Things are getting hot and heavy out there and it’s not just the weather. Candidates are knocking on doors, spreading the news that they are running. Amongst them are individuals who are hostile to the future of our historic city. They would love to either turn us into a sleepy high-priced Boston bedroom town or transform us into a yuppie Newport, Rhode Island where only the wealthy can afford to live. Banks and developers are drooling at our boomtown status and want to pour as much money into the coffers of those who are willing to demolish the Newburyport that we have all grown to know and love. Historic preservationists instead of being appreciated for creating the affluence we now enjoy, are shunned by those duped by misinformation and hated by those who would exploit the city for their own profit.
Now is not the time to run and hide. All through history, when things got tough, the tough got going. It still holds true today. You need to stop moaning and whining and get working. There is a Chinese saying, “The temptation to quit will be greatest just before you are about to succeed.”
This is not the time to quit.
In this era of the low-information voter and multi-media filled with misinformation, the historic preservationist needs to be fully informed as to what are the facts, the principles to stand upon and how to respond to those questions fielded by the public. That also includes knowing how to answer those queries prompted by misinformation and prejudice. And that also means learning what actually is historic preservation and what is not. Know the benefits and above all else, why it is the right thing to do. Study the tools such as demolition delay ordinances, local historic district ordinances, preservation easements, preservation guidelines, zoning, etc. Learn the ten principles of historic preservation and learn the terms with the proper definitions. Understanding the ins and outs of the National Register of Historic Places and what it can and can not do will help so much. And above all else, learn the architectural styles that are present in Newburyport! That will go a long way to making you an informed preservationist. So much of this is available at the Historical Commission website, the Newburyport Preservation Trust website, the Newburyport Historic District website and of course, at www.ppreservationist.com.
There is absolutely no excuse for not being fully-informed!
This last April, a local atrocity occurred and there were only a handful of people to witness it: the members of the Historical Commission and Lisa Mead, the lawyer representing her client. Previously, local preservationists had shown up in force to convince the commission to impose a demolition delay on 12 Oak Street, the Thomas J. Flaherty House. Now, the owners of the house wanted the demo delay cancelled so they could continue to demolish the structure. Even though the present house was consistent with the streetscape and a replacement house would be larger and disrupt the consistency of the street; even though the house had a huge historic significance and there was plenty of room in the back for an addition; the Historical Commission voted to cancel the delay. Why? Because there was nothing but a lawyer facing them. They violated their commission as assigned by Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 40, Section 8D [an historical commission, hereinafter called the commission, for the preservation, protection and development of the historical or archeological assets of such city or town] because there was no one present to defend Newburyport’s historic homes. Pressured cruelly by City Hall politicians; the Commission has kowtowed and we have seen an acceleration in the last year of historic sites being demo’d or applicants seeking more demolitions with banks and developers applauding the destruction.
Later on, a group of preservationists attended to stand up against the influential Jonathan Woodman and his desire to destroy an historic house and the Commission stood up against him because people were present to voice their opposition!
The only way we can stop this onslaught and slow the loss of our high quality of life will be to continue to show up in mass, and I might add, consistently show up in mass – fully informed to counteract the political pressure. Not one person can do it. It will take many voices. And it may require attending City Council, Planning Board and ZBA meetings. That means sacrificing our lives and our time to prepare, research, and speak up against the desolation of our historic neighborhoods. And it often means that the only reward will be to see Newburyport have a bright future with no acclamation, no historical note and no personal reward. That is what it means to sacrifice.
No change will occur until we resolve to show up and make our voices heard!