Ever since our city began to turn around from its deplorable state and to recover, the fear of gentrification has been with us.
Picture a city like Lawrence or Lynn slowly being converted into an affluent, pretty well-monied community. Many who live there would rejoice at the return of financial investments and the pleasant raising of the quality of life; but many more would all of a sudden find themselves living in a place where they couldn’t afford to live. This has happened over the years in Newburyport – with a great diaspora of former citizens now living in Amesbury, Newbury and Salisbury. Some have fled as far as Georgetown, Groveland and Topsfield! And of course, a great number now live in New Hampshire.
The City of Newburyport along with Beacon Hill have worked with churches, non-profits and semi-government institutions in an attempt to counteract this slow, insidious process.
With much effort, Newburyport will survive this kind of gentrification.
But now, a new type has come to be seen all over our country and it has communities reeling from its devastation. Even powerful and important cities such as Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City and San Francisco – are having a tough time fighting this new wave. Universities and major newspapers are recording this new phenomena and it has civic leaders worried.
Instead of gentrification caused by an influx of wealthier new arrivals which push out the poorer natives, towns and cities are being invaded by all levels of economic class who simply do not care about two things: culture and history. And I mean, they do not care about anything but the next, newest thing. These are the Children of the Now.
And it is simply disastrous for an ancient community like Newburyport. When Newburyport first began to recover, it was filled with newcomers who worked hard to slowly restore the buildings in the city. (Slowly because many banks would not hand out loans for many neighborhoods one of them being the now highly-desired South End.) Though they were often snubbed by the original inhabitants; at least they tried to understand the culture and work to fit in.
Now it is different. The first instinct when today’s new arrivals show up is to demolish the old house or at least gut it completely. When the ancient culture of our city is paraded before them; they smirk and laugh it off as being totally irrelevant.
It has been worrisome nationwide because the New Gentrification has begun to rip the heart out of long-standing communities like Brooklyn or South Boston. Everyone is a stranger and deep roots are no longer present – this destabilizes society’s fabric and contributes toward increasing crime, depression and self-centeredness.
We are beginning to see this more and more in Newburyport which is why cultural and historical protection is now more important than ever. It has also reinforced the importance of our museums and the archival center – as these are becoming increasingly the last bastions of culture and history. More of our historic downtown and residential homes are Disneyfied – once you cross the threshold at the front door, you’re back soundly in the 21st century. Long-lasting materials are being replaced with aluminum and plastic stuff with planned obsolescence of as little as seven years.
If city hall and city council can get serious about protecting us from this new gentrification; our city will be saved. Elsewhere, aggressive zoning is being put in place in many communities from small towns to as large as New York City to combat this new threat.
Newburyport must protect our communities’ culture and historic architecture or we will be defenseless. Cultural and historic protections must be put into place to preserve the high quality of life we enjoy today.
“Not to know is bad, not to wish to know is worse.”