Tag Archives: factories

Worcester: then and now

The new Franklin Street photo by Gordon Davis

By Gordon Davis

Worcester City Manager Edward Augustus, Jr., is optimistic about the development of Worcester. Recently, he said: “Worcester has seen close to $3 billion in investment over the past five years. This year, home prices are up 5 to 8 percent. Rental rates are up 8 percent. And how could you miss the new hotels already redefining our skyline? Those hotels are being built for a reason. Our hotels are consistently full.”

Mr. Augustus is right to be happy with the new developments such as hotels and luxury apartments. This type of development has been a long time coming and is part of a historical cycle for the city.

Before this cycle of hotels, apartments and entertainment, there was the Worcester Center Galleria and its remake, Worcester Commons Outlets. Many in the city have the same optimism expressed by Mr. Augustus with his proclamation: “Worcester’s time is now.” Unfortunately, Mr. Augustus still sees downtown Worcester as the Worcester of the 1940s, a time when most people did not own cars. The importance of downtowns to cities in Mass. started to decline with a burgeoning suburbia and the families in them buying cars and driving to malls, like the old Shoppers World in Framingham, to shop. Shoppers World was exciting and cutting edge in 1955. It was the first shopping mall. Today, many shopping malls are abandoned ghost malls. The Greendale Mall in Worcester is near that state.

Development in downtown Worcester is based, to a large extent, on the transfer of the operations of St. Vincent Hospital from Vernon Hill. The transfer was subsidized by city taxes. It is not certain yet if the city will recover this money. The new apartments and condos being built in our downtown is a new phenomenon for Worcester. To some extent, our downtown will become a bedroom community for commuters going by trains to Boston. More important, it will become a neighborhood, like Main South or Vernon Hill. This is new and it seems to have gone unnoticed. Services for this new neighborhood, like a grocery store, will likely be established.

Since the early 1800s Worcester’s industries have been cyclical. With the water power of the Blackstone River, textiles and clothing were manufactured until the factories moved South in search of cheaper labor. In the later 1800s the metal industries developed in our city. Barbed wire was invented and manufactured in Worcester, as well as cables and processed steel. I worked at U.S. Steel as a young man and made oil well cables. As we know, the metal industries moved overseas. For a while, computers, such as minicomputers, were manufactured in the Worcester area. The personal computer signaled the death knell for computer manufacturing in this area. Today it is biotech that is the major industry here.

I hope you can see my point: Industries come and go. The Worcester area is not an exception to this rule. It is worrisome that Mr. Augustus did not mention what is being done regarding the industries of the future. There is a question of whether his vision includes the next cycle of industry. To quote former president Bill Clinton: It’s the economy, stupid.

Therefore, the city manager’s proclamation of “Worcester’s time is now” is not really a vision for the future.

Visiting Lowell for the Lowell Folk Festival

By Rosalie Tirella

I went to the Lowell Folk Festival this past weekend. It was everything Worcester is not (when it comes to huge summer events). Providence has Water Fire, Lowell has the Lowell Folk Festival. Worcester has … ???

What I liked about the event: It was three days long. All the concerts – hundreds of them – were free. And there were so many different stages/areas from which to listen to/dance to the music! (I remember one year at Lowell Folk listening to a young Allison Kraus – before she met Robert Plant, before she became world famous – fiddling – while standing on the bed of a pick-up truck!!) All the musical acts this year were first-rate, with many artists of national prominence. The folk festival was smack dab in the middle of what is a lovely, historic downtown. The food was fantastic – a sampling of all the ethnic cusines of Lowell, courtesy of all the local, ethnic churches/nonprofits. Chruch groups galore! Selling: their home-made Indian food, Greek food, Vietnamese food, Soul food etc. The money you spent on all the exotic goodies went to all these great urban churches/nonprofit agencies. You wanted to spend your cash to support all these great churches/groups! And finally, the Lowell Folk Festival attracted white folks, black folks, poor folks, middle-class folks, kids, teens, young adults, 20-somethings and old people.

Utterly, beautifully inclusive.

What does Worcester have that is comparable to this amazing, free, three-day-long musical extravaganza? An event that trumpets Worcester’s history? An event that impresses out-of-towners/shows off the city?

An important point: Lowell was damned lucky the urban renewal plague of the 1970s passed over it because today all its downtown’s great, old, brick buildings – repointed, power-washed, repainted, with new (smaller) businesses inside – still exist. And they look fab! They make downtown Lowell walkable, colorful, interesting, multi-cultural … . And then, right in the middle of downtown: THEIR CANAL. A REAL CANAL! The one that put Lowell on the map in the first place, the canal that made Lowell the place to work if you were an immigrant and needed a job (in the textile industry). Looking at Lowell’s canal puts you in awe of th people who built it and toiled because of it. It is heavy, big, serious, maybe dangerous … . So unlike Worcester where we have our “canal,” the fake little vinyl-lined pool that Allen Fletcher likes to paddle around in on Harding Street during Worcester’s canal fest, which is held in what is now becoming one big yuppy watering hole – “The Canal District,” complete with rowdy fights and bras left on the sidewalks infront of barroom entrances. I had the pleasure of stepping over one a few years ago.

Nope. Lowell’s celebration of its canal and the people who built it and worked it is REAL – not fake like the Fletcher bullshit. The city puts on a FIRST CLASS folk festival – not some rinky dink show, and no one is charged a penny to enjoy these world-class musicians, singers, songwriters. Years ago, at one of my first Lowell Folk Fesitvals, I remember listening to Elvis Presley’s original back-up group! If you closed your eyes, you could swear Elvis was crooning and fake humping in the foreground.

I wonder how many hundreds of thousands of dollars this costs Lowell. Worcester should be as generous to its history/people! Invest the half-million, City Manager O’Brien! We are sick of paying our cops salaries of $125,000, our teachers salaries of $90,000! Money for the the people! Not just for the same 300 or so connected families!

But I digress. Another plus for Lowell: It has a textile museum downtown, it has a quilting museum downtown. Even its public art – a huge spool of string sculpted from granite – reflects the city’s proud history. REAL people. Working people. That is what the Lowell Folk Fesitval is celebrating, even honoring. Fletcher has sucked the gritty truth out of my old neighborhood. Of course, he has! His great grandparents and their pals owned the Worcester factories in which immigrants toiled! He and his ilk were the exploiters of my grandparents! So, of course, Fletcher’s take on Green Island (the original name of the “Canal District”) is warped and condescending. He sits around and talks about restaurants … . This man is close to 65 years old. Will he ever grow up? The world is not his oyster – even with all his millions of bucks. Stop being a fucking tourist in your own city, Allen!!!

With the Lowell Folk Festival, and its museums and its real canal and the public art, you get a great vibe: community. Lowell is celebrating its people – the working-class. The folks who toiled in Lowell, had strikes in the city, danced and sang in the city (with much of their music rooted in their homelands from across the globe), and worshipped their God in the city. The Lowell Folk Festival is a world-class event; it is a perfect melding of the people, music and history of a blue-collar city.

When will Worcester step up and have this kind of summer event? It will cost thousands and thousands of dollars, if we want to do it right and have it FREE of charge. It will mean including all voices – not just the same old same old.

But don’t you think our city is worth it?