No to shelters/sign-holding, yes to residents of parks

Perhaps you’ve seen Bill Eddy’s latest campaign mailing:

Eddygram2013a

Eddygram2013b

Using this mailing, let’s sum up what he’s against and what he’s for.

Against:

  • sign-holding
  • homeless shelters sited in his district

We’d best not find Mr. Eddy or his supporters waving Eddy signs by intersections, or he’ll/they’ll be in violation of Mr. Eddy’s beloved “panhandling” ordinance.  And Mr. Eddy jumped on the anti-shelter bandwagon rather hastily after an angry mob of his constituents packed South High in opposition to a temporary SMOC shelter on Main Street.

For:

  • Webster Square residents
  • Columbus Park & Hadwen Park residents

Since this a targeted mailing, it omits how much more Mr. Eddy “stands up” for the more affluent areas of the west side.  But let us assume that at some point or another he may have “stood up” for the poorer folks in the Webster Square area.  Who, exactly, are the “residents” of Hadwen Park — Squirrels?  Birds?  Bugs?  As long as it’s not members of  Occupy Worcester and/or a stray pit bull or two, they should be all set.

Here’s a peek at what he’s sending to his more affluent constituents:

WestsideEddy1

WestsideEddy2

He’s a bit clearer about who his constituents are in this mailing — he needs not invoke the names of  parks or vaguely remembered topography as he does for his mailing to the poor folks.  In this mailing he just trots out quotes from anyone he figures might have lots of vote-casting friends.

What’s consistent is his persistent belief that one can stand by the side of the road with a sign. 

Despite what the mailer says, “Anyone” can’t stand out with a sign — thanks in large part to Councilor Eddy and the eight other councilors who voted with him.

CWW: Smiles for Sophia Festival and Sundae Sunday

Saturday:

Smiles for Sophia – Burncoat’s Second Annual Fall Festival.  11am-3pm at Burncoat High School.

Admission is $5 for all ages and 100% of the proceeds benefit The Sophia Fund. The event will be held rain or shine.

The festival is geared towards children ages 2 to 12 and features pony rides, entertainment, arts & crafts, jumpies, games, food and prizes. A ¼ mile Harvest Fun Run will be held at 1:30 pm. Children are encouraged to wear costumes for the run, and prizes for the most creative costume will be awarded.

The event is held in honor of Sophia Kuczarski, a Burncoat resident who lost her battle with leukemia in 2012 at the age of four. Lauren Angers, a neighbor of Sophia’s and an event organizer says “Sophia had a loving personality and contagious smile that is missed by everyone who knew her. She was a spunky and brave little girl who loved nothing more than playing and having fun.” This event seeks to honor Sophia’s memory in a playful and fun manner while also raising funds to support families with childhood.

Sunday:

Sundae Sunday, a celebration about Sunday openings at the Worcester Public Library; 1:30pm.  There will be ice cream and balloon animals.  I shouldn’t have to say anything more!

Worcester: Dying Mill Town, news at 11

Reading most stories about Worcester’s downtown is a bit like watching too much MeTV: just as the latter tends to be oversaturated with life insurance and pain-free catheter commercials, the former cannot help but use phrases like “gritty”, “mill town”, and “commuter rail.”

I hesitate to write too much about Worcester’s downtown — on this blog, it’s a bit of preaching to the choir that’s already heard the sermon half a dozen times — but indulge me in the same way that the Globe editorial board indulged in the latest “Olde Worcester Village, mill town of a thousand broken dreams” article.

Anyone who’s familiar with the WBDC’s track record in improving downtown foot traffic might be forgiven for not recognizing the new WBDC: a benevolent non-profit whose primary focus is getting people out of their offices and walking around downtown.  If I didn’t know better, I’d think the WBDC dropped a dime to the Globe to make the city administration look bad.

I was shocked that the article never mentioned the need for residential units downtown, and I was pleased to see that Paul McMorrow of Commonwealth Mag took note of that key component.

But I suppose I was more shocked that no one quoted in the article gave me any good reason to live in Worcester.

I’ve been trying to put my finger on what I didn’t like about the article, and I suppose it’s because I didn’t recognize the Worcester described.  (And not just because of the “six-lane highway to reach downtown via Front Street” from Union Station.)

I live in Worcester.  If you’re reading this, chances are you live in Worcester, too.

Is this really a city of 200,000 tortured souls just looking for a way out?  Can it really be that the vast majority of us are just waiting for the perfect listing in Shrewsbury so that we can pay that town’s incredibly low tax rate?

We could spend the rest of our lives talking about what’s wrong with downtown.

Actually, if we’re Worcesterites, we will spend the rest of our lives talking about what’s wrong with downtown.

Worcester’s problem is not that downtown sucks, or that our tax rate is not conducive to new business.

That’s not to say that those are not problems, but those are not the problem.

The problem is that we — and I include residents, elected officials, and the administration in that “we” — do not have a full understanding of what the long haul is for Worcester’s downtown.

If we did, we wouldn’t allow anything into CitySquare that isn’t part of the original “vibrant, mixed-use” vision.  That includes CitySquare’s two new buildings (Unum and St. Vincent Cancer Center) that “have not brought street-level businesses” because they never built any.

Too often we mistake the preliminary phase of a 20- to 30-year-long process as vision.  Witness the accolades Tim Murray continues to receive for advocating tearing down the mall.  The trick isn’t finding the wrecking ball, it’s focusing a generation’s worth of energy on building up a neighborhood that was ravaged by years of urban renewal and bad decisions.

Despite what the Globe article says, Worcester is not a former center of manufacturing looking to reinvent itself.

That’s what we were 45 years ago, when our forefathers decided that the way forward — at least where downtown was concerned — was to demolish the densest part of the city and focus on urban renewal (which, in Worcester’s emphasis on car-based travel, was essentially urban suburbanization).

And that suburbanization, the creation of buildings that are only accessible by car and streets that are impassable by foot, is what we’re now up against.

Worcester has never lacked for great beginnings.

What it has lacked is a consistent vision and willingness to carry out that vision.

That’s how we ended up with a convention center with no space for additional hotels next to it (though it conveniently has a hospital across the way), a rail yard in the middle of downtown, and a theater that folks thought would magically create spinoff.

We — all of us — need to always have the long-term in mind.

So when we hear that there are tiny apartments being renovated for current college students, we need to make sure that we’re also creating larger apartments that those students can use when they graduate and continue to live downtown. 

When there’s another CitySquare building proposed, we need to make sure it has street-level retail and residential units.

When there’s a proposal to replace a building with street-level retail with a glassed-in theater, we need to ask why we can’t just use the theater the city forced to close.

So, Worcester, we’ve got a lot to do in the next thirty years.

And I certainly don’t want to answer my grandchildren’s questions about why we screwed everything up in the downtown once again, do you?

When the Boston Globe misses the mark yet again, it’s just annoying.

When it’s generations of Worcesterites missing the mark, it takes decades to repair.

WRA citizen advisory committee

I know many of you care about a downtown urban renewal plan and are interested in being more involved.  There are details on applying to serve on a citizen advisory committee in a memo from Tim McGourthy (item 8.4c) on the city manager’s portion of next Tuesday’s City Council agenda:

We have received significant interest from those looking to serve on the Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) planned as a component of the urban renewal process outlined in the memorandum to City Council submitted on September 24, 2013.  The CAC will provide an opportunity for the Worcester Redevelopment Authority (WRA) to solicit public expertise on various concepts and approaches in between the formal public meetings held as part of the public process.  The CAC is advisory but its comments and discussions will inform the thinking of the WRA and its staff as they explore the role of urban renewal in addressing the issues and alternatives facing the Downtown and the urban renewal area in particular.
 
As Chief Executive Officer of the WRA, I will be appointing the members of the CAC to ensure a cross-section of real estate, finance, legal, and community input.  To the extent possible, we will look for individuals familiar with urban planning and development or with a direct connection to the Downtown.   
 
While membership on the CAC will be limited, if anyone is interested in serving on the CAC he or she should send a letter of interest and a resume to Jane Bresnahan at bresnahanj@worcesterma.gov.  We will be appointing individuals by December.

Only the little people follow the panhandling ordinance

Rick Rushton, quoted in the T&G article [$] “Rushton: Panhandling in Worcester has gotten even worse” (September 19, 2012):

“I’m even thinking about proposing an ordinance to ban solicitation of any type on street corners.”

Rick Rushton campaign standout, Newton Square, October 3, 2013:

 Mayor Joe Petty, quoted by WBZ, July 27, 2012:

“I’ve just seen it grow. Almost every square here in the City of Worcester, we’re seeing panhandlers.”

Mayor Joe Petty, standout at Park and Salisbury, September 28, 2013:

petty_solicitation

Rick Rushton, quoted in GoLocal Worcester, June 27, 2012:

“This city has so many panhandlers.  It’s clear when a women on the corner of Park and Salisbury Street is driving away in her car and they’re getting dropped off in vans.  There’s something wrong here.”

Isn’t there, though?

In Worcester, it’s perfectly ok to pass an ordinance that few elected officials bothered to read.

In Worcester, it’s perfectly ok to ask me for something worth $4-5 (that is, my vote) at the intersection of Park and Salisbury Street, near a bus stop, and then drive away in your car.

But woe betide the hungry person who asks another for assistance.

I would say “For shame”, but obviously many members of the City Council feel none.