Tag Archives: Downtown

Downtown day dreams

By Rosalie Tirella

Driving around downtown Worcester is something I’ve been doing almost every day for the past 13 years – part of running InCity Times. I see what we all know: Our urban hub has zippo hub bub…

But yesterday I was longing, longing, longing, longing for a REAL DOWNTOWN! Like they have in Providence or Hartford … cities smaller and poorer than Worcester. Capital cities, yes, but should we use that as an excuse?

Yesterday, I wanted to do this in my city’s downtown:

Window shop for shoes

Buy a pretty wrist watch

Walk down a Front Street that was filled with people walking one way and people walking the other way

Buy and eat – at a soda fountain! – a hot fudge sundae

Meet a gal pal and catch a movie in the middle of the afternoon

Then go for drinks

Walk down Franklin Street holding hands with a great looking guy, his long hair whipping in the wind

Visit several shops and try on all kinds of pretty, sheer summer dresses

People watch

Strut down the sidewalk wearing a tight skirt and chunky sandals that let me walk kinda fast and feel free even though I am wearing a tight skirt

Throw loose change into the open guitar case of a street musician who is singing an old Bob Dylan song

Bump into someone I haven’t seen for months and chat with the person, standing in the middle of the sidewalk with all the pedestrians forced to walk around us and me having to say to my long-lost friend: We’re gonna get mowed down! Let’s move to the side, over here!

Feel part of something bigger – the human race in all its precarious glory!

Be alone yet feel connected cuz I’m walking with, shopping with, eating with, flirting with, looking at the hundreds of people who are traipsing through, running down, stumbling down, loitering in, shopping in, drinking at, arguing in, kissing in, shaking hands in, shaking fists at, loving, hating, NURTURING MY DOWNTOWN!

Just by showing up.

Pathetic!

CAM00347

This is why we look like this!!!! Received this email from City of Worcester today. – R. T.:

“Cancellation of Economic Development Committee Meeting‏

“THE FOLLOWING MEETING HAS BEEN CANCELLED:

“ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE MEETING

“TUESDAY, AUGUST 19, 2014

“ESTHER HOWLAND (SOUTH) CHAMBER

“4:30 P.M”

Finally! A mural for the Denholm Building in downtown Worcester!

We took this pic of the sad looking side of the DB several months ago  – and said the building was crying out for a mural! InCity Times has been pushing for more murals in the city for years! Well, we and thousands of other Woo folks got our prayer answered! We only wish the city had hired our ol’ pal PITO, a young Latino man, Worcester born and bred,  a guy who has created tons of street art in Woo, taken classes at the Worcester Art Museum and would have come up with something amazing!

Giving a LOCAL LATINO ARTIST – a TALENTED local artist – such fantastic exposure would have been so GREAT for Worcester.

Instead, a Cambridge-based artist landed the job. We wonder HOW he was chosen – how much outreach was done to minority, local artists. I’m sure the chosen muralist is nice and talented, BUT WORCESTER COULD HAVE AND SHOULD HAVE GONE LOCAL!

Well, as long as things are happening …  We can’t wait to see the painting begin!

EXCITEMENT for our downtown!!! Hooray!!!

– R. Tirella

Our downtown: Worcester’s doughnut hole!!!

By Phil Stone

To anyone who works or passes through Downtown Worcester, it’s obvious that things could be better. I often describe Downtown as the “hole in the doughnut.” Worcester has many strengths – strong neighborhoods and the many colleges being among them. But there are many people who live, work and study in Worcester who rarely venture Downtown.

“Why should I? There’s nothing to do,” is what I hear when I ask people if they’ve been downtown lately. Perhaps the most telling comment came from my daughter, who had a dentist appointment when a movie was being filmed downtown. The location scouts had decided that the buildings on Main Street looked like something out of the ‘70s. After modifying the facades of a few businesses, they had the perfect movie set. Some classic cars were trucked in, and the second unit filmed them driving up and down Main Street while the extras walked around.

“Main Street looks really good. Is that part of the Master Plan?” I had to explain that what she had seen was a movie set. The sad thing was that she was right; Main Street did look much better.

Now a year later the Central Hub is up and running, and new sidewalks are being constructed around City Hall. But where are the people, that essential ingredient to a vibrant urban area?

More to the point, how did we end up here? Who made the bad decisions that led to such a predictable outcome?

In my last column I referred to Worcester’s “civic and political” leaders. There are plenty of organizations and individuals involved in economic development efforts, including Downtown revitalization – perhaps too many.

They include the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Worcester Redevelopment Authority, Destination Worcester, the Central Massachusetts Convention and Visitors Bureau, Inc., the Massachusetts Biomedical Initiative, Inc., the Worcester Business Development Corporation, and the Executive Office of Economic Development.

Some of these, such as the Worcester Redevelopment Authority and the Executive Office of Economic Development are public/governmental bodies. Others, such as the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce are strictly privately funded. Still others are a hybrid, receiving some public funds for operating expenses and seeking private and foundation support. Others are legislatively created, such as the Massachusetts Biomedical Initiative, Inc. and the Worcester Business Development Corporation, and have the ability to obtain financing on advantageous terms.

Looking at this, the overlap and resulting inefficiencies are obvious. Missing are clear lines of accountability, and most important, an opportunity for folks who do not identify themselves as “civic and political leaders” to have opportunities to share their thoughts and suggestions before decisions are made, and money is spent.

On the cusp

By Rosalie Tirella

Driving all over Worcester yesterday delivering the new issue of INCITY TIMES, getting compliments about our last issue: “That was a good story on John Fresolo” or: “I enjoy reading your stories” or: “The hottest newspaper in town.” Wink, wink.

But what especially pleased me yesterday was my very new yearning to hang out, eat lunch, people-watch DOWNTOWN. By City Hall. Can you believe it? But it’s the truth! Yesterday, as I drove through the “center, the heart” of our city, I was thrilled by its colorful umbrellas that sat open upon tables where you could eat lunch or chat with pals over some fruit juice drinks. The benches and flowers around our beloved Turtle Boy statue made the space inviting and, pretty. Best of all, I SAW A BUNCH OF WOO FOLKS ENJOYING, PEACEFULLY ENJOYING, THEIR CITY HALL COMMON. Our Worcester common was truly common ground for our community: people sat on the benches surrounding the Turtle Boy, they walked their little white highland terriers around the area, they sat on the grass or on benches talking with friends, enjoying the fantastic late summer sun. There were 20 , maybe 30 of these folks, walking, watching, sitting, standing … To me, it could have been 200 people! Glorious! Middle class, working class, black, brown, white… People from the lofts, condos down the street, the artsy types I see walking in the area during the week. There they were. The city dog lovers, I call them. The person with the little white Husky mix The person with the Westie. The person with the little black dog, the Boston Terrier type pup, only without the white in its coat. Yup. These folks live downtown and they were walking their dogs by our common, making the area lively, cute, lived-in!

With the newer housing downtown comes newer upper income folks. Hooray! We welcome them – without shitting all over the poor people of the neighborhood. Now maybe we can have a nice bistro or coffee shop across from city hall to cater to these newer folks. They join the poorer peeps who also live in the area. They are already shopping and hanging out in the area. Good for us! No need to displace anyone. Let’s just add this new group to the mix and create a diverse city space!

Yesterday, I drove around our common three times just to soak up the great scene! What a celebratory little ride it was, springy shocks be damned! I wanted to get out of my vehicle, give a rebel yell, grab my lawn blanket and head to our city hall common to take a break from delivering my papers, enjoy the weather and eat something yummy. Well, I looked around our pretty common and found no yummy for my tummy! No inviting yogurt shops, sandwich shops etc. And I don’t like Dunkin Donuts etc, the only culinary choices presented to me yesterday. WHY CAN’T THE WORCESTER CITY COUNCIL GET ON THE STICK AND FAST TRACK A FOOD TRUCK ORDINANCE SO THAT WE CAN FEED THE PEOPLE ON THE CITY HALL COMMON ON A SATURDAY AFTERNOON? Yesterday I would have loved to have been able to walk up to a funky food truck and order a falafel wrap, extra tahini, or a very big, veggie salad. Not into hotdogs, very into Thai food, Indian food, pizza slices. How would food trucks parked along our common on a Saturday and Sunday afternoon negatively impact local eateries? Especially when there weren’t any local eateries around? I mean, here we have our city hall common on the cusp of liveliness … people ARE HERE but there is really nothing for them to do, no where for them to window shop, no place to grab a tasty bite to eat.

The opening up of Front Street is great, if you are driving around the city. You get to feel what a busy, bustling place Woo is as you zip down Front and enter Washington Square, see Union Station, head to the East Side …. But if you’re a pedestrian, it’s grey space. Boring. Nothing for you to see, hear, eat. As I drove down the new Front Street I saw several kids with skateboards. They were enjoying the very smooth, flat, longish street! Cool. They looked like they were having fun. Where was the tee shirt shop or Apple Store or coffee shop for these cool kids?

Like I said, yesterday I was so excited by all the DIFFERENT KINDS OF PEOPLE BEING A PART OF OUR CENTER CITY SCENE that U TOO WANTED GO BE A PART OF IT. That’s the way it is with us homo sapiens. We love to hang out … together … loosely … but together. Cities are perfect for this, the collective hang out. So, with no lunch to spread in my lunch blanket, I zipped across the street from City Hall, straight into the Worcester Public Library parking lot and visited the always happening Woo Public Library. Books and DVDs and video cassettes galore. My kinda joint. Got more Hemingway and The Duke in TRUE GRIT.

Yup. True grit. Worcester has plenty of it. And we may need a little more if we want to truly revitalize our city hall common/downtown.

Mickey-Mousing it, the Worcester way!

By Rosalie Tirella

I was driving around downtown Worcester this past Saturday afternoon. A depressing experience! A winter that refuses to die. An urban landscape totally dead and bleak. People looking poor and oppressed. So different than the downtown of my childhood, a time when you could spend a FUN Saturday afternoon window shopping (remember that Capraesque past-time?), or walking to the Mart or Denholms or Woolworths or Marcus to buy all kinds of things. These days our downtown looks condemned and it breaks my heart.

It is not so Mad Max/soul destroying during the work week. During the work week things are a bit more lively, but not by much. I know downtown is in the midst of BECOMING and we all need to be patient for the developments to develop. …

But here is something we need to fix, get right, make right RIGHT NOW. The new intersection that was just created when the old Galleria was knocked down and Front Street extended NEEDS A FULL-FLEDGED TRAFFIC LIGHT, not the spindly, half-assed Mayberry RFD stop signs that have turned our new major downtown intersection into a vehicular free-for-all.

Instead of a cool new intersection befitting a city on the move we have spindly stop signs shoved into buckets of cement or nailed to poles looking cheap and chinsy. And during the work week these Mickey Mouse stop signs don’t do a good job of directing traffic, do not do THEIR JOB. It is too big an intersection for stop signs. Drivers speed through the stop signs, it is a challenge to be at the stop sign coming from the library – you have to keep craning your neck to make sure it is ok to go. It is too big an intersection for that, too big for stop signs. I have seen drivers go to the left of the stop sign, not right. Anything to get to where the driver needed to go, traffic rules and laws be damned. I have seen construction trucks barrelling down the new Front Street, coming from the East Side. They barely slowed down. They were BIG and, darn it, we all needed to get the hell out of their way.

This kind of Wild West driving at the new intersection sets a mood. A lawless one. A thoughtless one. And the reckless mood carries over to our next downtown traffic sign or light.

Do we need for someone to be killed or seriously hurt before we do the intelligent thing and install traffic lights? Red light, yellow light, green light – that’s the “ticket” (pun intended!). Synchronized by our not too gifted traffic engineer. It will be way better than four shit-kicker stop signs that sometimes fall down (I have seen one on the ground) or disappear completely.

Get serious,Worcester movers and shakers! We don’t need a cluster-fuck in the middle of our downtown. We need traffic lights.

Bringing da hoi polloi and everyone else back …

By Rosalie Tirella

Free stuff. That’s the ticket to drawing folks back to our downtown. Free movies on the common, free art festivals, free concerts, free farmers markets. All of which the city does, and does well. But to keep the people coming, we need to have something special going on every day, something free and open to EVERYBODY. In Hartford, for example, city officials had Connect The Dot days, I think every Thursday. Hartford is in much worse shape than Worcester. Some years ago, after the insurance company workers went home, the place, downtown Hartford, became a dessert. It seemed to be taken over by guys drinking booze outa paper bags!

Depressing!

Hartford did not pass an anti-bum ordinance, the way Worcester would. Officials there decided to create a day, starting after 5 p.m., where folks could grab a map and walk to the red dot restaurants, pubs, theaters, etc, where people could enjoy free music, free food samples, etc. Several places were involved. You could make a fun evening out of it. Sure, many of the downtown worker bees still fled in droves, but somes of those bees decided to stick around and sample some cool, urban honey before driving home to their houses in West Hartford, Wethersfield, etc. Fantastic! And with the art museum in the middle of downtown, don’t you know the folks there got in on the act!

This is a ton of work. A ton of work to create what most second-tier cities naturally had in the nineteen fifties, sixties, forties, thirties, a dynamic downtown. But this is the new reality for most American cities, especially the older, industrial ones. Downtown, our downtown at least, must make itself a kind of playground for the middle class, which I am not too thrilled with. I like to see America reflected in my downtown, not Allen Fletcher and his ilk. But we must attract these peeps to get their money so downtown biz folks can pay their bills. This must be accomplished WITHOUT PUSHING ASIDE THE POOR OR WORKING CLASS. Let us keep things integrated and egalitarian, the way great downtowns used to be. That is what made them great. City Manager Mike O’Brien does not need to protect us from each other. He needs to embrace all the denizens of downtown. It is the American thing to do.

I make it a point to drive through downtown Worcester once every week day, at least. Yes, it’s for biz, but it is also to gage the mood, the spirit of our downtown. Seems our civic spirit is sagging, flagging. Seems the thrill of opening up Front Street has worn thin, one of the stop signs actually missing at the new intersection. Stolen? Misplaced? Removed by the city to be replaced by a traffic light? Your guess is as good as mine.

The real juice is still missing … the shops, the restaurants, the bars, the offices …maybe the willingness of white folks to mix with black folks or brown folks. … maybe the ability to see a kid from Green Island in the same light that you would see a kid from Salisbury Street. Maybe it is the spiritual malaise of the day, a lack of spiritual generosity, soul … Love. Doesn’t it always come down to that, When all the bs is parsed and recorded for posterity. LOVE.

I have a dream: To someday be able to go window shopping in downtown Worcester on a Saturday afternoon, just the way I used to in the nineteen sixties and early seventies. Denholms, Marcus, Sylvias, Woolworths, Kresges, The Mart, American Supply. Stores with display windows. Then lunch. Rovezzis was a treat. My mom ate at and worked at the old Eden on Franklin Street, the watering hole for T and G scribes. The old Eden would be great, or something like it. Right on Franklin Street, across the street from City Hall.

I recently lamented (see post below) the sorry state of pedestrian traffic on our Front, Main, Pleasant, Franklin streets. I mentioned some photos of the same streets taken right around and after World War II. Hundreds of folks bustling and hustling in our urban core! Middle class folks, working class folks, even kids. Maybe it was the after-effect of the war (when everyone had to pull/be together) or maybe it was the lack of suburbs and all the malls/mega stores that were built to service the folks in the ‘burbs, but back in the day people mixed a lot more. They had to. There was no on-line bill paying, no Amazon.com to shop on and have purchases delivered the next day. You went downtown to shop, but you also went downtown to people watch, eat, conduct business (few branch offices).

Downtown Worcester was a true melting pot! Let’s make it happen again!

Those pesky panhandlers!

By Rosalie Tirella

That’s what the Worcester City Council must have decided when it voted to treat the city’s panhandlers, folks who beg for money on our streets, the way you would treat, say, a stubborn case of cooties! Yikes! These critters are pesky, a pain in the neck and a public health scourge! Let’s just wash them out of our hair the way you would any varmint.

So our city leaders, lead by City Manager Mike O’Brien, our uber-expert when it comes to urban ills and the downtrodden, decided to make being out in our public streets exercising your freedom of speech a crime. Just the way they do in Russia when the peeps there get too full of themselves. Vladimir Putin would be proud!

So, the city has now decided to give out panhandlers little cards, with the new ordinance spelled out and a phone number to call if you need food, shelter, etc. These push cards are to be given out by our city cops, some of whom are not the friendliest or most sensitive people in Wusta.

I was talking with a pal in social services yesterday about Worcester’s panhandler problem. Let’s call my pal “Ann.” Well, Ann has been working with the city’s poor for decades and has a ton of insight. She is familiar with the struggles of so many city families. She has, over the years, seen it all, and she is half heart, half tough street smarts. While always there to help folks she also knows when she is being conned. Yup, some needy folks, especially heroin addicts, cocaine addicts, can be the biggest liars. Their addiction, so intense and powerful, makes them that way. Businesses, families, condos, etc are lost to drug addiction. Alcohol is also powerfully addictive, for some folks, some bodies, some minds.

Ann told me yesterday that by the time an alcoholic or drug addict has found himself or herself on a street corner begging for money, they have pretty much lost everything. You can’t tumble much lower.

When asked how the city’s push card campaign was gonna fly withthey majority of our city panhandlers, Ann gave me a knowing, world weary look.

Giving a person a card with a phone number ain’t gonna cut it. In fact, the city’s strategy is laughable: Drug addiction can take years to beat, with numerous stays at detox centers, numerous relapses, many moments of despair.

In short, Ann agreed with me that the city, like Boston, needs to hire homeless outreach workers, people who can actually counsel these folks, work with them over a period of weeks, months, maybe longer, if people are lucky enough to survive that long. Ann was direct when she said most addicts, hardcore junkies, alcoholics die. Drug addicts die from getting their bodies so sick or at the hands of a pusher. Drug dealers do not suffer dead beats gladly.

Ann went even further than I have, when it comes to dealing with the city’s panhandlers. She advocates sending out the outreach workers with serious resources, like the ability to get a person into a detox bed immediately, like the ability to help pay a person’s rent for a room, apartment. Beyond dropping them off at the Mustard Seed. Beyond driving them to a food pantry.

Ann told me some interesting stories yesterday, call them drug addicts I have known through the years. One story centered on a drug addict who kept getting dough from a good hearted priest, telling the padre that he needed the $50 to buy food for his family. Ann was visiting the priest when the junky was making his call. Ann knew he had a habit. What are you doing here he asked her. She said I could ask you the same question!

To cut to the chase, Ann told the priest not to give the guy money because he would only spend it on history addiction, not groceries. She went back and forth with the junky who tried to bs her but finally pulled up his long shirt sleeves to show Ann his needle tracks. It was a gesture both honest and heartbreaking.

Another drug abuser that Ann worked with: Years of the ups and downs of trying to stay off cocaine, losing his business, wife, home. Finally, he managed to beat back the demon – stayed straight for months!  He called Ann to tell her the great news … and to take her out to dinner.

To celebrate his sobriety. To thank her for staying after him all those years. Working the problem, not dismissing it. Or him.

Glad that Quinsigamond Community College is moving …

By Rosalie Tirella

… downtown. Students always make a city look/feel young. But let’s think beyond kids. And let’s look to Boston, the classic college city/oasis, as we redevelop our downtown. Boston is finally seeing some movement when it comes to redeveloping its Downtown Crossing, an old downtown hot spot, the place where Filenes used to be. This Boston icon was fun to visit in the 1980s when I would go into the city to visit my kid sister who lived there.

Back then Downtown Crossing was no Newbury Street, but it was a natural fit for a couple of Green Island girls! Basic stores, cheap eats, lots of working people. Nice vibe. Now there is a crater two stories deep where the old Filenes used to be. Redevelopment stalled, the building, now nicknamed THE HOLE, has reminded Bostonians just how tough these past few years have been on cities. A fight with the developer of the site lead the city of Boston to pull the building permits it had issued.

Well, today Filenes sings a different song. The site is back on track and, like Worcester officials, Boston’s movers and shakers are pushing for a lively mix of uses. Residences, offices, restaurants, etc. COOL POINT TO REMEMBER: the City of Boston is pressing for A SUPERMARKET TO BE BUILT AMIDST ALL THIS URBAN RENEWAL. The reason? Officials make perfect sense when they say, We want our new urban dwellers to be able to grocery shop. Right in their backyard. Literally.

Again, a Trader Joe’s would be perfect for the Worcester Public Library parking lot. The city says it’s going to be developed, like it ornot. This makes a lot of library patrons and downtownbiz folks mad because the lot IS USED, DOES SERVEA PURPOSE. Cheap parking. Easy, safeparking downtown.

These peeps must wake up! We’re a city on the move, not Oxford orthe Greendale Mall parking lot. Cities on the move are never car parking heavens or havens. It’s a bit of a battle, and it willcostyou somedough. Let’saccept and BE GRATEFUL FOR OURNEWURBAN REALITY.

So let’s do this intelligently. Screw the hockey rink. Get a sharp, cool supermarket in that parking lot so that new downtownresidentshave a place to shop for quality food at lower prices. Let’s copy Boston’s Downtown Crossing urban renewal blueprint. Let’s get a freaking Trader Joe’s at the librarylot. Great fornew folks, greatforourinner city families who so desperately need to have access to fresh produce and otherhealthy foods.