I’d like to get to the business of actually historically preserving Newburyport – digging out its historic significance and working to protect the beautiful architecture and streetscapes that we all know and love; but alas, another nasty threat has risen from the horizon and for once, it’s not coming from the corner office, from a bunch of dark siders or from even our local anarchists! This one’s coming from Beacon Hill.
To understand the threat, you will need to get in your car (or if you don’t have a car, grab a bus) and drive over to downtown Amesbury. This community back in the late 80’s looked like something out of the Great Depression and taking a cue from Newburyport went for federal and state aid, and then as a nod to Newburyport’s success, sought to put in brick sidewalks in their commercial retail center.
Though they will never be a tourist destination like Newburyport; they at least felt an attractive, historic downtown would encourage retail business and just make it an enjoyable place to visit. And the result has been tremendous.
But MassDOT beer 0’crats have decided to strong arm communities with an overzealous application of ADA demanding that ONLY concrete can be used for pedestrian crosswalks. This did not come from the Feds, Preservation Brief 32 concerning historic areas allows for brick as an acceptable surface as long as it is a flat surface. No one visiting Danvers or Peabody is going to even notice such an edict; nor would it make any difference in most towns and cities. But in those places that celebrate their history and encourage heritage tourism; it is simply devastating.
After all that work of making Amesbury attractive, their brick sidewalks have been dissected and in some cases, it looks absolutely ridiculous. Not only in Amesbury but in other tourist destinations; it has been nothing but disastrous. And disastrous for the state for the Commonwealth has three leading industries – bio-tech, education and tourism. Heritage tourism encourages a higher level of visitors and brings in much more money than a bunch of ice cream-eating families.
Fortunately, our elected representatives, the Mayor, and the City Council are well aware of this horrible dilemma and will be seeking solutions to make sure our city doesn’t suffer a terrible atrocity to our historic downtown. And our elected representatives at the State House are also aware especially Senator Ives, who leads the Tourism Committee.
But they all need time to seek a solution. We will need letters to the Governor, MassDOT and to the State House. I know I am going to pull out all the stops on my end and the members of the Preservation Trust will do the same.
Here below is what we could see in our downtown if we fail.
MassDOT tried a few years ago to destroy our beautiful High Street with a roadway more akin to Route 114 in Danvers. We were able to repel them that time with a vigorous public outcry.
WE WILL NEED TO DO IT AGAIN!