As 2013 looms ahead, we need to look back and see how things have been developing up to this point. In the not-to-distant past, historic preservation wasn’t even being factored in on a serious level in our city. Even the origins and development of our dynamic heritage tourism Downtown was either forgotten or lost to memory. Our building inspector and our volunteer boards didn’t consider it and that included the Historical Commission who often had members who failed to grasp it clearly. The city was stuck in auto-pilot – the downtown that started the ripple effect was somewhat protected and by and large, most contractors and craftsmen just did their own thing in the rest of the historic district.
Speaking of the historic district, most people had no idea what constituted the geographic area. Some claimed it stretched from the Chain Bridge to the airport while others thought it only included the commercial area controlled by the NRA. Nor did anyone understand the designations of National Register, preservation restrictions or even what constituted an historic/historical house.
Then came the local historic district controversy. Lines have been drawn rather deeply in the sand and the autopilot has not only been turned off – it’s been scrapped!
The last year has allowed us to know the two-visions of our citizens when it comes to our city’s future. We have one determined group that wants to scrap the economic formula that has transformed our city from a rundown, dirty mill town into the spectacular affluent community we have become. They want to replace it with the typical formula of teardown and replacement that is seen in towns and cities all over America. This even includes the practice of Fauxstolgia – creating new buildings that appear or look old and historic.
We have another determined group that recognizes the success that historic preservation has created in Newburyport and want to ensure that nothing will stop this continued path by putting in protections and to ensure that all or some of the historic district will survive the typical cultural thirst for the next new thing or things. By this action, the wealth that has spread to the other twelve non-historic neighborhoods will continue to fund our parks, schools and services.
-John F. Kennedy
Our city councilors have seen the great divide and have made the decision as to which side in varying degrees they will choose. We have also seen city employees, volunteer board members, the Mayor and varying individuals and groups choose what future they want to see.
Some who secretly want to choose the former side’s future, will try to keep silent and be under the radar but fortunately the LHD topic has flushed them out and will continue to flush them out.
The LHD though only a small part of historic preservation has become a flashlight by which we can see the philosophical bend of the many players. Even though the challenges and issues in our community are widely varied; the flashlight has revealed the foundational motives of the groups and individuals.
We need to put into place those who will embrace and institutionalize heritage tourism as the cultural and economic engine of our city and thus continue to sustain our high quality of life.
It won’t guarantee we will have the very best candidates, employees and volunteers; but it will certainly give us some safe guarantee as to Newburyport’s future.