African Bazaar and Mike Stopa Blog

Two random links:

African Bazaar is today (Saturday) at the corner of Elm and Russell.  They will have a really wacky seven-person bike.

Mike Stopa, who’s running as a Republican (Tea Party?) candidate for Congress has a blog.  The only mention of Central Massachusetts had to do with the Arizona boycott proposal that came before the Worcester City Council.  Make of that what you will.

Input Requested

I know I’ve asked for post ideas before, and I haven’t followed up on any of the ideas.  (To recap, “Lost Villages of Worcester” won, and I’ve been doing intermittent research for that.  Emily wanted me to discuss making the city more walkable, and I’ve been doing a lot of reading on urban design and walkability, which is, of course, belied by my lack of posting on the subject.  Someone — probably my husband — recommended an ‘in-depth exploration of area strip clubs,’ which I will leave for another blogger to tackle.)

Along with dog parks, we’d been discussing how to get citizens more involved in the city.  T-traveler recommended that the virtual community pick two or three ideas, and prioritize one to really push/work with city government to address.

There are no existing government-sanctioned vehicles for this kind of discussion, but I think this might be an experiment worth pursuing.  Here’s how we’ll do it:

1) In the comments section of this post, leave one or more ideas you’d like to see the government work on with the help of citizens.  They could be tech-focused (i.e., create a City of Worcester suggestion website similar to Manor Labs).  They could be variations on something you heard a city councilor talk about (i.e., at the last City Council meeting, Kate Toomey talked about colleges paying students to work at the public library via workstudy; what if we approached colleges with early childhood education programs and asked if students would be interested in volunteering to do some storytimes?).  They could be small (fix the swings in Elm Park) or large (pick a park a year for a volunteer team to improve). 

2)  On Tuesday, I’ll compile the ideas and put up a poll (because the real point of all this is for me to have another poll; I should just apply to work for the T&G web team).  We’ll give people a couple of days to vote.

3)  A blue-ribbon panel (me and my cats) will select an idea from the top three vote-getters for us to pursue as a virtual community.  (I have no idea what that will entail, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.)

I look forward to reading your ideas!

Dog Park Amenities

When I was attending the alma mater, the city where I resided converted a regular field adjacent to the college into a dog park of sorts.  The city also has an excellent dog owners’ group website that lists the parks that are designated as dog parks, and the parks where you are (and are not) allowed to walk dogs.  (Which, incidentally, is a problem in Worcester: technically, no dogs are allowed in any park in the City of Worcester, but some dogs are more equal than others in that regard.)

Now, I don’t know which websites Clive has been looking at, but I don’t think anyone is asking for “a wading pool with dock, exercise equipment, drinking fountains, dog beach, a full-time attendant for monitoring the dogs, and a dog washing and retail shop.”  I think they’re asking for a field that’s fenced for dogs to run around in.

Not everyone has a kid.  Yet we still have playgrounds and schools.

Not everyone has a boat.  Yet we’re going to be putting in a boat ramp at Coes Pond.

Not everyone knows how to swim.  Yet we still open beaches (and hopefully a pool or three).

Not everyone has a car.  Yet we own parking garages and parking lots, and make the parking available at a reasonable cost.

Not everyone reads.  Yet we still have libraries.

Not all citizens are going to use all city services.  (I, for one, hope to never have to use the amenities in the Worcester PD lockup; nor do I wish to ever again have a fireman visit my house at three in the morning.)  To reject a proposal just because you’ll never use it is not completely valid.  To belittle a project by attributing ideas that were never mentioned doesn’t prove your point.

I’m not sure if Clive’s second point — about putting specifics in the master plan — were directed more at the citizens who actually think something might be able to work right in this city, or more at the city management themselves.  I wish the column were more focused on either snarkiness towards the city, or snarkiness towards those who want a dog park.  I don’t think it’s a news flash for any of us that the city parks are not the best maintained parks on the planet. 

I’d rather hear about other communities who are doing a better job on park maintenance, and how they do it.  (Frankly, I’d rather hear about why the 2005 parks master plan isn’t available on the web.)  I’d like to hear about why the city doesn’t enlist volunteers who previously worked on other trails to at least improve the trails at Cookson Field…for free.  I’d like to hear if Holy Cross would be willing to provide students (volunteers or work study) to make improvements to the park and/or install fences & playground equipment.  That’s what I’d like in a column.

Not a bunch of complaining about the things we already complain about and the problems we already know exist. 

[Side note: did anyone else read about the $20,000 donation from Holy Cross towards improvements to this park, and think that maybe that is, in part, why they’re leery of PILOT?]

Also — since the T&G doesn’t provide a link — here’s the (14MB pdf) Cookson Field Master Plan.

A Word on Dog Parks

So, we’ve heard that the College Hill Canine Park Association has begun putting together proposals to turn Cookson Field into a dog park.

According to one of my favorite people, ““This is the first group that has really come forward to begin discussions about having a dog park.”

While that may be true, then-Councilor Rosen had requested a study of area dog parks six months ago, and Park Spirit was supposed to be looking into making Boynton Park at least partly an official dog park.

Now, I don’t necessarily have a problem with this plan, but the city was supposed to be looking into this months ago.  (See the minutes of the meeting I attended for the Chairman’s order.)  It shouldn’t have to take citizens asking for something that was already requested to spur action.

–An aside, now that I’ve been thinking about this for a few minutes: this is another example of how the city relies on citizens to come up with many good ideas, but does nothing to facilitate those ideas.  If we had a forum for this — online or otherwise — we could be having discussions along the lines of, “We’re thinking of having a dog park in College Hill” and someone else could mention Boynton Park, and work could be assigned in an official capacity.  And someone could say, “There’s an opening on the Parks Commission — maybe T Jablanksi should apply because she seems like she has a passion for parks.”

In Rules & Legislative Affairs, there was a discussion about how to encourage more people to serve on boards and commissions.  The real question is how to focus the talents and passions of people who are already willing and able to give freely of their time to the city.  There are people in this city who don’t like graffiti; why not organize them into a volunteer graffiti crew, as Bob Q recommended?  There are now at least two proposed dog park sites in the city; will anyone coordinate the findings/research of the Cookson Field folks with the myriad people who’d be interested in making Boynton Field a real dog park?

This is why people get frustrated in this city: the councilors get frustrated because no one shows up at council meetings and applies to serve on boards, and the citizens get frustrated because it doesn’t seem like anything gets accomplished and they don’t see a place for them to make any sort of impact.

Summer Reading Programs

Not WPS summer reading…(though when I was looking at the Grades 5-6 list, it didn’t list Savers as one of the “buy a previously read book” options, and they usually have a really decent selection for those grades…) 

Barnes and Noble has a summer reading program where you can read 8 books and then get a free book.  Passport is here.

Borders has a summer reading program where you can read 10 books and then get a free book.  (Here‘s the form;  one of the books you can select is the first book in the revised Baby-sitters Club series, though if they were offering Flat Stanley as illustrated by Tomi Ungerer, I would be there!)

(And, obviously, my tip would be to read 10 books and double-dip.)

This Week at City Hall

There will be some meetings this week at City Hall (and beyond), so here’s a list of what’s up and why you should care. 

I would love to see more people covering these meetings.  If you don’t have a blog, and you don’t care to have one, but you would like to go to a meeting and write a summary of what happened, email me and I’ll post it.

I’m also looking for someone who’d like to do some research into the Wheels-to-Water program.  Send me a note if you’d like more details.

Monday, May 24
5:30pm — City Council Standing Committee on Public Health and Human Services Meeting, City Hall, Esther Howland Chamber.
Why should I care?  The agenda seems pretty boring for a city that’s had as much upheaval in the public health department as ours has.

5:30pm — Zoning Board of Appeals Meeting, Levi Lincoln Chamber.
Why should I care?  They’re going to be discussing four new items:  44 Byron Street (changing wireless antennas); 38 Flagg Street (building larger garage); 108 Canterbury Street (Randell Package Store) to build a one-story storage structure; and 97 Houghton Street (subdivision of lot).

Tuesday, May 25
5:00pm — City Council Standing Committee on Public Health and Human Services Meeting, Levi Lincoln Chamber.
Why should I care?  If you know what “FY 2010 YEAR 36 CDBG, HOME, HOPWA, ESG” means, I’d love to know!

6:00pm — City Council Standing Committee on Traffic and Parking Meeting, Esther Howland Chamber.
Why should I care? Eh.  Not a lot on the agenda.  My 90 days might be coming up soon, though.

7:00pm — City Council Meeting/Finance Committee Meeting.
Why should I care?  The meeting will mostly be about the Fy2011 Budget.

Wednesday, May 26
1:00pm — Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement District Board Meeting; 50 Route 20, Millbury, Board Room.
Why should I care?  Personally, I’d love to hear about these meetings. 

6:00pm — Mayor’s Work Group on Job Growth and Retention, Levi Lincoln Chamber.
Why should I care?  They’re looking for input on how to retain and attract small businesses in the city.

Thursday, May 27
7:00pm — Historical Commission Meeting, Levi Lincoln Chamber.
Why should I care?  They will be discussing two items: to demolish all of 95 Grand Street, and some changes to 15 Chestnut Street (replacing the roofing, replacing steel windows with aluminum, and changing the veneer).

Worcester Land Use News … and the Sign Ordinance

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but you can sign up to receive a newsletter from the Worcester City Division of Planning & Regulatory Services.

The latest newsletter is here.  They’ll also send you agendas for the ZBA and Planning Board meetings.  (If you can’t get to the subscribe page, email me and I’ll forward you the email, which has a subscription link.)

The big news in the newsletter is that the Planning Board will be holding a Special Meeting for Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 5:30 pm in the Levi Lincoln Room to consider the City Manager’s proposed sign ordinance amendment.  (The City Council will also hold a public hearing on the proposed sign ordinance.)

From the newsletter:
This comprehensive proposal is intended to replace the existing sign ordinance in its entirety.  The substantive legislative changes are annotated throughout the document for reference.  In addition to new measurement standards and added flexibility and control through Special Permit considerations, the most significant legislative changes involve signs with digital display, non-accessory signs, non-conforming signs, temporary signs, and size and number of signs permitted.

Albert Southwick at the Leicester Historical Society Annual Meeting

On Tuesday night, my husband took me to the Leicester Historical Society’s annual meeting, where Al Southwick was the featured speaker.

Before I get to the main event, there were a few things of note about the evening:

  • My husband and I were easily the youngest people there, barring a couple of teenagers who looked as if they’d been dragged there.
  • We sat next to an extremely entertaining couple who’d moved to Leicester from Chicago thirty years ago.  Lately, I’ve found that every time I meet people slightly older than my parents, they try to sell me their house.  In this case, their house was extremely tempting (farmhouse, five acres,  located in a town my husband is a touch obsessed with) but, as always, my response is the same: “There’s no way I could afford it…sorry!”  The wife also gave me valuable tips; for instance, you should always order non-cocktail alcoholic drinks at restaurants, because they tend to go heavy on the tonic in a G&T.  So, she had Jack on the rocks.  (Granted, it’s a tip of limited use since I’ve never had hard liquor, but I’ll store that away somewhere; goodness knows I may need it.)  I also gave her some tips on how to request Playaways from the Worcester Public Library, since she and her husband are as passionate about the library and reading as we are.
  • The salad dressings on the table had some kind of complicated code.  I mean, obviously “I” was for “Italian” and “R” was for “Ranch”, but what exactly were the numbers for?  Bizarre…

My husband took numerous papparazzi-esque shots of Southwick, because I refused to let him use the flash because then we’d look like the groupies we are.  I especially like the picture of Southwick in between our water cups, in the top left corner of the collage:

Southwick spoke for a bit about certain aspects of the history of Leicester, especially the comparative religious tolerance of the town; see below for an example of a Quaker forebear’s exemption from the taxes paid to support the state church: 

Many present were quite impressed with Southwick’s ability to read (at one point he looked something up) without glasses.  (I would have been equally impressed, but I haven’t had that ability since I was about six, so I’m impressed with anyone who can see without corrective lenses.)  There was a Q&A session in which he had a bit of trouble hearing a question, but he was, on the whole, pretty awesome.

(His sisters were there, and he said that he and his sisters had been residents of Leicester for over 280 years, which drew a lot of laughs.)

The best part of the evening was as my husband and I were leaving.  Husband wanted me to say hi to Southwick; I was all “How exactly do I explain that I write a blog in which I discuss my obsession with him without coming off as a stalker?”; then he said, “you’re a citizen journalist”; I pled shyness; I didn’t meet him.  (But I really didn’t want to say anything, because I am incredibly shy.)

Anyway, we’re leaving right behind his sisters, whom we have previously identified as the cutest old ladies this side of my 90-year-old grandmother, and all of a sudden, Ann Cutting stopped, looked at the whiteboard on which the restaurant’s specials are written, and erased the extra “m” from “ommelette.”

“I used to be a schoolteacher,” she said as an explanation.