“We need good sidewalks!” we hear from the candidates’ websites.
But in Newburyport, it is about as empty a slogan as, “We need to help the poor!”
In this case, just as in the latter slogan, well-meaning efforts can turn into a nightmare. Are we talking working poor, addicts, homeless, really poor, or migrants? What measures need to be done to get them out of being poor or do we do programs so they are “comfortable” in their continuous poor state? It was the well-meaning “Great Society” that gave us crime-ridden housing projects in the sixties that has taken years for those same “poor” to extradite themselves from that urban-planning mess and many are still stuck in that state even after 4 Trillion dollars of taxpayer’s dollars! Wasted taxpayer money…and we still have poor.
So in Newburyport, what does it really mean to have “good” sidewalks?
It is very clear the city has no idea from the extra-generous parking fee money – we have seen blacktop, brick, cobblestone, concrete, contemporary materials – sometimes the curbs recede with different ramping and worst of all, driveways more often than not, intersect and destroy the flow of the sidewalks. The city won’t allow just anyone to work on the public’s walkways – they must get a permit but no standards are provided! No obligations. Just slap your money down, contractor and have at it! More often than not, a contractor, developer or private homeowner just does whatever the hell they see fit.
It is this maddening inconsistency and lack of standards that has resulted in the Newburyport Walk.
Locals know that the best and safest way to get anywhere is to walk in the road. Better than suffering the fate of our visitors who end up stumbling and sometimes getting severely hurt from the uneven surfaces.
It is this amateurish, uneven application that will continue to doom our city to the hick category of towns. This is NOT an issue in other communities but somehow municipal standards, and I must add, common sense have largely bypassed our city.
If you are going to promote good sidewalks, our city needs to have a cohesive, standard by which safe, predictable sidewalks become a reality.
Worse, this hillbilly (Hill-Williams?) approach is opening the city to an eventual human rights issue: The American Disabilities Act (ADA). Many communities have been taken to court because of bad sidewalks and have been forced (very expensively) to comply with consistent standards.
Newburyport is a ticking time bomb that could cause pain for the taxpayers of Newburyport!
What is most incredible, is this whole thing could begin to be resolved with some well-applied standards so that the sidewalk issue could be resolved in as little as ten years. The city does not have to be only doing the sidewalks when so many construction sites simply need some guidance!
Here are some obvious issues that need resolving:
John Bromfield created a beautiful situation that transformed a normally barren brick city into the garden-like community we have today. He willed a huge endowment that built sidewalks with street trees for shade. This worked beautifully in the 19th century until the Dutch Elm disease and the downward economic spiral of the twentieth century caused inappropriate trees to be planted on the sidewalks. Any standard must take this into consideration.
Newburyport decided in the late seventies to become an historic seaport and to establish a heritage tourism industry. Great numbers of visitors walk our downtown on historic brick sidewalks and often follow those pathways to other businesses. Thus, our economic vitality is dependent on these pathways. As the brick pathways extend, visitors have followed them down side streets and as far as the Tannery spreading economic vitality to a wider area. These surfaces require more maintenance – and they should be spread further afield to encourage more economic benefit to a wider area.
The city has no maintenance schedule for sustaining any of our sidewalks and their neglect has spanned in some areas for more than a century. After the sidewalks are installed, what programs do we need to get them up to ADA standards?
It is our Newburyport Historic District that has caused us to be an economic real estate boomtown. It’s condition elevates the entire community by enhancing its well-being. Many property owners understand this and are installing brick sidewalks to accentuate the historic area but many do not. We need a consistency on our sidewalks which is simply lacking.
The sidewalks outside of the historic areas have been an ADA nightmare and are mostly blacktop – not a good surface for New England as the ravages of frost heaves have made them uneven. Concrete is a much more stable surface for New England. It aught to be the choice for our city but is not as cheap corners are cut and in direct violation of ADA standards.
I would like to see candidates and incumbents give us some solid solutions to the sidewalk issues instead of empty talk. Like substantive ordinance proposals that will actually require maintenance, planning and standards.
Or are we going to have another year where the city slaps down here and there like they have been doing for the last few years!
PS. Yes, I am thankful we have money for sidewalks but it’s just wasting taxpayer money if it isn’t done right!