Tag Archives: Neighborhood Roundup

The wait. The WEIGHT.

By Rosalie Tirella

It began like any other InCity Times work day:  me running late. Me literally running downstairs to my car from my apartment, my pocketbook on my shoulders, heavy with crap, my left hand grasping a Trader Joe’s grocery tote bag filled to its brim with ICT stuff and to-do lists, CDs and library  books, water bottles, an extra sweater, a bag of doggie treats, my BIG gold sun-glass case that I love, now holding my regular glasses, as I’m now sporting my BIG SUNGLASSES that I love and that make me feel like a harried, slightly put upon movie star starring in my own private, no-budget, black and white, silent, stark and slightly tawdry little flick: ROSES ARE BLUE. And with me, always with me, my little, spoiled co-star, my Siberian husky-mix, Jett.

I’ve got Jett, his lead, with my right hand, and he is pulling me down the flights of stairs in my apartment building, straining to get to our building’s front door. Jett is running helter skelter, jerking me this way and that, yanking my arm outa my rotor cuff, causing my Traders Joes bag to slam into my boobs, sending my feet sliding all over the stairwell. Even though I am scolding him, I am secretly delighted by Jett’s strength: it means he’s happy, healthy and strong.  “SLOWLY, JETT! SLOWLY, JETT!” I admonish, in that deep voice you’re supposed to use when you want your dog to know you mean business. But Jett doesn’t give a fig what I say! Or that I mean business! He knows I never really mean business! Besides, it’s A BRAND NEW DAY for Jett!!!!! HOORAY!!!!! And Jett is off speeding to greet it, as if he’s never experienced the world! As if he’s never felt the wind on his snout or the warmth of the sun on his little brown back! Yipee! As if he’s never taken a whiz on the side of our building (I scold him for this everyday! back yard, back yard, I say to him) or surprisingly, on command, no less!, taken a shit in our little backyard. To see bliss is to see Jett take a shit! This is why Jesus and Saint Francis loved animals so!: animals are the true innocents. My mundane little work day is always the Garden of Eden to Jett’s Adam! Always brand new! Every day! Always a gas!

In two minutes, just a few streets down, now driving in my my car with Jett, I ran out of gas!

FUCK! I said to no one in particular, as I pumped the gas pedal for the last remaining drops of precious fuel that would let me roll off the main street and onto the corner of a side street, where my car ker-lunked to a stop. Jett paced in the back seat.

FUCK! I said again, all of a sudden feeling the cold rawness of the day, and looking back nervously at Jett.  This glitch would set our day back an hour or more!

Of course, my car is always low on gas, this being InCity Times. And, of course, I usually drive into my favorite gas station and tell my fave gas station attendant: I’M ON FUMES!  Some days I HAVE literally rolled into my fave gas station, my car literally running on fumes. Running on empty! And, of course, I didn’t renew my triple A membership last month – last year’s early Christmas gift from my kid sister ( she knows me well) – after triple A sent me a bazillion annoying renewal forms. It’s a rip off!, I remember telling myself. Who needs triple A when you’ve got friends?!

It was so grey out this cold, late autumn day. It was a work day, too. People would be busy. I took out my cell and hit “contacts,” looking to find a few friends to help me. As I reread the contact list on my phone, I looked up and took a quick mental snap shot of the neighborhood street I had landed myself and my little dog onto: broken down three decker porches, curtain- less windows in many of the three deckers’ flats, some garbage in the gutter, no trees, people hurrying down the street as the wind whipped their thin jackets, looking … unhappy.

Then the thought popped into my head: This was one of the blue-collar neighborhoods in Worcester I had aspired to live in when I was a little girl growing up in Green Island. My sisters and I had some school chums on this street when we were in junior high. I loved visiting one family here, right on this street! Their three decker, which they owned, was way nicer than the one my family lived in on Lafayette Street. Here, on this street, our friend’s three decker was wild with flowers in their little front yard. A pretty welcome mat was at their front door, once you opened the front gate and let yourself in, and, in their little back yard, a trellis where vines of roses bloomed like mad. Most of these three deckers I now found myself looking at were once owner occupied and very pretty. There were lots of kids running around on this street during my childhood and fun galore!

Now it all seemed dead, abandoned…a ghost town, even though there were probably more people living here than there was when I was a kid, what with the real estate developers now, to make even more $$, chopping up the three decker flats like my family used to live in into two, sometimes three, mini-apartments. Thus obliterating the old apartments’ Old World character and charm. History destroyed right before our eyes. Families cramped and dehumanized, all for the almighty buck!!!

In short: My Jett and I now found ourselves sitting in front of a three decker in what most folks today would consider  one of Worcester’s diciest inner-city neighborhoods.

I drive through some of Worcester’s dicier inner-city neighborhoods all the time. I don’t sit in my car in the middle of one for 35 minutes like I was about to do now.

This neighborhood’s diciness became very apparent to me when I observed a car with three or four young guys in it. It stopped in front of the three decker right across the street from where I was parked. One of the guys got out and said something to the other guys and then went into the three decker.  The guys in the car drove off. I thought to myself: These guys may go to community college, and these guys just dropped their friend off at his house. I didn’t see any books, but everything is smart phones and internet these days. ..

It struck me as a little “off” when (I had already called one friend and asked him to come down with some  gas – he said he was busy) the same car drove up to the three decker again about five minutes later and the young guy they had just dropped off minutes ago came downstairs and standing in front of their car said (I could hear cuz I had my car window down an inch) to the guys: NO.  … JUST CRACK.

I immediately hit the contact list on my cell and scrolled down to friend number two. Friend #2 answered, and I said very quickly: I RAN OUTA GAS. COME HELP ME.

She said yes. That she would send one of her workers with a can of gas.

I said: THANK YOU.

Then, hoping these guys didn’t think I was some under cover cop part of some sort of police under cover drug sting, I very carefully put my cell phone down on my passenger car seat and started my car. A few times. Rrrrrrrrr. The engine just wouldn’t turn over!  Now they would know that is why I was parked a few feet in front of them and had just heard all their drug sales talk.

I guess the guys in the car weren’t looking for crack because they drove off.

I began to feel a little self conscious. I glanced back at Jett. He was sitting in the corner of the back seat. Just a few minutes earlier he had whimpered.

I got on my phone  again. I called my gal pal and said: HOW LONG DO YOU THINK IT’LL TAKE HIM TO GET HERE? Does he know how to get here?!! I sounded a little … on edge.

I didn’t tell her what I had  just witnessed. I didn’t want to upset myself … or anyone who may have been watching me.

She could hear the panic in my whispers, though, and yelled:  ROSALIE, NOW DON’T START WITH ME! Your problem is you’re too IMPATIENT! He’ll get there!  Then she hung up on me, miffed.

I breathed fast in my broken down car, alone with my little dog. Damn it! I said to no one in particular. It’s so cold in here without a gun! I took my extra sweater out of my Trader Joes bag and put it on fast.

Then in back, to my left, another car let another young man out. This one looked at me – brazenly. I, stupidly, stared back at him. Then he smiled and made like a pointy gesture with his finger and waved it about in the air. In one of his hands I saw a DVD case and then under it something shiny and black. Compact, hard edged, so shiny.I was now officially scared shitless.

Who do you call when you think you may be killed?

Gordon Hargrove, executive director of The Friendly  House on Wall Street, of course!

If there’s a busier guy in Worcester than Gordon, I’d like to meet him. He’s in charge of half the city’s human service agencies, has staff all over the city, homeless shelters all over town. The mayor or city manager is always meeting with him to work on city issues.

I called Gordon. In a whisper I said:

Hi, Gordy. It’s Rosie. I ran out of gas on …. street. I think I saw a drug deal almost go down . Someone may have a gun.  –

Gordon to Rose: I’ll be there in 10 minutes.  Click.

I breathed a sigh of relief.  Thank God for Gordon Hargrove, a true friend, one brave dude! … How many people do you know would volunteer to drive to rescue YOU if they knew guns were in the mix? And they were as unarmed as you?!

What I would do was I would not call my gal pal and have her cancel her worker coming with the gasoline. I would take the gas from the first person who came and call the second person to say: Don’t bother. Im all set.

Now, with two people heading down with gasoline I should have felt relieved. But I was nervous as hell. I started the car up again to tell the  guy with the gun that THIS MIDDLE AGED BROAD RAN OUT OF GAS in your neighborhood! That’s all! I didn’t see what we both know I saw! Promise!

Jett was getting antsy for being stuck in one place for so long. He began to whimper.

SHUT UP! I hissed at him.

He did.

I immediately thought: What if, from one of those naked three decker windows, someone decides to use their gun and shoot Jett? Or me? We are such easy targets sitting here in the cold looking stupid. And everyone else in this hood knows it too.  I surreptitiously glanced up at one of those un- adorned windows. It would be so easy for someone to shoot us now! And my heart panicked for my little dog and me. All of a sudden I remembered how two or three years ago, a young woman, a former girlfriend of some thug had been sitting in her car just three streets from where I was sitting now. How someone just went up to her, sitting in her car while she was waiting for a friend, and took his gun out and shot her in the head and killed her. Just like that.

It all  happened in minutes, maybe even seconds …

Thats when my pal’s worker drove up to me. A sweet toothless skinny old man who jumped out of their little pick up truck and walked with a hitch and grinned a big toothless grin at me. I leapt outa my car, ecstatic to see him! Guns be damned! I had friends with me! People who loved me! People bearing a gallon of gas! I would jump out of my car and walk up to him, beaming!

Hi! I shouted at him, smiling. I decided to call this man, maybe in his late 60s/early 7Os, my savior, POPS (to myself).

Pops said, in a thick, maybe Polish or Russian accent, trying to explain his tardiness:  You said “right.” There no right. Why you say right? He was grinning and happy!  I was taxi driver! he told me.

I had to get us both outa there ASAP. Pops was just too sweet and clueless. Plus he had left his truck running in the middle of the street.

I opened the gas tank for him, and Pops poured and blathered away, acting oblivious to the fact that we were adrift in a sea of inner-city shit.

Pops was as sunny as a July afternoon as he struggled with the gas can and struggled to pour the gas into my car!

He chatted away like a magpie while he poured and stopped poured and stopped. I looked nervously at the street corner we were at and Pops back was facing because cars were whipping around that corner with a vengeance and we all know that these days in Worcester to be old and in the streets is to be ROAD KILL. I did not want to see Pops get hit as he talked about air pockets in the gas can and how I didn’t know street directions from Adam!

Then, something cool happened inside me. Maybe because I was buoyed by Gordon’s generosity and courage, my gal pal’s gruff but true friend ways, Pop’s blissful innocence ….but I moved in back of Pop’s back and started gently rubbing his back! Because it was cold out and his jacket was thin. Because he was sweet and a good person. Because he was poor.  Because that is what I used to do to my late Mom, when she struggled with her dementia and I wanted to comfort her. Because I wanted to protect Pops! From being shot at! From having a car take that corner fast and plow right into his scrawny old back! ROSE HAD POP’S BACK! AND I WASN’T GOING BACK INTO MY CAR even when Pops said go back and wait in your car!

No! I said.I’m staying with you!

When Pops had finished giving me gas and I had started the car I watched as he walked fast ( for his age) back to his vehicle. There was a school bus behind him, beeping like hell. I got outa my car and shouted WAIT! He’s an old man!

The driver got off the horn and Pops leapt into his little truck and drove off, waving to me.

I immediately hit the gas and drove off too, feeling free again and noticing two Worcester police cruisers driving to the same spot I had just left. They were driving slowly, scoping things out. Maybe some sainted neighborhood crime watch member had seen what I had seen and dialed 911.

*******

When I got home, at the end of my day, I felt low. I felt as if the buildings I lived next to and across the way from were filled with crack cocaine and heroin and dirty syringes and guns and angry, brazen young men who would kill with impunity, maybe even joy. Coming home usually makes me happy. My apartment, filled with my music, books, writing soothes me. My pad is my  sanctuary. My lilly pad of happiness. Not tonight. I flopped down on my bed and thought to myself: who have I been kidding? Who would want to live in this dump? Here – in the middle of all this suffering and killing and self-destruction. Half of Worcester is like this now. There’s no escape unless you live on the West Side, but even then you still have to make your way through the city, downtown …

I washed three loads of laundry that night! And put up half my Christmas decorations! Just to begin to feel normal, ok, again. Just to dull the epiphany!  But I was despairing that night and didn’t even listen to my music as I turned my bedside lamp off and buried myself under the bed covers in the dark.

The Piedmont neighborhood’s The Raven club forced to eat crow!

By Rosalie Tirella

Imagine you are a cool, young, handsome guy. Imagine you are a cool, young, handsome guy who digs music. Imagine you are a cool young music-loving guy who wants to bring cool music to Worcester’s masses – especially to young people. So, because you are young and cool and hopeful, you buy a club. You buy the old Cardinal bar in Worcester’s Piedmont neighborhood, on Pleasant Street/Congress Alley, and rechristen it The Raven because you are an Edgar Allen Poe fan and, with your shiny long jet black hair and angular attractiveness, you kinda look like a crow.

Then you – in this case Chris Bettencourt, 35 – watch your dream – and nerves – unravel, courtesy of the rough neighborhood to which you have hitched your dreams, the unsavory punks from the ‘hood who want to piss all over your dream, a half-hearted police force that will allow the punks to defile your dream, a missing-in-action neighborhood center staff, and a city manager’s office that seems too busy to bother about your dream.

This is what is happening to Bettencourt! Right now, as you read this! Chris still has his dream and his biz, but on many days he can often been seen sitting on the black metal bench outside his establishment sucking so hard on his cigarette, shoulders hunched, head down, that you’d think he had just checked into Deb Ekstrom’s Community Health Link/detox center, a 10 minute walk away. But no. It’s just the shitty side of Piedmont wearing a good man down.

Take the following facts:

* The area The Raven is trying to survive in looks … foreboding. Yes, Chris has a nice new trash barrel and bench outside The Raven and his small parking lot is always clean, but things across the way and up the way still look dumpy. The kind of dumpy that if the parents of one of The Raven patrons saw it, they would drive straight to Clark/Holy Cross/Assumption/WPI, pull their kids outa bed, shove ’em in the trunk of their Beamers and drive ’em straight back to their comfy homes in suburban Connecticut, New Jersey or Pennsylvania where they would staple gun Biff and Buffy to their bedroom doors for the next four years. It looks that tough.

* Weapons are being brandished. One night a neighborhood punk pulled a knife outside The Raven. Chris told the knife-wielding punk: take one step on my property and the you’ll deal with my door guy. The punk walked away, but true to punk nature, he then went on to slash the tires of five cars – five cars belonging to Raven patrons/kids.

* Chris turns to the people in the City of Worcester who are supposed to help, be there for a good guy with a good business: the cops and The Pleasant Street Neighborhood Network Center, on Pleasant Street, just a stone’s throw away from The Raven. Well, the cops come and say: we can’t do anything about this. Kevin Ksen, annoying uber neighborhood volunteer who for this year, to the annoynace of many city folks, has planted his wide ass in a chair at the Neighborhood Network Center, comes to The Raven to give Chris advice. Kevin Ksen tells Chris to have a good game of basketball with the knife-wielding punk. Befriend the poor victim of society’s ills.

Chris later told me: The punk is 35! Play basketball with him? Are they nuts??

I hear ya, Chris. Message to Kevin Ksen: The guy needs a job, not an enabler. The guy should apologize, retire his knife, get a job and then after a hard day’s work … play a game of hoop with Chris.

* Then there was the group of 20 guys – TWENTY!!! – just hanging out at the corner right by The Raven. Up to no good. The Worcester police were called; the cops said they couldn’t do a thing. Chris, feeling a tad overwhelmed at this point, called the cops again. This time the cops who came did in fact arrest the entire bunch except for one kid, a homeless dude.

* And we won’t go into the recent rash of fires in Piedmont that have made everyone in the neighborhood as jittery about their homes/apartments as Chris is about his club.

So, to see Chris sitting on his black bench outside his parking lot smoking like a chimney, a lost soul looking for an oasis in a desert of grime/crime, is heartbreaking. He says he wants to sell The Raven. He says he is looking for a partner to help him run the place. In truth, he is looking for someone to support him as he goes through all this crap. Someone who can be at his side the next time the bad boys ride into town and want to screw with his salloon. Chris is the Gary Cooper of Piedmont. This is his “High Noon.” No freaking deputies to be found! Anywhere.

Let me say this: It takes a truckload of guts to do what Chris Bettencourt is doing, to open up a club in a sometimes violent, inner-city neighborhood.

What makes all of this especially heartbreaking is The Raven is kind of a Worcester icon. It is located on Congress Alley, the tip of the Crown Hill neighborhood. Back in the 1960s Congress Alley was Worcester’s Haight Ashbury neighborhood, a place where Worcester’s young artistes came together to make music, poetry, paintings and protest the Vietnam War. A place where Woo’s hippies hung out to strum their acustic guitars and listen to their own beat poets because the cool old historic homes of Crown Hill were not yet reclaimed and rehabbed. They were just elegant junk, waiting for kids to move into them and decorate their lovely tired old maple and oak walls with tie-dyed curtains, macrame plant hangers, feathers and love beads and copies of The Whole Earth Handbook. There was even a relativley famous 1960s Worcester band called Orpheus that recorded a a couple of albums while they hung out on Congress Alley. They even record a song about the scene. It’s called (what else?) “Congress Alley” and sounds like a Byrds song, all jangly and cool.

So, good people of Worcester, we say how we want to be up and coming and cool and attract young people to our gritty environs, but we are letting Chris Bettencourt and The Raven dangle in the wind! New people and their NEW ideas are what make a city grow and thrive! It’s not just bricks and fancy crosswalks. It’s the peeps, peeps! Chris and his Raven club are a shining example of what Worcester should be in 2012 and beyond. Let’s not let the dude down!

Growing up …

By Maureen Schwab

Growing up in Green Island has had a lasting influence on how I viewthe world around me , and how I choosethe things and people that matter most to me. Even though I knew from a very early age that I lived in a neighborhood that could never be considered desirable or affluent, inretrospect, it was a far better life than what author Frank Mc Court describes in his autobiography, Angela’s Ashes (1996).
In his book, McCourt writes about the hunger he endured as a child because his father often drank away the money that should have been spent on food for his family. His mother, who at times had to beg to feed her family, was a responsible mother, but unable to control her husband’s drinking.

Never having experienced hunger as a child or as an adult, it was very humbling for me to realize how something as simple as regular meals can play a critical part in the development of one’s sense of dignity and self-respect.

My mother, who lived through the Great Depression, never let us goes hungry. She never traveled, or had expensive clothing or jewelry, but it did not matter to her. What did matter to her was her family, and providing us with the simple wonderful meals she cooked for us day after day. We never wasted a crumb, and even our stale bread was fed to the birds at Crompton Park, or the deer and the buffalo that lived at Green Hill Park.

I can’t really compare the life that Frank McCourt had to endure to what I experienced in Green Island. The poverty of McCourt’s Limerick made Lafayette St. look like an upper middle class neighborhood. We may have been dressed in shoes and clothing that was of a lesser quality, but most of us did not have to contend with the issues of hunger and diseases that are more prevalent in areas of extreme poverty.

What I do have in common with McCourt is our mothers’ love for us, and their willingness to sacrifice to care for us; this is what mothers do, sacrifice personal dreams and desires to care for their children.

Sadly, there are women (rich and poor and everything in-between) who are unable or unwilling to care for their children. We read stories in the paper that tell us of the horrorscommittedagainst innocent children at the hands of their mothers. We need a new word in the English language that strips away the title of mother forever from a woman who harms her child mentally or physically.

Once a year on a Sunday in May we celebrate Mother’s Day. One year, I gave my Mom a little artificial pick carnation corsage that I bought from the Sisters at St.Marys school. She loved it, and I felt very special for being able to make my Mom happy. Frank McCourt writes candidly about his mother, and honors her and all she did to keep him safe and well, as a mother myself, I would have been honored. Like McCourt, I learned to appreciate people and situations from the perspective of one who may have been deprived of some material things, but we had one big advantage; mothers who fed us bread and soup as well as our dreams and desires.

Green Island’s Millbury Street gets a much needed make-over

By Maureen Schwab

Millbury Street, the heart of Green Island, is getting a much needed make over that some, but not all, are happy about. The improvements made to Crompton Park last fall however, appear to be making everyone, especially the neighborhood children, happy; the new playground has been a huge success!

Construction on the six million dollar streetscape improvement project, managed by The Massachusetts Department of Transportation, (Mass DOT) began in autumn 2010, and is expected to be completed within the next few months. Improvements along Millbury Street include resurfacing and widening of the sidewalks with upgraded material, instillation of street furniture which will include benches, bike racks and waste receptacles. Handicap crossings will be installed on all corners, as well as water elements representing the Blackstone Canal, signage, plantings, trees, decorative street lighting and a bike path. What you will not see is two way traffic.

It’s been over 50 years since Millbury Street was once a two way street. Those were the days before Interstate 290, multiple car households and long commutes to work. Two way traffic probably worked because there simply were less drivers and less competition for parking spaces. Several Millbury St. businessmen have been promoting a two way traffic pattern for several years because they truly feel that it will promote business on a street that is a mix of business and residence. With the current construction underway, it was felt this would be the right time to make the necessary changes to the sidewalks and street. Residents who are strongly opposed are concerned about the potential loss of parking spaces and the safety hazards two way traffic will create.

The City Council Traffic and Parking Committee voted on April 25 to keep the current one way traffic pattern. There are several important reasons for this decision, first and foremost in my mind; the current improvement project includes a five foot wide bike path which would be eliminated if the street were to be made two ways. In addition, the redesign and construction would mean that the city might have to pay back the federal stimulus money it received to do the project in the first place!

The bike path, which is supposed to be part of the Blackstone River way bike trail, was originally supposed to be located on Quinsigamond Ave, Lamartine St , Francis Mc Grath Blvd. and end at Union Station. The current proposed route takes you down Millbury St. right into Kelley Square then to Union Station. I can’t think of anything more frightening than riding a bicycle through Kelley Square; I can barely make it through the traffic in my car most days!

Mass DOT is in the design phase of Gateway 1, an estimated five million dollar projet for the purpose of reconstructing Quinsigamond Ave. from Brosnihan Square to Southbridge St. The reconstruction is intended to improve access to downtown and provide a more aesthetically pleasing travel corridor. Approximately 1 year ago,. Mass Highway and the WRTA were considering moving operations to Quinsigamongd Ave, no information regarding either projet is currently available. Putting the bike path on Quinsigamong Ave, as originally planned is a safer decision which should still be considered. Keeping the streets that surround Crompton Park as environmentally friendly and compatible with the park design are important quality of life issue residents are entitled to.

While business’ struggle on Millbury Street, the new playground at Crompton Park has plenty of customers. It is wonderful to see children play while attentive parents look on. There are still problems with broken bottles and trash all around the park, but I am hopeful that people who use the park will make an effort to keep the park clean so it remains a good and safe place for children play.
I have noticed an increase number of people who walk with their dogs around the park. In a perfect world, Green Island will have a dog park in the near future. Pet ownership can lead to a happier, healthier life, and Green Island has some wonderful places where one can walk with their dog.

Green Island is a neighborhood populated by people who are for the most part poor and transient. It is important that those of us who live here protect our park, and in doing so, our environmental health.

Can the Green Island neighborhood come back?

By Maureen Schwab

The old J.J. Nissen Baking Company building that was located at 75 Quinsigamond Ave, near Brosnihan Square is gone – we all remember it fondly. The brick building, which went up in 1920, met the final blow of the wrecking ball Friday, January 20, 2012. Growing up a few blocks from the bakery, I can still remember the wonderful smell of baking bread in the air; a scent that still gives me a sense of peace and happiness. For 53 years, Green Island residents enjoyed the sweet aroma of baking bread, until the last batches were baked and the ovens turned off for the last time in May 1998. The bakery thrifty store, where one could buy bread, cakes, pies and cookies at a fraction of the supermarket price, closed in 2010.

The smell of baking bread may not be high on the list of what makes a neighborhood great, but as far as I am concerned, it was a treasured asset. My neighbors at the northern end of Green Island at Kelley Sq. can still enjoy the smell of pies baking in the Table Talk ovens, and every once in a while I can catch a whiff of sweet, delightful pie as I walk or drive through Kelley Sq. I would be remiss if I failed to mention Widoff’s bakery on Water St. For many years, my Mom would drive down to pick up a dozen hot bulkies on Sunday morning. The hot yeasty aroma of a hot bulkie would hit you in the face as soon as you opened the paper bag to grab one while it was still hot. These days, it’s the raisin and cinnamon babka, and Tiramisu cake that keeps me coming back.

Everyone has an opinion about what makes a neighborhood great. Urban theorist, Richard Florida, tells us that a good neighborhood is one that you have a high degree of emotional attachment to. He found that two factors were critical to developing this attachment; first was finding a community that treats all of its residents fairly; ethnic minorities, new immigrants, rich, poor, young, old, families, working folks, students and artist, and the most important factor; the quality of the neighborhood itself. Does it have trees and open space, are historic buildings and homes preserved? Does it have some kind of physical beauty?

Green Island has many dedicated residents and several active resident groups that are bringing new life and good ideas to our little corner of Worcester, people who have made the emotional attachment and want to see Green Island flourish. The establishment of a tenet-landlord association could be the first important step in improving the quality of our neighborhood. Currently, approximately 75% of Green Island housing is renter occupied. Some properties are beautifully maintained and others are nothing but dumps that no one cares about; including the landlords! Many of the three deckers that line the streets of Green Island are 100 years old. These are historic buildings that should be preserved, and can be if people start to appreciate their value and beauty.

Along with our historic three deckers, we have the history of Green Island and its role in the Industrial Revolution and the building of the Blackstone Canal. According to Richard Florida, neighborhoods that are exciting, that are great, have a long history behind them. We also can boast about our diversity, everyone who comes to live here is accepted and welcome, and diversity, according to Florida, also leads to a higher rate of emotional attachment to a neighborhood.

What Green Island is lacking however, and always has, is social and economic status. We have history and diversity; true, but status; not so much. Our incomes and education levels are lower than those who live in the more affluent neighborhoods in the city, and because of the high number of renters, our population is more transient and less likely to become involved in organizations and projects that upgrade the neighborhood and our quality of life.

The most desirable neighborhoods, according to Richard Florida, look increasingly similar no matter where they are. They are safe, they have good schools, and they are filled with families as well as singles. The current economic crisis has taught us the hard way, states Florida, that we need to live within our means, to forestall debt; it’s made us understand that we don’t have to define ourselves in terms of material goods, that we can achieve a more meaningful and sustainable way of life that is not based on income alone.

Recently, a Worcester Firefighter died while putting out a fire that started in a three decker on Arlington St. The property had multiple code violations and is owned by a woman who lives in Newton. Why in the world would someone come from wealthy Newton to buy three deckers in Worcester and then rent out poorly maintained apartments to people who are probably struggling financially? In my opinion owning property you wouldn’t live in yourself is unethical and a seriously pathetic way to make a buck.

Let’s not let anything like that happen in Green Island, I hope people will take a fresh look at this neighborhood, and see all of the good things we have here. In a way, its back to the future; 100 years ago people bought and maintained homes in Green Island that gave then a meaningful and sustainable way of life; and I believe it can happen again.

Holy Cross and South Worcester

By Rosalie Tirella

A month or so ago, before all the hoopla at Holy Cross, I met with a South Worcester community leader. He has worked in South Worcester for gosh, I would say, more than two decades – and he has known the good people of South Worcester and the players of Holy Cross for just as long. He told me he sees Holy Cross in a sunnier light than I do (note: this man does NOT live in Worcester – he WORKS in South Worcester)

This South Worcester community leader said up until eight or nine years ago, the College of the Holy Cross didn’t know Cambridge Street or Hacker Street existed – the college was a world unto itself, sealed off from the gritty environs at its gates. Then HC President Father Brooks – a nice  guy according to my mom who “waited on” him years ago as a counter girl at Osacar’s Cleaners  – did zippo for the South Worcester neighborhood. Years and years went by with nothing from “The Cross.” The blue collar folks of South Worcester worked their blue collar jobs, lived in their three deckers, lost jobs, retired, had kids and grand kids, and not one of them had ever had any kind of interaction with Holy Cross, the institution. Yet Holy Cross college dominated the politics of this city – whether  grooming future Wormtown political leaders or in the 1950s getting the state to build the new highway, Interstate 290, around its football stadium, rather than through it – as the state did when it came to nearby Green Island (basically bisecting the poor neighborhood with the new multi-lane highway).

Except for the HC students who boozed it up all the time and raised hell in South Worcester, no “ordinary” person had any dealilngs with the Cross. When I first began my paper, InCity Times, I got an earful of those dealings. One of the first “issues” people in the ‘hood carped about was the party-hearty Holy Cross students who had been, for generations, wreaking boozy havoc in their neighborhood. One man, who had lived near Holy Cross for years, told me he sold his house years ago in disgust and moved to Auburn. He said he was sick of eating breakfast with his wife and seeing Holy Cross kids use his front yard as a short cut to class. Every morning. Plus: the noise, the beer, the disrespect during party nights – it was just too much for him. He and his wife left the city they loved.

One woman wrote me and told me of a Holy Cross couple who were actually coupling in the hallway of the apartment building where she lived – and where she was trying to raise her daughter. Yes, hallway sex, that’s a way to ingratiate yourself with people who are annoyed by you.

InCity Times reported these headaches, began clamoring for a PILOT program and things changed … .

According to this South Worcester leader, Holy Cross began to step up and do the right thing – in teeny ways. He told me of the students’ South Worcester internships and marketing studies, etc. Still, all of this paled to what Clark University has done for Worcester over the years – or even the Mass College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences recently.

But this guy is an optomist. His latest idea, re: the neighborhoods and HC: Get Holy Cross to fund a branch library in South Worcester or Green Island. (All of Worcester’s were closed – except two – years ago) Take the big, freshly painted room in the South Worcester Neighborhood Center and fill it with books, chairs, tables and some older computers and/or laptops. 

I thought this was a great idea – and certainly affordable for HC. The same can be down in the Green Island Neighborhood Center at Crompton Park, I said. They have the space.

So why not, Father McFarland, take lemons and make some lemonade for HC and Worcester – specifiacally the poor neighborhood in which Holy Cross collge is located? My South Worcester friend said kids from Hacker Street or Cambridge Street don’t go to the main library on Salem Square – it’s just not part of their world. (Years ago their was a great city branch library on Southbridge Street – now the big building, across from Wendies, is a condo complex) So let’s have the Holy Cross/Caro Street Kids, put the beer bottles down, and start creating something special for South Worcester kids – a couple of branch libraries.

InCity Times/our volunteers will be glad to help. We can work on getting books, that’s for sure, thanks to Worcester School Committee member John Monfredo. Holy Cross will have to come up with the computers and laptops – and maybe some kids to man it during the hours its open. The branch libraries will be in rooms in the neighborhood centers, so the HC students will never be alone.

After we talked – this South Worcester booster and Holy Cross believer – well, his eyes widened, he seemed pumped. Even I grew hopeful.

For a few seconds.