It is so easy to live in Newburyport and just assume the community is the way it is because it has always been that way or as the anti-historic preservation group has so aptly stated, “We’ve been around for 300 years and have kept our historic buildings just fine.”
The fact is and many writers have noted from Andre Dubus III, to Scott Brown to John Macone (Port in Progress); Newburyport was not the affluent city just four decades ago. In fact, it was a community that visitors ‘hurried by’ as they went to Plum Island. We had the typical problems back then – crime, decaying buildings, lousy infrastructure and economic doldrums. In fact, if you talk to old timers in the Greater Boston Area, they will still regale stories about how bad Newburyport was and how much our city has changed! For example, courtesy of the Newburyport Library Archives, is the Central Waterfront – good for a stroll if you’ve had your tetanus shot!
It all began to change in 1971, when the city officially used historic preservation & historic preservation restrictions in its urban renewal plan. Since then, the ripple effect from the NRA/HUD LHD-like restrictions started working its way up State. Then the effect began to spread to Pleasant Street (Which in the early 80’s was not part of the Downtown Renewal). Then the neighborhoods close to State and Market Square started to improve as new owners arrived and restored them. It wasn’t long before the North End became a favorite of stable families. Then it started to affect the rough neighborhoods in the South End. And the improvements began to spread up High Street affecting the side neighborhoods.
Today, The South End is no longer the ‘bad’ section of town and is now considered the most desirable area to live in with the best real estate values! This affluence has spread to the twelve outlying non-historic district neighborhoods – all with, of course, “Newburyport” addresses.
Now, for those who think I’m making it up that ALL of Newburyport has been up scaled due to our historic district; just this week, Janet Hilton, a realtor who has a regular column in The Town Common and who largely serves the surrounding communities outside of Newburyport, has the following to say:
“Over the past six years homes prices have dropped 30% as distressed and bank owned properties flooded the market simultaneously. Our North Shore and surrounding markets have seen one out of five properties sold as short sales, foreclosures, or losses to sellers in one form or another.”
So what about Newburyport? We will always have a small handful due to unfortunate circumstances in our city; but overall, our homeowners are sitting pretty. In fact, it is our rock-solid stability that now endangers our future as desperate developers and homeowners flood into our town.
Don’t take our ‘present situation’ for granted – if we do not enact protections such as the local historic district ordinance; it won’t be long before we see that ripple effect die in its tracks.
I for one, don’t want to find ourselves in the same boat as our surrounding communities!