Worcester: New Year, Same Vision

Like many of you, I still hadn’t recovered from the WBDC Worcester 2020 video when the news came about the WRA Urban Revitalization Plan.

I’ll start writing about the plan in the coming days (and I’d appreciate the feedback of others as I take a look at the plans) but we may as well start with other groups’ visions before we tackle the WRA.

While I’ve often felt that Worcester would be the perfect setting for a 1970s-era dystopian fantasy, it’s nice to see that others have taken that to a new level.

Vision 1: WBDC/Worcester 2020

For those of you who’ve always wanted to see what Worcester looks like after a neutron bomb, now’s your chance.  Don’t worry, there’s still enough of the old Worcester so that you won’t get lost.

Plus: with no stops to make, and no passengers to carry, the commuter rail will finally achieve a first: being on-time!

Minus: since it’s still Worcester,the planned crosswalks will lead you right into large shrubs.

Plus: with fewer pedestrians in Worcester than any previous point in history, we have finally achieved pre-Jonas Rice population levels.

Minus: 2020 Front Street has even fewer storefronts than 2016 Front Street.

Plus: Worcester Common: it’s bigger on the inside!  And it has food trucks!

Minus: Spoiler Alert: Soylent Green is people!

Plus: Worcester now has a “Symphony Hall”.

Minus: The WBDC has taken control of Mechanics Hall and turned it into a 21st century roller skating rink.

Vision 2: The The

For years, downtown Worcester has lacked the one item so many major urban metropolises have possessed: the definite article.

We no longer need to feel inferior to Providence, Boston, or Sandusky.

We, too, finally have a plethora of Thes.

The pioneering The was The Edge at Union Station, which encourages thousands of commuters just like me to Live on the Edge.

It’s brave marketing, particularly since someone could look at the prices ($975 per bedroom for a 4 bedroom flat) and say I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.

Not to be outdone, The Grid District contains many buildings — Park Plaza, Portside, Bancroft — all of which are ON THE GRID, which I would certainly expect, considering we’re in a first world country in the 21st century.  No word yet on whether they have indoor plumbing and party lines, but one can dream.

It would be slightly more exciting, and certainly more in keeping with Worcester’s pre-post-apocalyptic tradition, if The Grid had a Tron theme.  Not a 2010, Daft Punk, CGI Jeff Bridges Tron.  Try 1982, Bruce-Boxleitner-where-did-you-get-those-glasses, no-that’s-not-how-computers-work Tron.

Pac Man in the streets.  It’s what we deserve.


On a more serious note…

The reason no one in that video wants to talk about the Mid Town Mall is that, come 2020, it will still have higher occupancy and more foot traffic than the rest of downtown.

We need to start asking why the WRA is beginning the process of pushing out many longtime business owners, people who have actually had successes in a down economy, in areas that the city considers difficult to do business in.  Rather than asking what the secret to their success is, or how the city can be partners in that success, we’re talking repackaging properties for resale to developers.

More soon.

Tuesday’s primary welcomes “designations”

For the few of you who didn’t already know, Massachusetts will hold its presidential primaries this coming Tuesday.  This is an event that used to only be open to those registered in a state-recognized party, or to those who are “unenrolled” voters.  Voters in the latter group could show up and request a ballot from any of the recognized parties, cast a vote in that primary, and then go back to being unenrolled as they checked out at the end of the process.

Besides four recognized parties (Republican, Democrat, Green-Rainbow and United Independent Party), there are also 24 political “designations” under which a voter could be registered.  Previously, voters registered under a designation could not vote in party primaries.  This year, due to a change in law, they can.

Here’s a message from the Elections Division of Secretary Galvin’s office on this subject:

Due to a recent change in law, voters registered with political designations may now register to vote in political parties.  If you are registered with a political designation, you may vote in the same way an unenrolled voter would – by choosing a ballot when you check-in at your polling place.

This admittedly only affects a small minority of voters, but if you’re registered with a designation and have previously been excluded from primaries, you’re now included.  Have at them!

Slow-draw McGrath

About a year ago, folks who use the McGrath lot in back of the Worcester Public Library got a shock when they discovered all of the parking meters removed and replaced with numbered signs, which required the parker to remember a number and go pay for their parking at a machine in a corner of the lot. Additionally, several rows of parking were put off-limits to the general public. It was a system that made very little sense, and was described on this blog in detail.

There was widespread confusion about the new system; within a few months, some of the flimsy number signs were broken off, and it beggars the imagination to believe that revenue has been any better since the new system was put in place.

The latest “improvement” to the system involves removing most of the number signs. You can now park in front of a metal pole with a wooden block on it:

Your choice -- top-mounted block or mid-level block.

Your choice — top-mounted block or mid-level block.

…or a plastic post, either straight or bent:

There are a few numbered signs left, on which you can post your pleas for help:

"Please someone hav already paid for this lot.  Thank you."

“Please someone hav already paid for this lot. Thank you.”

…or you could park in front of an empty sign holder:

Whichever spot you pick, you’ll want to bring some tools to figure out your spot number. An ice pick would have been handy last week, a snow shovel the week before. Today you only needed a broom to sweep away the sand off the number painted on the pavement.

Remember not to park in the green section, which is usually mostly empty:

Don’t look for any clarity when you reach the pay machines — all of the helpful instructions and lot diagrams have been removed from the machines.

Despite all of this city-generated confusion, we saw a uniformed employee out ticketing cars on the morning these photos were taken.

It seems that if there’s a wrong way to do something, Worcester will find that way, and come up with a method to make it even more wrong.

CDBG Hearing Tonight

The City of Worcester is seeking community input for the best use of FY2017 Community Development Block Grant program funds to assist low- to moderate-income individuals and families.

When: Thursday, December 17, 2015 at 5:30 PM
Where: City Hall, Levi Lincoln Chamber, Room 309,
3rd Floor, 455 Main Street, Worcester MA

Community Input Wanted!!

The Executive Office of Economic Development Invites You to a
Public Hearing to Discuss and Prioritize Community Needs Related To:

Public Infrastructure
Food Access
Public Safety
Parks & Recreation
Other Pressing Needs

Hope Cemetery Commission Hearing – tonight at 6:30pm

We’re holding another hearing tonight at 6:30pm at City Hall/Esther Howland Chamber.

If you would like to provide any input towards further development at the cemetery, or have any other feedback to provide, now is the time to do it.

Here are my notes from the November 30 meeting:

6:41 – Rob A opens the meeting. Here for the first of a couple of information gathering meetings regarding master plan for Hope Cemetery. Dave and Tom are here. They will talk about their background.

Bill Wallace: thanks everyone for coming on behalf of his fellow commissioners. Our job is purely advisory, we are interested in what you have to say so that…lots of issues: best uses, best practices, population growth, record keeping.

Rob: we are trying to begin process of looking at historical past (where we’ve been) and look at where we are going to go. This will help us redefine cemetery – get us ready for next 20-40 years. Help us expand, generate revenue. City does support the cemetery, but we do generate revenue, put it into a perpetual care fund.

There is no bad question, any question or comment you have, let us know so that we can develop this document.

As we begin, we will streamline comments into more condensed document.


Dave Crispin: he carried his first casket in 1971 in Blue Hill Cemetery in Braintree, still a part-time employee in that cemetery. He has civil engineer license, landscape license. Has worked with Tom for 20+ years on projects similar to this. Blending something that goes from colonial slates to modern flat markers and doing it tastefully is key.

6:47 –

Tom Daly: founder and principal of Cemetery Helpful Solutions. Started in the late 1960s working in cemeteries. He has an operational background in cemeteries. He and Dave are both involved with New England Cemetery Association and Mass Cemetery Association; Tom has served as president of both groups.

6:52 –

Dave begins the presentation –

Cemeteries are about memories. They had done a similar study in Fitchburg about two years ago. In that cemetery, blend of old and new.

They took a quick look at the “blank canvas” areas of the cemetery.

1 – in back of new office building. Center portion actively used for tree stumps, but could be used to expand.

2 – old compost site – part of this used for excess soil from grave-digging

3- near equipment garage – we know that is on historic register

4 – former chapel site – there may be a foundation under there from an old building

5 – ball fields – laid out in 1981, thirty years ago and has not sold that well.

A few ideas:

Different types of memorials. What is below ground is common, but what is above ground is what makes the cemetery unique. Uprights, slants, flush (bronze or granite), obelisks/statuary, and feature memorials (for cremation gardens).

Committal areas have become popular. The services would happen in a committal area.

Niche walls for cremated remains.

Community mausoleum; he is not aware of any municipalities that have gone this way.


Military feature; could be used for Veterans Day or Memorial Day assembly area.

7:00 –

Public comment

Paul Swydan of Council of Eastern Orthodox Churches – in the past we have had a section designated strictly for Orthodox Christians. Now that section is full, but people still want to use it. He gets calls every day that folks want to get into the Orthodox section. Would like to see section 2 or part of it designated as Orthodox. Section 19 and 20 not plotted out but has graves assigned, would like to see if that can be done soon. We have been in the city of Worcester with this system in the early 1950s, we hold services on Memorial Day, on feast days, it’s a big part of our fellowship.

Rob asks how many burials (minimal or ideal). Paul estimates that the Orthodox community has 3-4 funerals every two weeks. He feels at least a few hundred. As soon as he announces the graves are available, they’ll be sold. In the past, the Council has purchased the land and sold the plots. They don’t want to do that, but would like those plots reserved for Orthodox Christians.

They also own Washburn area and use that for indigent burials (not just Orthodox). This is way out in the back.

Tom: either than graves, how do services need to be performed? Understanding burial disposition.

Paul: it’s the same as any other burial. There is a priest, we hold a brief Trisagion prayer at the casket itself, final blessings are given, we move on. Nothing unusual that the cemetery has to do in that respect.

Tom: We are only talking casket burials?

Fr. Moraitis of St Spyridon: we have canon law that does not allow cremation. We cannot perform an Orthodox funeral in the church for them. We are talking strictly casket burials. Just this Saturday, wife was buried in a single plot in the cemetery, and they could not find space for the husband near there. Suggestion of the funeral director was to cremate and put ashes there. He couldn’t do an Orthodox funeral service for them.

His parish has 60/70/80 year old members. 90% of interments are at Hope Cemetery, he is there 3-4 times a week. In addition to funeral services, we have memorial services several times the first year, and then every year thereafter. Memorial Day we have a unified service. There are four Saturdays set aside the year focused on the remembrance of those who have fallen asleep.

The cemetery plays a big part in our tradition. Much reverence for the dead.

It would make his life easier if people are buried in a similar area to the previous ones. The area near Hope Avenue would be perfect for the Orthodox. Even if it is not developed just for Orthodox, know that it will mostly be bought by Orthodox people.

Question from Rob: if we go down this road to make a new section, is there any needs for that section that the churches have that we need to take note of?

Fr M: in Greece, most graves are temporary, raised up two feet and marble. The flat stone is not what we want to go with. Generally, the people want to be by the gravesite, not in a staging area. If you gave us the responsibility, we would care for it and if we needed to sell the plots, (here he is speaking about his particular parish), he would do it.

Would like possibility of a double deep burial. There is no issue with us having that for our burial. He is looking in the thousands in the next 20 years for what we will need.

Within our faith tradition, it’s a very important part to maintain the graves of our loved ones. This is our cemetery, this is where we are going to end up.

Brenda Sullivan, Worcester resident, cemetery educator and artist: two items:

  • Landscape and design. Wants to know how much space is currently available, and what the plan would mean. How long would the plan be for.

Dave: he thinks we’re in better shape than most municipal cemeteries. He suspects 20 or more years of space left, but that’s part of what we will study.

Rob: depends. We need to look at style and type of burial we are going to do. Cremations, cremation gardens, very different than single depth grave with upright (versus double depth).

He envisions that master plan will give us guidance for next 10-15 years. That is about how things work for the other parks and their master plans. It’s a living document. What we don’t want to do is build something in a section and then realize that there was a better position for it. Look at cemetery in totality and look at those pieces.

Brenda, second question: when she looks at the picture, when she comes down 290 and sees section that is cleared out, it looks clear cut. Would like to see something that blends the older and newer sections. [I think she is talking about plantings.]

Asks about other cemeteries she might be familiar with in their work. Dave’s response: Cohasset (blended flush marker section with much older section), Plymouth.

Dave says they have done some New England-wide projections on the rise of cremation, will be a massive cremation. Demand for full casket will be fairly steady for the next twenty years. Surprising is that 60% of those cremated get memorialized as well.

Tom talks about reconfiguring roads, etc. to make space, create new focal points.

Tom: municipal cemeteries are required to be available for residents, we have to maximize space based on needs of different groups. Also, take into consideration other options (religious cemeteries, All Faiths, Rural, etc.)

Brenda, third comment: is green burial something that would be considered?

Rob: yes, this will be something we will discuss to see if it works and how it would be implemented if it would work.

Tom: defining green burial: a true green burial is one that is without an outer burial container, many times without a rigid container. Preparation of body. Perhaps disposable casket with handles can work for a cemetery. Commonly limited memorialization, perhaps limited maintenance of aboveground.

Fr. M: can those be exhumed afterwards?

Tom: No, what would happen is there would be no removal disposition.

Spiro Giannopoulos: wants to know if existing gravesites could be made double-tiered.

Rob: we would need to take a look at that. We would need to see what is down below. It’s site-specific but we will discuss further.

Tom: based on existing policy and procedures, issue would be that when burial rights were purchased, it was placed at a certain depth. What would happen is that they would have to do a removal and city might need to consider fee structure.

Rob describes what the process is: if lot has not been used, or a side has not been used yet, there could be the opportunity to understand what is below. If it is in use with existing casket/structure, one or both would need to be removed, dug deeper, and then put back in. Permit and funeral director would be needed for that.

Spiro G: would that be an option?

Rob: we would consider it.

Spiro G: we would really love that to happen.

Fr M.: is it possible in the undeveloped area if it could be built up to accommodate double-depth caskets?

Rob: yes, that is possible.

Fr M: that would be one of our recommendations/requests.

Paul: how would you determine if a grave is suitable for double depth?

Rob: we would probably take samples

Paul: the plantings along Hope Ave were donated by us.

Fr M: for aesthetic of new development, we can make it blend it beautifully for that traditional area – we would be willing to partner with the cemetery with that. We would not mind contributing to that.

Next meeting will be December 14, 6:30pm in this room.

Let Rob know if you need postcards/email reminders sent.

Closing remark from Bill Wallace: thanks Rob for bringing us to this point, Dave and Tom for their input, thanks attendees for input in this very important conversation. Notes that Brenda is from the Friends of Hope Cemetery.