In the latest survey compiled for the Charter Commission, it was surprising to find that some participants wanted Newburyport to adopt a town charter.
At first, it seems to be a surprise but then when I thought about it, I realized that many citizens act like they live in a town. In a town, a home is truly a castle. Most homes located in the country have their own well, and their own septic systems. Often the fire departments are voluntary and the police few. Country people often send their children to a regional school so the tax burden is spread out. As for streetlights and sidewalks, well; when night falls, it’s DARK so not many pedestrians would be out trying to navigate anyhow. It’s quiet and abutters? Either too far away from the house to be worried about it. Of course, there is always someone working hard to make an exception but the reader can catch the general idea of town living.
It was idealized by Thomas Jefferson who loved the country life and abhorred urban existence. He loved the total independence of the land owner, who surveyed his piece of paradise and did what he wanted.
Now in the City, the situation is different entirely. Setup your castle complete with parapets and you’ll have abutters squawking one to two streets away. We share our water, our sewer, our electricity, our gas, our schools. And then come the added burdens of urban living: streetlights, sidewalks, traffic lights, paid fireman and a complete police staff. The higher concentration of people means more wear on the highways and more demand for fresh, flat pavement and I won’t even mention the traffic and safety issues. Every owner needs to be mindful of abutters on the right and on the left. And the schools? The entire city is responsible for the multiple school buildings and the education that goes on there.
No wonder a few of us pine away for a simpler existence.
Unfortunately (and fortunately), Newburyport is very schizophrenic. In so many ways, we are not like a city. So where is our ‘bad’ neighborhoods? What kind of a city is so quiet on some nights, a pin can be heard falling halfway down the street. How about our wildlife who treat us like a nighttime highway: coyotes, fox, wolf, fisher cats and an occasional moose. Instead of asphalt and concrete, our town is full of trees and parks and gardens. Oh, my! The gardens! Our architecture is not designed to smote the eye as much as commercial sprawl elsewhere. Sometimes I will be heading south on Route One and reach the peak of the Gillis Bridge and gasp at the sight before me and realize that I live down there.
But Newburyport is at a crossroads. Are we going to be a city with developed infrastructure and everyone chipping in as a community or are we a town where every man does that which is right in his own eyes. (paraphrasing the Bible). We need to chip in together to make this city be at its best.
If we are to be a true city, we need to fix our infrastructure (that includes our sidewalks which are atrocious) and we need to be considerate to the community as a whole. Compromising with give and take and seeking the greater good is what is necessary in a city.
We need to start acting like one.