Pluck those weeds!

Crappy lookIn the tourist industry as in any commercial venture; you’ve got competition – and it can get pretty intense.       To compete, you’ve got to have a great allure, but you’ve also dedicated yourself to marketing and promoting.       And then, when you’ve finally have visitors; you’ve got to make sure it is such a memorable, pleasurable experience; they will not only return but will bring their friends and families.

Newburyport has buckets of allure, compressed and overflowing.       We’re still weak when it comes to marketing and promoting but I know that finally City Hall and the Chamber are uniting to get it done.        And we’ve got visitors.

But now we have to discard something that Newburyport has had for years – the shabby-sheek look.       That unkempt, rather worn-down appearance that is presented to our guests.       Curb Disgrace

Our City in the Twenty-first Century makes its bread and butter on how we appear!   Businesses downtown rise and fall by our appearance.     Property values and investment trends hinge on the ‘street’ views that a unique city like Newburyport can provide.

The sad fact is that thanks to state bureaucracy, unions and ‘prevailing wage’, it will be a long time before you see a single DPS guy going around just pulling weeds*.

We all need to chip in to increase business opportunities and increase visitors.       Yes, that includes Wards 5 & 6; your property values are dependent on how ‘nice’ the City looks in the historic district.

Weedy BricksThe funny thing is, it’s not expensive to dispense with it!    It requires EVERYONE who lives and works in Newburyport to exhibit teamwork.      If we all chip in and clean the sidewalks that abut our private properties, and make them look sharp, and the curbs clean and our trees trimmed; it will literally cause our city to shine which will help everyone in town.       Portsmouth, which does not suffer under prevailing wage laws; literally sparkles in a breathtaking way; which has translated into an incredible increase in affluence and wealth , higher property values and a higher quality of visitor.

We can counteract Massachusetts’ built-in bureaucratic road block by having an extreme care and love for our community.


So, leaving the justification for community-wide, citizen-involved maintenance; let’s get to the practical part – how do you take care of that city-owned property that lies in front of your house? (Or business)     I don’t care if it’s concrete.    The quality of concrete that is being used in our city does not last as long as the bricks do; there will eventually be a patchwork of cracks all over the surface.     If you have blacktop, expect its uneven undulations to catch soil and plants in short order or have weeds peeking through the cracks.     If you have brick, it will be either uneven, filled with dirt in its shallow parts and if cheap brick, the New England cold has long shattered the individual blocks.

But the weeds and the dirt is what makes our city look so bad!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Unfortunately, the typical weed killer if used by everyone is going to start affecting our ground water as it makes its way to the Merrimack River; the best result is to use a special mixture that you can make at home that will kill the weeds, not pollute our ground water and will keep the surface from being destroyed by Mother Nature – and thus in the end, reduce the amount of maintenance.


Please be careful not to get too close to our precious street trees.      And make sure any excess does not go near our storm drains that connect to the river!

But even after you have applied this liquid, you are not finished yet.     Instead of green The Hoeweeds all over your sidewalk, you will have brown, shaggy strings of plants that will make the sidewalk look even worse.     You must either hand-pluck the weeds out of the cracks, OR use my favorite tool, the hoe.

This clever device can scrape the plants off the sidewalk and by tilting onto the pointed edge run through those nasty cracks.         It works equally well with dirt, and with those shadey parts filled with Moss.         And when you buy it at Lunt & Kelly’s; do not get the cheap version, get the higher quality that can take the abuse of scratching against a hard surface.

Newburyport is filled with beautifully maintained yards and landscapes.      We need to extend that kind of impression to the sidewalks.       Literally, due to the way our state is setup; the DPS and the City can’t fully do the kind of maintenance that our historic areas demand.*

It is going to be every citizen’s job to make our city the kind of experience that guarantees that we have not just visitors but a whole train accompanying them.

Aesthetics is our Bread and Butter!

 Pluck those weeds!

-P. Preservationist

Posted in Businesses, Downtown, Education, Health and wellness, Heritage Tourism, Landscapes, Planning, Quality of Life, sidewalks, Streetscape, Streetscapes, Tourism, Trees | 1 Comment

Tunnels: Discovery, Science and the A.S.S.

Until recently, the tunnels under Newburyport were ruled by the Anecdote and by the romantic telling of stories around the campfire – the stuff of legend.      It has been my intention that this whole situation needs to move beyond this emotional state and I have a small army of readers who are determined that we do move on from there.

Jones GangOur little batch of determined Indiana Jones’ are willing to do the discovery part and that includes research, on the ground analysis and a lot of hard work (and yes, eventually money).       And it will require us using the scientific process.       In science, you first propose a ‘concept'; then you fashion it into a theory, and then you create an anti-theory.      The statement is then generated, “If this theory is true, we should see…….” and the anti-theory should say, “If this theory is not true, then we should see……”     And then you use the experimental process of control subject and a tested subject; to create data to see if one or another is supported.

Invariably, as the process continues, we are then subjected to A.S.S.      I call them pooh-poohers.     Theses are authority figures, who because they represent some kind of higher mental state, will declare an established fact, simply based on their respected position.       They will say such biased statements as, “This is myth,” “there is no proof” or, “there is no evidence” and simply by the force of their position make a declarative statement of fact.    “These tunnels don’t exist” or reduce them to something familiar but mistaken, “These are sewer pipes.”     The worse is when they accuse all those who declared the existence of tunnels from historical figures to the present, as “liars and romantics”.          I call them Authorities with Silly Statements or A.S.S.       You can imagine what I call them off-blog.

You can see this in history when Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein established themselves as A.S.S. on topics they had no true familiarity with, simply because they were admired and respected; and we see it today from such varied sources  as Bill Gates to Steven Hawkings.

I bring this all out because our real intention is to find the facts no matter how brutal the results.      The process could reveal exciting discoveries, or it could dash a romantic inclination; but the truth will be unbarred for all to see and that should be our goal.     The moment we make excuses or try to defend the indefensible than we are no better than a con artist or suffering from delusion.    Or even worse, find ourselves utterly unable to abandon our preconceived ideas by saying such things as, “I don’t care what someone finds or says, there are tunnels down there because I believe!”

We should never be afraid to find out the truth.      Truth is its own vindication.

But as I outline the scientific process in the next blog on Tunnels; we need to ignore the A.S.S.’s who will try to pooh-pooh the effort.

Leave the A.S.S.’s to fill the journalist’s lines in the paper; we’re out to resolve this, and to gain so much more, as the fictional Professor Jones, Sr said when they found the Holy Grail:


 -P. Preservationist


Posted in Archeology, Education, History, News and politics, Planning | 4 Comments

It’s just the beginning


Grand CeremonyIt was great to see the signage go up around the borders of the Newburyport Historic District and to witness the ceremony of the official unveiling of them last Tuesday (May the 12th).     And the Master of Ceremonies repeated the off repeated comment by the Daily News that these plaques declared the symbolic importance of the National Register of Historic Places’ Newburyport Historic District.

But the Building Department, and the wicked contractors, and the exploiting developers and house flippers know that the signs are a potential death-knell to their evil,

self-serving doings.

Historic Preservationists know that the National Register listing is just the opening gate, the foundation of all future efforts, and indeed, getting the listing back in 1984 which was no small achievement had the future in mind.      Mayor Sullivan’s entire administration was centered around historic preservation but they had bigger fish to fry!

For you see, not to get bogged down in the details,  (Which I have elaborated ad nauseam in previous posts.) but you can’t get a ruling from the Newburyport Historical Commission that something is ‘contributing to the National Register’ without it; you can’t get a demolition delay to apply if the building is not on the listing; landlords and commercial NROHP Signagebuilding owners can’t get that coveted 20% tax credit without it; preservation restrictions can’t be applied unless you have one; along with the potential amortized federal tax benefit, and our recent DOD and DCOD zoning would be powerless unless the National Register had been done first. All those guidelines for historical buildings would be meaningless and the local historic district ordinance (the eventual aim of the listing in 1984) could never have seen the Fruit Street Local Historic District, or any future one down the road ever occurring.


But that’s not what makes the building inspector, the con men, the demo-lawyers, the exploiters and the house-flippers’ blood run cold.

IT’S THE FACT THAT HISTORICAL HOUSES ON THE LISTING ARE EXEMPT FROM THE BUILDING CODE. (780 CMR 3409).      Our Building Department doesn’t want citizens, contractors, developers and even City Hall to know this fact.        Demo-lawyers and greedy politicians don’t want to spread this around.        They want the threat of denial of building occupancy permits to motivate the total destruction as well as demolition of our historical buildings under this threatening cloud.

The politicians get more money from excessive over-build; the haters of sustainable historic buildings get their thirst for ‘new’ satisfied with structures that will have to be gutted in less than a fifth of a century later gorging our landfills and house flippers get to replace the long-lasting materials with inexpensive, wholesale materials for maximum profit.    Of course, I can’t leave out that our priceless history is gone forever.

Seems like everyone is making money except the Citizens of Newburyport.      The extremely high quality of life in our low crime, historic neighborhoods is being sacrificed on the altar of short-term gains.        The desirability of our community will eventually suffer; our historic neighborhoods will be Disneyish, empty shells and the international draw of our historic district will be replaced with shallow tourism gimmicks.

But now the signs are up.

they are an indictment to all those who would despoil this National Treasure.

And they are announcing to the citizens that we have a lot of work to do in the years ahead to save our city.

-P. Preservationist

PS. One quick and efficient way to save the city is to join the Newburyport Preservation Trust.   they have no staff or building to support.      Every dollar goes toward preserving our Treasure.       It’s actually short money that will literally cause long-lasting results!

Posted in Architecture, Art & Culture, Businesses, Craftsmen, Demolitions, Developers, Downtown, Easements, Economics, Education, Environment, finances, Health and wellness, Heritage Tourism, Local Historic Districts (LHD), News and politics, Open Space, Preservation, Preservation History, Quality of Life, Real Estate, Renovation, Streetscape, Streetscapes, Taxes, Tourism, Zoning | 1 Comment

Shining Lights

There has been such an onslaught against the Newburyport Historic District; that it may seem to many of us trying to save our neighborhoods to be tempted to cry out as Elijah did in the Old Testament, ” [we] alone am left; and they seek [our] life, to take it away.”  God answered him by letting him know that thousands still stood for righteousness.         Well, when it comes to Newburyport, there are hundreds of people, perhaps thousands who completely understand what this place is all about.     They understand that historic preservation is vital for the future of our city.    They may not know when to show up at meetings or what to say or how to stop the destruction of our historic neighborhoods; but they understand and given the challenge will stand to protect our city.     They know if the continuing trend is not stopped, their [quality of] life will be coming to an end.

In other words, there are a lot of good people in Newburyport who want to see our city rise up for everyone’s benefit. (not to fill their own bag with money and go live somewhere else)

One of the unexpected hero’s is Nick Cracknell.     Formerly a Planning Director under Mayor Lavender; he was basically sacked by the dark sider, and anti-city planning, Mayor Moak.     But he was here long enough to catch the bug that most get when they encounter Newburyport for the first time; he fell in love with this community.       Though now the Planning Director for Portsmouth (I can tell) he has been assisting as a consultant with good (yes, they exist!) developers who want to leave a good impression in the neighborhoods where they will build or renovate.     The beautiful work done at 386 High Street is a tribute to his influence.   He is also doing a masterpiece that will enhance (yes, it’s true) the property values and benefits to a neighborhood at 8 Oakland Street.       He is also working on doing the same magic at 9 School Street.

Instead of leaving a horror show that we all too often have seen in shapeless hulks stripped of their history and architectural features with little conformity to the surrounding neighbors’ structures (such as on Bromfield, Hitchcock, Pine and Kent Streets); the entire goal of his efforts is to actually leave each neighborhood better than before the work was done.

He seeks out a house with an adjacent empty lot.    Seeks for the original building to obtain a preservation restriction granted by Mass Historic for perpetuity administered by the Newburyport Historical Commission.    He then seeks to build an adjacent structure that conforms in mass and dimension with the surrounding buildings.    He tops it off by putting in the Newburyport distinctive brick sidewalks and adds historical details to the new and old building and adjusting the structures to conform to zoning.

The result is a big change in comparison to house flippers who come, strip the houses of sustainable material, discard the history and the mystery of the ages; and fills the structure with cheap crap that will have to be thrown in the dumpster in 20 to 30 years. (or less) and, with final insult – sells the renovation at an outrageous price.

Mr. Cracknell has shown us the way!      We can attract developers who care about more than quick profit.     They wish to leave a project that will have greater benefit for not just them but for adjoining abutters and yes, even for an entire city block of our historic neighborhoods.

We need more of this type to be encouraged to work in Newburyport rather than slimy, exploiters led in with demo-lawyers.

I look forward to finding more people like Nick who care about what they leave behind as their legacy.       If you read this post, let us know of conscientious architects, craftsmen and developers who come and after they are done, leave a good taste in your mouth!

We need to locate and encourage these craftsmen and developers!

-P. Preservationist

PS. Shock the ZBA on May 26th, by showing up in strong support of the 9 School Street project.    It is being done by a quality developer, Mark DePiero.        Reinforce it by coming down to the Planning Office and peaking at the plans, then write a letter in support.      They may have a heart-attack when they see historic preservationists supporting a project instead of attacking it.  (Like the 77 Lime Street disgrace coming out that same night!)




Posted in Architecture, Art & Culture, Businesses, Craftsmen, Developers, Easements, Economics, Education, Health and wellness, Planning, Preservation, Quality of Life, Renovation, sidewalks, Streetscapes, Zoning | 3 Comments

It is time to reveal the bigger issue behind the sidewalks

In my previous post, I let you know that last Monday will be noted as quite an historic moment – the introduction of enforceable standards for sidewalks.     If all goes well, by the end of Fall, we’ll have it passed by the city council and endorsed by the Mayor.

I’ve been champing at the bit over this because I did not want to inject ‘politics’ over something that in most cities would be simply academic.        Considering the stubbornness of this community to institute ‘common sense’ into the infrastructure; I did not want to tip the discussion, especially when we have a loud minority that love to put their pants on backwards simply out of spite. (To themselves and anyone else who is unfortunate to be in the neighborhood and has to look!*)

But it is time to split the discussion into two different categories.     Just to cry for the sidewalk issue to be ‘fixed’ has been heard since I moved to Newburyport and was probably an issue for many years before I arrived.        But now that we have the finances resolved and the means to get it done, now comes a much deeper and meaningful campaign.        

The fact is that we must decide now and only now and can not procrastinate what kind of city we must become!       

Are we a sleepy, compact, Boston bedroom town that lives off commuters that live here for our quality of life and our good schools and our low crime rate?    

Or are we a cultural tourism,  eco-tourism, heritage tourism; destination community that lives off visitors and quality of life seeking residents?

The Chamber by the way has to decide too.      Right now, they are fine to make us look nice, and to cater to the three to four month influx of tourists; but they do not feel any obligation as a body to heavily promote Newburyport as a destination city; only to ensure our high quality of life.       Like I said, ‘Common Sense’ is tough to find in Newburyport.


If we are the former, than what the Mayor is doing makes perfectly good sense.     She is replacing brick sidewalks and ugly slathered, uneven blacktop with quality cement surfaces.       She has diligently forced this upon the entire length and breadth of the Newburyport Historic District and would love nothing more than to replace concrete even within our sensitive DOD area. (if she could get away with it)        She’s fine with history, but she has a problem with historic preservation.        She and her Boston-bedroom community allies; have no practical use for heritage tourism.       It’s about schools, getting as much state-funding as possible for our infrastructure and setting up a nice, predictable technocratic bureaucracy to ensure conformity and safety within our city.      

If we are the second, then we have some major work ahead of us.       We should, as Portsmouth has done, put brick sidewalks throughout our Newburyport Historic District and concrete through the 12 non-historic neighborhoods and commercial, industrial areas.    We should have a unified way-finding signage system downtown, we should have a unified heritage signage on our houses, and a systematic method to help beleaguered business and residential properties keep and maintain their antique buildings in an area that basically supports the rest of the city.       Strong protections should be in place to make sure we don’t loose the streetscapes that have drawn people from all over the world to our community.      We should develop a huge campaign to make sure the rest of the world comes here (so we can fleece them) and be so happy for the privilege that we did fleece them!       We should design our culture so that people who care about our architecture and history will come to maintain and work within the Newburyport Historic District and those who do not, stay in the other 12 non-historic neighborhoods and who will enjoy and actually live off the NHD.       Efforts to expand our historic waterfront with replica RCS Massachusetts and/or privateer, clipper ship, etc. vessels need to be expanded as well as our museums fully-funded and enlarged.        With a greater knowledge of our history by the rest of the world; people will come to this lovely city to purchase memorabilia and to participate in our heritage as we celebrate Newburyport being part of the Story of America.

Mayor ‘bulldozer’ Holaday has already chosen the way the city will go – do we do it the way her allies want?      Or do we choose the latter choice?

I like what Mr. Shribman quoted this morning from Marcus Aurelius and it so applies to Newburyport.    

“Consider the past.    

Thou mayest forsee also the things which will be.”

Look where the Mayor has been taking us in the last six years.       And then look into the future.      Do you like what you see?      The City Council and the citizens have to make the decision – some like her way, and some don’t.         

 I have seen the future and I don’t like it – Our city deserves a better brighter future than just a bus and train stop from Boston.  

-P. Preservationist

* Some critics of mine have often tried to throw me in with the ‘crazies'; but I try my best not to deceive, lie, misinform and come to the wackiest conclusions based on biases, emotions and populist movements.       That is why I blog first, and Facebook later; documentation and research take time but it’s necessary to, as David M. Shribman commented today in the Daily News; “the country was founded on the idea that the people should rule and on the implicit corollary that the people should know what they are talking about–particularly when it comes to political affairs and their historical backgrounds.”      Which is why I am largely the lone, political blogger in Newburyport today; it is too damn hard for most people in town especially when there are so many demands on their time.

Posted in Downtown, Education, Health and wellness, Heritage Tourism, History, Open Space, Planning, Preservation, Preservation History, Quality of Life, Real Estate, Restoration, sidewalks, Streetscape, Streetscapes, Taxes, Tourism, Trees | Leave a comment

You probably missed it!

Yes, in this day in age; so much data is processed, so much news is absorbed that if we’re not careful, we can completely miss significant events.       Like cattle on a hillside, chewing our cud; we look on blankly as the world swirls by!

Well, it happened on Monday.       Was it the tiff between the City Councilors and the Mayor over the school budget?        Was it the acquisition of conservation lands to protect businesses and homes downstream from flooding?      Was it Councilor Eigerman’s introduction of an ordinance to close a nasty zoning loophole?

Nay, Nay, Nay!

Sometimes significant events in history are lost by the very spectators present!

And yet, the impact will be felt for years to come – it will literally transform our city in such a way that our beautiful community, will become even more beautiful.      Our residents and our visitors will be able to enjoy relative safety when before they were constantly in danger. (Have you guessed yet?)

Those who are less fortunate when it comes to the freedom of mobility will be able to join the rest of us in enjoying our historic city?  (I’m giving it away here…)

Wayne S. Amaral, our Director of Operations for the Department of Public Services, has been working for months on sidewalk standards.      This man who worked in Cambridge, knows quality infrastructure and has delivered to the Mayor a set of standards for the city of Newburyport.

“Oh, that!” you say.

This city has never had official standards for sidewalks.       Without official standards, there can be no enforcement!      And for close to a hundred years, it’s been whatever the money could provide, what materials were available, what opportunities provided, whatever the abutting landowner fancied to lay, slather or place.      There are streets with no sidewalks as if isolated castles within Suburbia; sidewalks laid during the heyday of John Bromfield’s will, with street trees and brick; cement from the Great Depression Era laid by Mayor Morrill, blacktop when the money was scarce, cement when it was available, and when abutters fancied, cobblestones, or fancy designs or varied materials available from the local hardware stores.        Veritable gardens would spring up curbside narrowing the passage way for pedestrians.

This hodgepodge violated the very idea of conformity.     It was unpredictable, caused pedestrians to never know what surface was under their feet – and when the Dutch Elm Disease came and the deep-rooted trees were replaced by shallow rooted ones; all safety went right out the window.        The roots upheaved blacktop, cement and brick until many surfaces looked as if an earthquake had torn up the earth beneath!

This originated the Newburyport Walk.      This so-called Walkable City can only be walked when you are out in the center of the street – baby-carriages, school children, small toddlers and the elderly – all mixing it up with automobiles and trucks weighing a half-ton or more.

When enforceable standards are put in place, the City of Newburyport will, over the course of a decade literally become a true walkable city enjoyed by all – including the handicapped.

 But the introduction of these standards to the Mayor is just the beginning.     It is that historic moment.       The Mayor’s office will review the standards, then there will be public hearings to obtain the input from the citizens and then the city council will also review it and there will  be more public hearings.     Once it is passed, then we will get to see the Building Department and the DPS enforce this standard around the city.

Every citizen needs to be well-informed, conscientious (in other words, look for the benefit of the community, not your own) and participatory.

This is history in the making.

And we can all be part of it.

-P. Preservationist

PS. By the way, people have been screaming over the sidewalks for years – what they didn’t realize that it wasn’t the condition or the materials but the lack of standards that has given us such a terrible situation in Newburyport.

Posted in Health and wellness, History, Landscapes, Planning, Quality of Life, sidewalks, Streetscape, Streetscapes | Leave a comment

31 Years Overdue

Marge Motes mentioned to me that I shouldn’t feel so bad; the finishing of the Central Waterfront is still not complete and it’s beyond forty years of countless efforts.    And of course, we’re still all waiting for our downtown hotel and parking garage!        We must give Mayor Holaday major credit – one of those forever projects was the mythical senior center and every administration promised that they would get it done.        Now, poof, (how many years has it been?) we have a senior center!

I guess if you want something good to happen in Newburyport, you must persevere for a very long time.

In that perspective, I guess my efforts were just an upstart – it only took six years.

Tomorrow is the official unveiling of signage that proudly indicates that you are entering the second largest National Register historic district in the country.      When the Newburyport Historic District was officially listed on the Register, August 2nd, 1984, a letter was sent out by Mass Historic recommending that signage be posted so businesses and homeowners could take advantage of the benefits of such a listing.

Unfortunately, it did not materialize and great numbers of citizens today don’t even realize they are in the district; while others think the district covers the entire city!      Signs are everywhere in our town with 107 alone from Route 95 to three-roads; but nary a one announcing you are entering the Newburyport Historic District or the state-recognized Market Street Historic District.

And ignorance has not been our friend.      Whether its architects, businesses, developers, contractors, homeowners or City Hall; no decisions for decades ever factored in the National Register.      No conduct was ever affected, no action was ever dictated; yes, even for years, the Historical Commission didn’t even realize the boundaries or the guidelines.

Worse was the misinformation.     First, I was told there was no such thing as the Newburyport Historic District; even the listing in the Planning Office when they finally found it had a third of its pages missing!    Then they went missing in the archives (and just as mysteriously, returned)    Then I was told that only a few select homes were part of the listing; and then told that non-historic buildings were excluded (they are included, for all activity in a district affects the district as an entirety)  Then I was told, that only buildings before 1984 were included. (There is a sliding scale and as the years progress, more buildings are added as contributing)   And of course, the Daily News, when they actually recognized there was such a thing, labeled such as only ‘symbolic’ and having no real value. (Ignoring the multiple benefits of having the listing.)

Perhaps now that we have the signage up, and the citizens begin to understand there is such a thing as the Newburyport Historic District; they will understand that its preservation is vital for us to keep a high level of quality of life.       They will begin to make that extra effort to preserve their property as being important for the National Story of America.

Perhaps, but it’s going to require a lot of assistance and education.

The Newburyport Preservation Trust will stand ready as it has since 2005 to assist in anyway to help preserve these antique structures and provide as much information as the citizens may need.

-P. Preservationist



Posted in Architecture, Heritage Tourism, History, Planning, Preservation, Streetscapes | Leave a comment