Tag Archives: Harrison Street

A new day dawning for Worcester’s Union Hill neighborhood!

By Lorraine Michele Laurie
Photos: R.T.


Take a ride or walk up Harrison Street to where it intersects with Providence Street.  Look at the parking lot on the corner with the black cyclone fence.  On it is a large green sign with” City of Worcester” printed at the top in white letters.  Underneath it in larger letters are the words “Union Hill Revitalization Project.”  Below that it says “Housing Rehabilitation, Streetscape Improvements, Commercial Investment, Public Safety.”  Now, look around Providence and Harrison Streets and see what it says on the sign gradually becoming a reality in the surrounding neighborhood. 

The program was the focus of a press conference and brief tour held on the afternoon of August 17 in the Worcester Academy Alumni House parking lot at 51 Providence Street.   According to Mayor Joseph M. Petty “The Union Hill neighborhood of just two or three years ago is not the Union Hill of today.” The Mayor had made the neighborhood a priority of his administration because he saw “a neighborhood that had slid into disrepair.” What he was referring to was the local elementary school, Union Hill School on Chapin Street, being designated as a Level 4 school, neglected houses – some with numerous code violations and a growing crime problem.

What is responsible for this gradual change in Union Hill is a unique partnership with the City, HUD, Habitat for Humanity, Worcester Academy, Oak Hill Community Development Corporation and local residents, businesses and property owners.  


The most visible sign of improvement is the streetscape program taking place on Providence Street and Harrison Street.  With most of the money coming from Community Development Block Grant funds from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, the program involves resurfacing the roads, replacing sidewalks with a combination of concrete and bricks and handicapped accessible corners and the planting of trees.  New features are the bump out curb extensions installed to make crossing easier.

Also very apparent is the decline of crime.  The Worcester Police Department and Chief Gary Gemme created a “Community Policing District” in 2013.  Police Officers patrol the area in cars and on foot.  Shot-spotter and Crime Watch members have greatly assisted in the crime prevention efforts.  Public health initiatives involve school health partnerships and healthy food education.

Housing stabilization and creation will get a big boost from this special forming of partnerships.

An extensive sweep of the housing stock in the neighborhood was done by members of the  Inspectional Services, Fire and Police Departments.  The City worked with landlords to bring the properties up to code.  Nine owner-occupied homes will be rehabilitated on Providence and Harrison Streets and five new units of housing will be created on Aetna and Arlington Streets. 

Nearby Worcester Academy, located at 81 Providence Street, recently donated 21 Aetna Street to Habitat for Humanity Metro-West/ Greater Worcester.  The existing house will be taken down and a duplex will be constructed in its place.  Tim Firment, Executive Director of  Habitat , announced that his organization will also sponsor “A Brush with Kindness Week “ and assist a property owner on Harrison Street with porch and landscape work. Also, in an ongoing effort to help homeowners, Worcester Academy has also made available $300,000, administered by the Worcester Community Housing Resources, for home improvements in the neighborhood. 

According to Ronald M. Cino, Head of School, “Worcester Academy is improving the quality of life for the Union Hill neighborhood by making significant contributions to education, recreation, housing, safety and economic development. Worcester Academy has completed the acquisition of the old St. Vincent’s property.  In addition to sharing use of Morse Field, an award- winning lighted synthetic field on the property with neighborhood residents, schools, and community groups, Worcester Academy is converting the hospital’s generator building into a first-rate performance center that will open late this fall.”

Oak Hill Community Development Corporation, located across the street from Worcester Academy at 74 Providence Street, has been involved in housing since 1972.  According to Mullen Sawyer, Chief Executive Officer, Oak Hill CDC ”worked closely with neighborhood stakeholders and funders to create a 21st century investment plan and funding mechanism to serve this neighborhood: Investing in Union Hill Plan.  This Plan outlines holistic strategies to preserve and develop housing, promote and sustain business and workforce development while improving neighborhood economics and quality of life.  The commonwealth has accepted our Plan and awarded Oak Hill CDC nearly a million dollars in new state rebates to spur public to private investment of this Plan.”

In addition to housing, streetscape, private investments and public safety and health, revitalization is taking place at Union Hill Elementary School.  The school which was designated a Level 4 school is now a Level 1 school.  It is undergoing renovations thanks to State funding. New windows have been installed and other exterior and interior improvements will take place.

As the press conference was taking place, neighborhood children were seen across Providence Street.  City Manager Edward M. Augustus, Jr., who had referred to the broken window theory in his speech, said “This City has not forgotten this neighborhood.  There are a lot of kids who call this place home.  We need to make sure they know they’re important to us.”

State Senator Michael Moore praised the City by saying “These ongoing and carefully executed investments will continue to help to bring vitality and desirability for current and future residents alike.  I want to commend Mayor Petty, City Manager Augustus and all the departments who have come together to breathe life back into this part of the City.”

City Councilor George Russell whose District 3 covers a good part of Union Hill said “we should not look at it as Mission Accomplished and instead look at it as the beginning of a long road to hopefully revitalize the entire area and most importantly make folks feel good about investing and living in the neighborhood.”


State Representative Daniel M. Donahue sums it up this way “ The community policing district has created a new feeling of safety, our local elementary school has gone from failing to a level 1 and we are making strategic investments in infrastructure and stabilizing our owner occupied housing stock.  This could only be accomplished by working together, from our local police to our teachers to community leaders and residents to the different levels of government, we have come together to make change.”

Union Hill revitalizaton plans – a recap!

By Sue Moynagh

The Union Hill area of Worcester has been declining for decades. There have been efforts to patch up pockets of deterioration from rehabbing old three deckers to repaving streets and sidewalks. Many of us are aware that the health of the neighborhood affects the health of its residents and vice versa. It becomes a vicious cycle that has to be broken. The City of Worcester has become aware of the problem and is now taking action. The Union Hill neighborhood of Worcester has been made the focal point for investment and revitalization. There are several initiatives that have been developed to improve the health and growth of this historic community, taking a holistic approach to “curing” the patient…my home!

I want to focus on three of these initiatives. The first is the “Union Hill Health Impact Assessment” developed over the past year through a number of community- engagement meetings. All aspects of community health are included, along with recommendations for action. The second one, “The Greater Worcester Region Community Health Improvement Plan” will focus on actual health issues of the residents of this neighborhood. The third is a streetscape improvement plan developed over a number of years but is being put in place thanks to City Manager Ed Augustus.

At first, I was leery about these projects. Too often surveys and studies are conducted, data and statistics compiled into a report that is pored over by officials and social agency workers. These reports are then left to gather dust on some shelf. Would this be the same? Apparently, these initiatives will use the data and statistics to address the health problems of Union Hill and then use the outcomes to improve the health of all Worcester communities. I want to describe just what these reports are and how they will benefit my community.

Union Hill Health Impact Assessment

The Union Hill Health Impact Assessment was released in November, 2013, after a series of community scoping sessions. These sessions, hosted by Worcester Academy, were initiated by the Worcester Division of Public Health and conducted by Project Manager Zack Dyer, MPH. The lead writer of the report was Karin Valentin Goins, MPH. All aspects of a healthy community were discussed. We were asked how we feel about six “Determinants”: Community Violence, Social Cohesion, Housing Safety, Traffic Safety, Park Access, and Physical Activity. Also incorporated into this report was a resident survey conducted over the summer by Oak Hill Community Development Corporation.  Some of the information was actually surprising, but much of it just reinforced what residents have known for quite some time.

One eye-opening statistic was the fact that 28% of the residents of Union Hill are disabled as opposed to 24% of Worcester population as a whole. Approximately 25% of households have no vehicle in comparison with Worcester overall (16.2%). Another shock was the high rate of pediatric asthma in local schools- Union Hill School 27.7% compared to Worcester average of 11.7%. As I stated, some facts do not surprise me. Our crime rate is higher that that of the rest of Worcester, we have the highest rate of traffic accidents involving pedestrians, and not quite half of the residents are employed. The economic statistics are not surprising. In Union Hill, 30% of households are below the poverty level, and a shocking 60% are below the 200% poverty level! We have little green space and limited tree canopy, and the few parks we have are overburdened.

Efforts are already being made to improve the safety of Union Hill. There is now a police district in the community, guaranteeing a quick response when trouble occurs, plus a police presence that makes people feel safer. ShotSpotter is now in place and it is working. The Department of Inspectional Services, along with Fire Department personnel are conducting sweeps of the properties within Union Hill. Problems are identified and being addressed, such as overgrowth of brush, litter, faulty fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, and other health or fire hazards. Oak Hill CDC and the City of Worcester are working to reduce foreclosure rates and provide assistance for improvement of homes. What is the connection to health? High crime, litter, poor sidewalks, and poor living conditions are stressful. Stress creates or exacerbates health problems, both physical and mental. When you are afraid to leave your home, you do not exercise. Bad sidewalks lead to accidents. Poor housing stock is depressing and demoralizing. This study will provide data to drive future work by all city departments in making the Union Hill Initiative a success. Methods used here will be refined and used throughout Worcester.

Greater Worcester Community Health Improvement Plan

This plan actually envisions creating a healthy Worcester region because it includes Shrewsbury, West Boylston, Holden, Leicester and Millbury. It is a partnership between the UMass Memorial Medical Center, Common Pathways, the Central Massachusetts Regional Public Health Alliance and Worcester Division of Public Health. What does this have to do with Union Hill? The University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Prevention Research Center, along with community partners have chosen Union Hill as a pilot to develop methods to encourage disadvantaged families to make better lifestyle choices, especially in regards to nutrition and exercise. Community input meetings have been held since 2012, and five “domains” of health were identified. The first domain, “Healthy Eating and Active Living” will identify methods to “create an environment and community that support people’s ability to make healthy eating and active living choices that promote health and well- being.” A federal grant of $4.4 million will enable researchers to come into Union Hill, and work for the school year with families from Union Hill and Grafton Street schools.

There are actually two programs that will be put in place. The first is a Mass in Motion program that will encourage children to walk more, and seek to allow school playgrounds to be opened up after school is out for neighborhood kids to play and get more exercise. There is also an initiative to make fresh fruits and vegetables available in corner stores. More community gardens will be open for allowing residents to grow their own healthy produce.

The second program will collaborate with community partners and agencies such as Oak Hill CDC and Friendly House to connect families with resources and services. Beginning with the coming school year, family members will be measured for weight, BMI and other indicators of health. They will be educated about nutrition, selecting and preparing good foods, and exercise. Incentives will be given for participation in the project. Union Hill School will use intervention methods recommended by the researchers, while Grafton Street School will develop their own methods to work with families. Results will be compared at the end of the year.

The Providence/ Harrison Streetscape Improvement Project

I feel that this project will play a role in Union Hill health by making the gateways into the community inviting and safer. The plan was discussed at a meeting held at Oak Hill CDC on Tuesday, June 14. Although there were concerns expressed by residents about the changes in parking ordinances, the plans for streetscape were very positive. Better sidewalks will encourage people to get out, play, walk and socialize. Street tree plantings would be especially advantageous for residents. Not only do they provide shade for walkers, they also provide environmental benefits such as pollutant removal, noise reduction and flood control. Crosswalks will be improved and curb extensions will make it safer for pedestrians and drivers. Of course, ADA compliant curb cuts will be constructed. The goal will be to make Union Hill inviting to newcomers, especially first time homebuyers. The work will begin in July and gradually will extend throughout Union Hill.

I see these initiatives as positive first steps in improving quality of life and health for my neighborhood. The problems that contribute to poor health in the community and its residents have been recognized, and now will be addressed by a number of approaches. I would like to see other efforts made, such as economic investment and job creation. Better income allows better choices for improving lifestyles. I hope the city officials and public health researchers will continue to engage residents in improving the health of Union Hill and its families. If so, Union Hill will be restored to its rightful place as a vibrant, healthy and welcoming community.

Harrison Street fix-up project!

So many times it’s the connected few, the out-of-town big mouths or the phony social media savvy p.r. types who hog the spotlight in Worcester! But there are so many more folks in Woo doing great things – and never getting the credit they deserve! Because they are poor, or aren’t on facebook or don’t like computers or don’t have time to call attention to themselves … Because they are too busy with jobs, kids, dogs, parents, family, church! Here’s a great (pretty gorgeous!) guy making a first-floor front porch of a three decker in Union Hill – one of Woo’s most challenged inner-city neighborhoods – BEAUTIFUL! He gave us a huge thumbs up as we snapped his pic!  Go, gorgeous Harrison Street guy, go!!!        – R. Tirella


My mom was one of those super busy inner-city parents (single mom)/worker bees who never got any credit for all her wonderful deeds! I was listening to one of her fave singers the other day – PATTI PAGE. Here’s the song she used to sing around our Lafayette Street three decker flat.  I hadn’t heard it in years, DECADES! But when I put the lp on my turntable (found the album on the side of the road a few weeks ago), and listened to THE TENNESSEE WALTZ, I KNEW ALL THE WORDS!


Hooray for Mayor Joe O’Brien!

By Rosalie Tirella

Well, finally, our new mayor shows some cajones! Mayor Joe O’Brien has snubbed Joff Smith (at the moment an At Large Worcester city councilor with an at-LARGE ego but a Missing-in-Action brain) for the gal from Elm Street – Margot Barnet. He will formally endorse Barnet for the District 13 State Rep seat that Mr. Hottie Pants, Bob Spellane, has decided to give up after a number of horrid/stupid mis-steps (political and personal).

Barnet, a lady who has been president of the fab Regional Environmental Council, one-time home to the equally fab REC Director of Development Josie Shagwert and equally bright and articulate (and fab) REC ex-executive director Peggy Middaugh, is the kind of person we want to represent District 13. Smart, intelligent, honest.

We were getting so bummed out over the field of candidates – especially Joff Smith, a guy who, just because he looks cute in a suit, thinks he is somehow destined for a political career, a chance to lead “the people.” He’s been waiting for a chance like this for, let’s see, forever.

Why is it that men’s egos grow in inverse proportion to their IQs?

Smith’s ego is FUCKIN’ huge – and his contribution to the City of Worcester is so small! He has contributed next to nothing as a Worcester City Councilor, and despite his efforts to grand stand and jump on the hot issues like A.L.Beetle-mania, he is ultimately pointless. Continue reading Hooray for Mayor Joe O’Brien!