportunity is gone forever.

Where this op-ed piece comes into play is that I think that there is a portion of the population that hasn’t learned that conversation involves both speaking and listening. Investing time in a book, or in a professor’s lecture, or even a long blog post, requires concentration, patience, and a willingness to invest time in something that isn’t all about you. Literacy isn’t just about being able to write three sentences, or text your friends for hours on end. I think the ultimate point of literacy is to be able to read widely and synthesize what you’ve read into an informed opinion. When I read a book, I look at it as a conversation between the author and me, a conversation that requires me to listen and pay close attention.

I’m concerned that certain pieces of technology have made us less able to truly listen, and therefore less able to give an informed opinion. It’s not just a matter of taste – of course I think everyone should read Trollope, listen to opera, watch Masterpiece on PBS and read Albert Southwick, but that’s a subject for another post – but I think it ultimately diminishes us as a people when there are a lot of us spouting off about topics we know nothing about and when we are not willing to listen to the opinions of others.

That’s what I’m talking about when I talk about the telegram.com commenters. I’m talking about a larger issue, about people who need to text while they drive because they can’t not be connected, about people who feel the need to insert themselves into discussions to which they are not qualified to respond, about people who are willing to be led like sheep by whatever news personality has struck their fancy, rather than doing the hard work of reading long articles and informing themselves on all sides of an issue. This is not a new phenomenon; I think there’s an inclination towards laziness in humanity that is not particular to 18-22-year-old American college students. But the internet has made it more obvious.

So, as a blogger, is anything I say or do different from someone commenting on a news website? Perhaps not. I hope that what I provide is something a little more thoughtful and a little less off-the-cuff, and I probably meet that goal less than I should. One of my concerns with the major news outlets is that they use certain situations (like the town-gown issues at Holy Cross) not to inform, or to give insight into the true issue, but to instigate and incite people into worse and worse behaviors. And the limited enforcement of propriety at telegram.com is no better. How does any of this make us better informed? What does it serve except as a sounding board for some and a place to gawk for the rest of us?