I know there are some who would love to go back to the recent ‘old ways’ when the typical Newburyport citizen’s apathy was so strong that you could cut it with a knife. Those were the good times for politicians when significant programs could be instituted in the City and no one would know about it…or even care! And unfortunately, on many different issues facing Newburyport, it still is the case.
But the LHD debate has changed that..AND I MIGHT SAY FOR THE BETTER!
Before the wild and I might add, strange misconceptions were bandied about, the historic preservationists were asleep in town or were doing ‘there own thing’. Now, challenged by misinformation, they have had to do the hard work of defending WHY historic preservation is so important. And they have found out they have a strong voice in town, one that was not even being exercised.
It was just a few years ago that the Newburyport Historic District was the stuff of archives and museums, hidden on some shelf somewhere gathering dust*. No planning office, no planning board and certainly no zoning board of appeals even considered what it meant or what its boundaries were. If someone brought it up, everyone would look at each other awkwardly as if to say, “What has that got to do with our community or this development?”
Now, thanks to all the smoke and fire, we know the importance of the National Register District. Thanks to U.N allusions, we know that the LHD was started by a local city in the South, as a means to preserve the community and it has so been successfully done to lift that city economically that over 1700 LHD’s are in the country and more are being added all the time. Thanks to fear of a crazy commissioner, we have learned the basic rules of historic preservation as set by the Department of the Interior. Wild property rights claims have been countered by the fact that the Supreme Court has ruled twice that aesthetic controls to benefit the community do not infringe on property rights. Claims that we have always been affluent has allowed us to expose the truth that Newburyport was known as a rundown, dilapidated mill town that beachgoers and bird watchers would hurry past on their way to Plum Island; that diligent citizens pushed hard against the ‘commonly-accepted’ practice of demolishing old buildings and saved what was left. We also know that one of many courageous acts allowed an LHD-style preservation of the exterior of the downtown causing a ripple effect that lifted Newburyport economically. And we also found, those restrictions are no longer in place making us sitting ducks for demolition, exploitation and loss of our regional leadership and economic standing.
It is my sincerest desire that historic preservation will stay front and center in Newburyport.
May the genie not be put back in the bottle!
As the Newburyport Preservation Trust advances toward educating and promoting historic preservation principles in our city planning; we can look forward to a very bright future.
There is still a lot of work to do to inform every citizen of the importance of those principles – we can not shirk away from the task at hand!
* Just an expression of speech. Jessica Gils keeps the Library archives spotless!