Worcester’s urban development agenda since the 1960s urban renewal craze has been based on two major fallacies: 1) that historic buildings such as Notre Dame serve as an impediment to economic progress; and 2) fuzzy-headed nostalgia (not economic rationalization) drives the work of historic preservation.
Jane Jacobs in the Woo will be hibernating until the spring. With over six months of blogging under our belt, it's time to digest what has been learned, read and think and reach out in real time and space to partners in the city. Although we are shifting our online presence, our work will continue full time offline. Please put Jane Week, May 1 - 7, 2017 on your calendar. We will be planning Jane Walks all over Worcester, surprising tactical urbanism projects, a lecture or two and of course a party with a cake honoring the culmination of Jane Jacobs' 100th birthday year. See you in the spring!
Almost everything you need to know about the ideas of Jane Jacobs is in this simple, elegant graphic. Enjoy!
With the right rose-colored glasses, one can literally change one's perception about the place where one lives. In order to feel some pride in her new town, Melody Warnick decide to develop a tour of places she could showcase to out- of- town visitors. She posted a simple question on her social media accounts, "What's the #1 thing you'd tell a tourist to do in Blacksburg?" So, I decided to do the same thing. I posted the very same question about Worcester on my facebook page. Within a couple of hours, Worcesterites were having a party in the flurry of comments back and forth. Some people mentioned the standard places (Worcester Art Museum, Ecotarium). Others left the borders of our city for fun (Tower Hill Botanic Garden, Purgatory Chasm). Several people mentioned things to do that I had never heard about before (a tour at the Regal Pickle Factory on Mason Street, stargazing with the Aldrich Astronomical Society at Anna Maria). In less than a couple of hours, my friends had generated a sizable brainstorm of cool things to do in our gritty city.
Want to feel more attached to Worcester? Find someone like Tony or Fatima who know how to feed you outside of your own home and kitchen. Forget the chain restaurants and find the little places way-off-the-beaten-track where you can get to know the owner, the chef, the people who wait the tables. A special thank you to Chris Robarge. Within half an hour on facebook, we riffed off of each other, generating this starter list of restaurants. Some are well known and others are as yet undiscovered gems. Let’s eat local!
The highway now functions as a subtle barrier between the triple-decker housing stock on the hill and the commercial district below. Although sidewalks grace both sides of the highway overlook, the highway still becomes a psychological and even physical divider of the space.
It's the unexpected "find" one discovers that make cities so much fun. Walking to Nu Cafe, I stumbled across this mobile bicycle library on one of the side streets. This "little free library" offers anyone a chance to take or give a book. Books then become a shared community resource on the street. Isn't this cool?
Remember why Melody Warnick advocates for us to fight for the little things in our cities and towns. Getting political locally helps ground us in the places where we live. Sit on a city advisory board. Testify at a Tuesday city council meeting on an issue you care about. Speak out for more trees, better train service, more consistent trash collection. Attend a local rally. When we dare to take a stand on a Worcester issue, we place another stake in making our city a place where we want to live.
I have to admit it. After my long visit, I left the little terrace with a tinge of envy. I want to move to Greenleaf Terrace, sit on the porch and invite the neighbors over for a game of scrabble. It's always amazing to observe how something so simple as the orientation of a building, the placement of a parking space or the use of a shared passageway could make such an impact on how people relate to each other face-to-face. Design is key!
It is the quality and intensity of our real and lived social connections that can make or break our attachment to a particular place. Neighbors sometimes pick up the slack for those of us movers who are far away from family, creating a neighborhood culture of caring that binds. It only takes one or two residents to help spark a shift in a neighborhood. Block parties, collective yard sales, book clubs, game nights, seed exchanges, barbecues are all ways to build neighborhood cohesion. Melody Warnick describes a neighborhood that has had weekly Sunday night dinners for years. This tradition started with five families and has since grown to over fifty families. The host family is in charge of cooking, set up and clean-up. People come within walking distance and share that one meal together each week. If one is feeling a bit anti-social, one can just bring a Tupperware container and take the meal to go.
What about deflecting $50 each month to local stores for things you would need to buy anyway? What about not heading on autopilot up to the Solomon Pond Mall or the Millbury stores or Walmart or Home Depot?
Sometimes I miss my entrance to the neighborhood on my early morning walks. My son needs a snuggle or I roll back over to get some extra time to sleep. Time passes. On these lazy mornings when I just can't get out before 5:30, Maria will shout out to me when I reach the Pleasant Market, "You're late today!" I don't even know George and Maria's last name. I don't know the name of the man who reads the paper on his porch or the man who nods to me near Duffy field. But somehow it mattered that I was not here to play my part. "Overslept!" I might say to her and I smile inside. My being an integral part of this dance makes me connected to them and to the streets in my neighborhood. In that moment, I feel like I belong here.
Do you remember the walking man on Salisbury Street? More than five years ago when I brought my son to daycare at the Jewish Community Center, I saw him, a middle aged man who dressed in a starched business suit and swung his briefcase during his fast strides. He carried an umbrella in the rain. He wore heavy boots in the snow. For two years of day care morning drop-offs, he was a regular fixture on the street, heading in the direction of downtown. One morning, I slowed the car down, opened the window and called to him to ask about his story. He confessed walking an hour each way to his downtown office and relished the fact that he didn’t need any gym membership. He was in the best shape of his life and loved taking it hare-like down Salisbury as everyone else fast-pedaled. Is he still walking now years later? I no longer have a reason to go down Salisbury during rush hour.
If you go to the Sociology section of the “new release” shelves at the Worcester Public Library, you may find the book I just returned entitled This is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live. Exploring the “lost art of staying put”, author Melody Warnick ponders how the place where we live can become a place where we are rooted to stay. How do we feel connected to the towns and cities where we reside? How do we shift from living in a particular place to making a commitment to staying? Warnick is obsessed with these questions of “place attachment” because she herself never felt settled in any one city or town to want to make a permanent home. There was always the hope in the next move for a better locale where the weather would be perfect, the cultural life rich, the nature abundantly lush and beautiful, the people fascinating and welcoming. After all her moves to what she believed would be the “perfect place”, Warnick comes to think she was all wrong. Maybe there is no perfect place but just maybe one can learn to stay still long enough to love the place where one is.
Malden is one of the most diverse small cities in Massachusetts. In the Indian restaurant where I ate home-cooked dal and rice, one of the patrons there told me that students at the local high school hail from over thirty different countries and speak over twenty different languages. Twenty percent of the population is Asian, primarily from China and Vietnam. I passed by at least ten Asian restaurants and juice bars on my walk. An Indian grocer directed me to that Indian restaurant around the corner. I saw women walking down the streets in hijab. I saw other women in saris.
In honor of urban theorist Jane Jacobs’ 100th birthday this past May,” Jane Jacobs in the Woo” formed to inaugurate a full year of community conversations and actions about building a vibrant Worcester, Massachusetts. Jane Jacobs in the Woo is pleased to nominate Crompton Place, a locally owned, mixed-use development in Worcester’s up-and-coming Canal District neighborhood for Strong Towns' Best Infrastructure Project. Listed on the national historic register in 1980, this property was the site of Crompton Loom Works famous for its textile and invention of an innovative power loom.
So, if Putnam's research is correct, what does a decline in social capital have to do with front porches? On my daily long walks in my Worcester neighborhood, I've been thinking of how this rise of individualism and fall of community ties and civic commitment is strongly correlated to the favoring of private back decks and side patios over the public life of front porches. So, I am wondering if we could somehow shift back to kindness, neighborliness and trust if we returned to sit on front porches. What if we slowed down, sat with chilled glasses of iced tea and a stack of books to greet the outside? Could our streets where we live, the city, even the world become a gentler place? What do you think?
But Somerville had all the basic bare bones to emerge someday as one of the most livable cities – 1) It is one of the most densely populated cities in the country with almost 79,000 people jammed tight into about 4 square miles. (Compare that to our sprawling Worcester with 182,000 people spread out in about 39 square miles) 2) Its extensive public transportation network of subways, trains and buses, allow easy access to Boston, Cambridge and surrounding suburbs. 3) It’s incredibly walk-able with short blocks. The housing stock of predominantly closely packed multiple family dwellings are within easy walking distance to commercial squares where one can find everything from restaurants to service businesses.
This past month, a Superior District court judge ordered our city to pay for the immediate construction of an elevated footbridge linking the Hilton Garden Inn, the Major Taylor Parking Garage and the DCU Worcester Convention Center. The city made the commitment to build this bridge years ago and may very likely be legally bound to honor that obligation. Could we have had more foresight back then?
It’s true. Pedestrians are at a disadvantage in walking this area. I’ve tried to cross Major Taylor Boulevard, waiting for the lights to change and then dashing across the “highway” of Major Taylor Boulevard to get to the other side. It can be scary! The answer for pedestrian safety remains in the redesign of the main street not the overpriced construction of a skybridge.
If a tree falls in the forest and no person hears it, does it even make a sound?
If an outsider visits our city and never actually hits a Worcester sidewalk, was he or she really HERE?
Here are the consequences when we make it easy to escape our streets: lack of economic spin-off to surrounding businesses and continued deadened street life around this single-use mega project complex.
An elevated bridge will enable visitors to drive, park, stay at the hotel and go to the convention center without ever actually being here. We missed a major opportunity this past summer during the resurfacing of Major Taylor Boulevard to make it a complete street, accessible to walkers, bicyclist as well as car drivers. With some paint and planters, we could have made that street into something incredible for just a tiny fraction of the projected $10 million dollar cost to construct an elevated footbridge.