Yes, in this day in age; so much data is processed, so much news is absorbed that if we’re not careful, we can completely miss significant events. Like cattle on a hillside, chewing our cud; we look on blankly as the world swirls by!
Well, it happened on Monday. Was it the tiff between the City Councilors and the Mayor over the school budget? Was it the acquisition of conservation lands to protect businesses and homes downstream from flooding? Was it Councilor Eigerman’s introduction of an ordinance to close a nasty zoning loophole?
Nay, Nay, Nay!
Sometimes significant events in history are lost by the very spectators present!
And yet, the impact will be felt for years to come – it will literally transform our city in such a way that our beautiful community, will become even more beautiful. Our residents and our visitors will be able to enjoy relative safety when before they were constantly in danger. (Have you guessed yet?)
Those who are less fortunate when it comes to the freedom of mobility will be able to join the rest of us in enjoying our historic city? (I’m giving it away here…)
Wayne S. Amaral, our Director of Operations for the Department of Public Services, has been working for months on sidewalk standards. This man who worked in Cambridge, knows quality infrastructure and has delivered to the Mayor a set of standards for the city of Newburyport.
“Oh, that!” you say.
This city has never had official standards for sidewalks. Without official standards, there can be no enforcement! And for close to a hundred years, it’s been whatever the money could provide, what materials were available, what opportunities provided, whatever the abutting landowner fancied to lay, slather or place. There are streets with no sidewalks as if isolated castles within Suburbia; sidewalks laid during the heyday of John Bromfield’s will, with street trees and brick; cement from the Great Depression Era laid by Mayor Morrill, blacktop when the money was scarce, cement when it was available, and when abutters fancied, cobblestones, or fancy designs or varied materials available from the local hardware stores. Veritable gardens would spring up curbside narrowing the passage way for pedestrians.
This hodgepodge violated the very idea of conformity. It was unpredictable, caused pedestrians to never know what surface was under their feet – and when the Dutch Elm Disease came and the deep-rooted trees were replaced by shallow rooted ones; all safety went right out the window. The roots upheaved blacktop, cement and brick until many surfaces looked as if an earthquake had torn up the earth beneath!
This originated the Newburyport Walk. This so-called Walkable City can only be walked when you are out in the center of the street – baby-carriages, school children, small toddlers and the elderly – all mixing it up with automobiles and trucks weighing a half-ton or more.
When enforceable standards are put in place, the City of Newburyport will, over the course of a decade literally become a true walkable city enjoyed by all – including the handicapped.
But the introduction of these standards to the Mayor is just the beginning. It is that historic moment. The Mayor’s office will review the standards, then there will be public hearings to obtain the input from the citizens and then the city council will also review it and there will be more public hearings. Once it is passed, then we will get to see the Building Department and the DPS enforce this standard around the city.
Every citizen needs to be well-informed, conscientious (in other words, look for the benefit of the community, not your own) and participatory.
This is history in the making.
And we can all be part of it.
PS. By the way, people have been screaming over the sidewalks for years – what they didn’t realize that it wasn’t the condition or the materials but the lack of standards that has given us such a terrible situation in Newburyport.