The concept of urban planning originated in Newburyport. When the Great Fire of 1811 occurred, in an effort to never let it happen again; the town (We were not a city yet) petitioned for a unified design review process across an entire urban landscape that stretched from Market Street to Federal. It was daring. It was audacious. And it was just a little bit ahead of its time.
It is wonderful that this was followed up in the 1970’s with the City being also the first to promote historic preservation as part of urban planning in America.
We have much to be proud of in Newburyport.
Now some on the left side of the political spectrum keep looking at the HUD involvement as some kind of vindication that the City’s fortunes are tied to getting lots of goodies from the State and Feds. They are taking the wrong lesson home with them. I much prefer former Mayor Ed Molin’s approach with the classic thermometer on the lawn. Sure, we may get a small fraction in grants from the government but the fundraising starts here in a concerned community. That was the way to save the Downtown, save the Firehouse and that was the way to our new, expanded Library.
Now, in contrast, some on the right side of the political spectrum see urban planning as some kind of Orwellian nightmare stifling the freedoms of citizens and restricting our ‘rights’. They strive for the wild west with developers like gun-shooting cowboys tearing up the town.
And others see the immediate need to put food on the table as an excuse to dispatch urban planning as the work of dreamy elitists and meddling bureaucrats. The goal is to use the ‘cheapest’ material. Of course, this group would love nothing better than to put plastic on everything from siding to windows to doorways to fences with the mistaken idea that cellulose is eternal. Sorry, it deteriorates too, people. This group would love the freedom to cram a mobile home in between the Federalist mansions because it would be ‘cheap’ or follow the Daily News’ building precedent and use cinderblock.
What I say is that urban planning is the key to our success. We need a design review process that gives developers a clear roadmap (plus save them huge costs in consulting and legal fees) so they can proceed with great confidence. Now, every person who tries to do something in Newburyport is at the mercy of abutters and politicians. Great expense is needed to make sure ‘everyone’ is made happy.
Developers would literally be at our door in a line if they had a design process with clear directives. It is the stuff of dreams.
Plus, urban planning maps out the steps of whatever the community wishes. If the community was suddenly struck mad and wanted to turn their backs on historic preservation, urban planning would tell them the process to get there. And, of course, vice versa.
For example, I have been pleased to see it was the voluntary gathering of concerned businesses that purchased and installed colonial lampposts along Water Street and worked to put in brick sidewalks. Purpose? To use urban planning to draw customers away from the downtown. That should have been obvious and should have been done by the City, not private interests!
Urban planning would have put colonial lampposts, brick sidewalks and granite curbing all the way from the downtown toward the Route 1 underpass. Regardless of New England Development, common sense would have dictated this as a draw off of Route One. It is our City’s lack of cohesive urban planning that we fail to act even when it is in our own best interest!
We started the whole concept, we refined it and now we need it to ensure a better more prosperous future*.
Let’s get planning!
* I realize that today’s article, “State grant will help divert storm water” was a puff-piece and portfolio enhancement to help the Mayor get re-elected in November, but regardless, two great quotes came from this piece. First, the Mayor revealed the importance of securing the future via urban planning, “We hope to expand these efforts in future years, through…infrastructure improvements, which will benefit our environment and generations to come.” Then Representative Costello nailed it by saying, “I think it’s a testament to the foresight and quality of city planning.” It truly is all about securing our future.