I have been traveling around the Commonwealth this week. That in itself is no big thing but now when I come to various cities and towns in the state I am seeing with open eyes.
And they don’t like what they see.
I have always known that outside the center of Boston, the city itself is just plain ugly. But thanks to rubbing shoulders with great architects in Newburyport in the likes of Greg Colling and Linda Miller; I can now define the ugliness. And it’s not just Boston. Haverhill, Lawrence, Lowell, Peabody, Saugus, Reading and the list goes on of communities with ugly neighborhoods. Even the venerable Salem has acres of ugliness.
I am talking about square ‘buildings’ strictly box-shaped and utiliarian, apartment complexes whose very design strips away the human spirit. I was on the Green Line in the Back Bay and saw block after block, square after square of no distinctive architecture. How can you hope to improve your home in such an environment? Make major improvements and clean up your building and add value and what do you become? A beacon in the midst of shacks. I can see burglars and vandals lining up taking numbers. The smart owner is forced to make the structure ‘blend in’ to the demoralizing landscape and not make waves!
After all that I saw, I realized that people who claim Newburyport is nothing special have got to be blind! It was a breath of fresh air to climb into my car at the train station, scoot down Parker Street to Newbury Center, go up the rise into Newburyport. I looked and the first home that met my eyes was….beautiful in architcture. But the home right next to it was also beautiful and the next and the next. After many blocks, I pulled off High Street and I was met with a whole row of beautiful homes. It doesn’t matter, North End, South End; large homes, little homes, moderately-sized homes – a whole neighborhood of lovely homes!
I have spoken before about some long-time residents who take our city for granted. They have this puzzled look when tourists come and let out gasps! "What are they looking at", they say?
It is my hope, which I can not accept is futile, that these residents will fully understand in time the thing we have here and that it must be protected.
As Chuck Griffin, an architect himself, said recently this week before the Local Historic District Study Committee, "We have seen what a special place we have here."
Have we all seen?