Massachusetts is a big state when it comes to politics perhaps but when it comes to geography and location, we are tiny. You would think that the Commonwealth and its citizens would understand that unless we make our state inviting, we are going to lose economically and politically. Right now, we are having thousands monthly leave the borders of our state for greener pastures. It is predicted that after the tally of the U.S. Census, we will be losing a congressional seat and some have even speculated, two congressional seats. One of our largest industries is tourism. We have people from all over the country and world who come to visit Massachusetts to soak in its history and its environment. Yet, we act like West Virginia when it comes to our visitor centers. I still remember stopping on the interstate in that hillbilly state and using their lovely outhouses at their rest stops. All of a sudden I was staring face to face with a cow who had sauntered up to the side where someone had bashed it in. Massachusetts can do better than that! If tourism dries up, the economic backlash is going to dry up business. Hardworking small shops will pack it up and seek greener places where visitors abound. Newburyport is already reeling from a tax structure imposed by the state to encourage visitors to New Hampshire.
And now, we have this same insanity locally with the anti-garage people. The Garage issue is simply symptomatic of a growing mood of chasing away outsiders and strangers. “This is our town” they cry; “We want this city for ourselves” they proclaim. They smirk at the downtown businesses and say those places don’t represent the true Newburyport. They actually cry out against the intermodal garage that somehow they can stop buses from coming to ‘their’ Newburyport.
If this kind of attitude continues, we are going to see our downtown die. Hardworking business owners are going to close shop when they see an ever shrinking body-count. These xenophobic citizens think its healthy when they see empty parking spaces. They actually believe the bad economy is the norm! They don’t want the City to work toward filling up those spaces. Why have the traffic of so many cars – we like our pretty (but empty) city?
If our elected leaders cower before this tragic thinking, we can slowly but surely see our city returning to the days before urban renewal. With little shops closing, big, secure franchises will move in and when the people don’t come either, those stores will close too (and stay closed). I assure you, New England Development won’t stick around. Their business model is not Port Plaza; they are counting on the uniqueness of our center. But if this mood catches on, they will leave too.
I can only pray that this anti-business, anti-visitor insanity* passes.
* I must commend this group for being highly organized politically. I an envious of their effectiveness and hope that historic preservationists can be as effective in the coming year.