It was like a sledgehammer had been slammed across the collective chests of all those present.
You could see in the shocked expressions and the eyes – the unthinkable had been done.
And yet, there it was.
The question came from a local citizen – so what’s the big deal over using historic preservation in our urban renewal? Can you show me another town that didn’t do this? I bet other towns didn’t and did fine!
We shouldn’t be too harsh on the one asking the question. Rather, it’s an indictment against historic preservationists, the Newburyport Historical Commission and the Newburyport Preservation Trust.
Due to our allure and current affluence in the face of so many other beleaguered communities, we’ve had a steady stream of new arrivals here in town. They don’t know about historic preservation – they just know this is the place to be. They don’t know anything about our history – they just know that our ancient past fills the air with a richness rare in so many other towns and cities.
In their ignorance (and the Chamber certainly won’t tell them different); they figure it’s the little shops and the restaurants. They may even think it’s the boardwalk and the marinas.
They simply don’t know. And we have a growing number of citizens who actually believe we have always been an affluent, beautiful city.
That’s why I am so glad that Bill Plante, Joe Callahan and especially John Lagoulis have stepped forth to tell the story about our great poverty, and the good times and the bad times. Newburyport is a very different place than just 40 years ago.
But we need more than the Commission and the Trust and the bloggers to spread the word – we need an aggressive outreach that reaches the average homeowner at his front door.
We need to tell the story that Newburyport is Newburyport because a group of dedicated local citizens rose up and demanded historic restoration of our Downtown. Their vision and political daring translated into not just saving our city – it helped hundreds of other communities across America who modeled themselves after Newburyport. Haverhill is one city that learned its lesson after bulldozing most of its eastern downtown – years later, after that urban development turned out to be an utter failure, they installed a local historic district on the west side which has thrived.
We’ve got a lot of informing to do.
Let’s not lose our city over ignorance!