By Rosalie Tirella
We eagerly anticipate the housing study that the City of Worcester is about to share with the rest of us Woo-ites. As you may recall, 10 years ago a consulting group came in and studied Worcester (for a pretty penny) in all its gore/glory and made recommendations as to how we might improve our, um, image.
One of its conclusions: Worcester has enough low-income housing and needs more market-rate housing. Around town the idea was poo pooed and jokingly referred to as the “Worcester needs a better class of people” report. I was one of the many poo pooers. I felt the report was telling us to:
* eject poor Latinos, blacks, poor people in general, from our city to …
* lure more upper-middle class empty nesters with lots of time and money on their hands. (You know the type, BORING people in their early 60s/late 50s who have seen their kids graduate from college and leave home only to realize that living in their big (childless) house in the suburbs is a drag, besides being a tad lonely. So … to Worcester they must flock! To live and have fun (i. e. spend lots of their disposable income!). To eat and drink at our bistros! To watch plays in our playhouses! To do all the things that people with money want to do – but not at home in the suburbs.
Many of our city poo baas, lead by City Manager Mike O’Brien, feel this was/ is the way to bring money into our cash-strapped city to pay for … all our $100,000+ year city cops and our $100,000 a year city high school principals and our other grossly over paid “public servants.” And our city pension plan which pays these folks 80% of their salaries for the REST OF THEIR LIVES after they retire from the city at a very spry 62.
One way to save money (instead of sticking it to the city’s working poor): Why doesn’t the City of Worcester keep more of its money by raising the age which city workers can receive a pension? Raise it to 66/65 years. This move would save us millions of dollars! Another solution: What about hiring flag men and women instead of city cops to hover over Worcester construction sites/road work? The Worcester policemen do next to nothing at these sites! Every time I see one, he or she is on his/her personal cell phone – it looks glued to the side of his/her face! Most of the policeman I’ve watched seem totally uninterested in DOING THEIR JOB. So why keep giving them the LUCRATIVE work? Massachusetts is one of the two states in the country that still hires its cops to direct traffic at road work sites. Why can’t we be like the 48 other states in the union and hire flag men and women?! This move would CREATE JOBS and save the city a ton of money.
But no. We must treat the new housing report as some kind of talisman … the answer to the city’s need for millions of tax dollars to keep our bloated ship of City Government afloat.
So out with the CDCs and their apartments that rent for $650. In with the real estate developers who will charge market rate – about $900 for a 3-bedroom apartment.
Where do our poorer folks go?
Weston? Nahant?! Poorer folks come to cities because of the more affordable housing and all the support services they find here, in Lowell, Lawrence and … Boston. This is what America is! A country of immigrants bringing new ideas, new passions, new traditions to a new land where everything gets all mixed together and WONDERFUL things happen! Like jazz or the blues or Tin Pan Alley or Frank Capra movies! Why do we want to take the America out of Worcester?
I am all for making our neighborhoods more attractive, rehabbing foreclosed homes, etc but we are going to lose good people – people who have family and friends in Worcester. People whose kids attend Worcester public schools. People who may not have the money to own a car and count on the city buses to get them to work or supermarket, etc. People who have ideas, knowledge, passion, art … .
Witness the Canal District.
The Canal District is the new name for a once great urban, ethnic working class neighborhood, Green Island. Look at it today! With all its bars that cater to college kids looking to get laid/drink a lot, you wouldn’t have guessed that the neighborhood is loaded with a proud history, fine memories – or poor people. That’s because these days all the poor folks live conveniently across Kelley Square – on/off Millbury Street. Away from the “Canal District” part.
Is this the “better class of people” we want to move to Worcester? Boozy woozy young males with boners? We have pretty much gentrified one side of Kelley Square.
Before it all happened, I was watching my old neighborhood (I grew up in Green Island) transition to something more interesting … a Vietnamese neighborhood. Maybe Worcester’s version of Boston’s Chinatown. My mom and sister still lived in the neighborhood. My sister did some of her grocery shopping at a Vietnamese grocery store on Millbury Street. Green Street had – still has – a Vietnamese soup/noodle shop. Other Vietnamese stores were popping up on Green Street. My mom, who attended St. John’s Church on nearby Temple Street (off Green Street), told me the church had “hired” a Vietnamese priest because there were so many Vietnamese folks who attended Mass at St. John’s. The priest said the Mass in Vietnamese.
Did the city take the lead on this interesting urban seed that was sprouting roots? Did anyone offer any Vietnamese family or business any grants, federal loans? Probably not. Because the money guys/gals and connected folks hustled in and … took over.
Let’s talk about another Canal District option.
Eleven years ago, when I first began InCity Times, there was a fledgling gay scene on Water Street. Vibes, Rage Club, the Gay Pride Celebration – all on Water Street. I thought: COOL! This is gonna be great! I put some of the leaders on the cover of ICT and ran a cover story. We attended the gay pride celebrations and took photos galore. But what happened? The Canal Fest folks didn’t want the gay folks to piggyback their event onto Canal Fest. Irish Catholics got a little homophobic and basically turned a cool shoulder to good folks who should have been their brothers in arms. So … there went the gay flavor. Yes, there are still a few spots on Water Street that are gay venues but they are overwhelmend by the Irish frat boy contingent.
Was this the best way to go about reviving a WONDERFUL old industrial neighborhood like Green Island?
But hey, the area brings in money for the city.
Do we need to further gentrify Worcester’s inner city neighborhoods, using the soon to be released housing report as “proof” that this move is a great idea?
Let’s try this instead – a great way to bring in money to the city and lift up the folks alreay in our urban core: Let’s do what New Bedford is doing and LURE LIGHT INDUSTRY TO OUR INNERCITY Neighborhoods. $12 or $14 an hour (full-time) jobs are better than $8 an hour (part-time) jobs at WalMart, CVS the Canal District restaurants and wherever else our working poor are toiling these days.
I grew up working poor – my mom raised her family on a minimum wage paycheck – and it was brutal, even though, back then, the minimum wage was tied more closely to the cost of living. Now?! Forget about it! You cannot work full time at a minimum wage job and support a family. Desperation sets in … .
SO… let’s revitalize our inner-city neighborhoods and help poorer families by bringing in LIGHT INDUSTRY/factory jobs. Let’s give these companies whatever they want, tax credits, brown field clean up help! You name it! Anything to get the underskilled working for good wages again (the way our factories did years ago).
By increasing the wages of the working poor, you make them less a strain on the system and give them more buying power. Power to buy stuff and goods in their inner city neighborhoods. That was what Green Island, Quinsig Village, Vernon Hill were all about in the 1930s and 1940s. These neighborhoods sprung up around Worcester’s mills and factories. The neighborhood stores catered to the neighborhood people.
This is the “class” of people I want to see in my neighborhoods. These people need $12/hour jobs. These folks don’t need to be told they are not the right class of people. They do not need to be not so subtly removed by City Manager Mike O’Brien and his cheerleaders, housing developers with their eye on the buck/game. Let’s not build inner-city monuments to the gargantuan egos of a few men who do not even live in the city or live part time in the urban core! Let’s build neighborhoods where our families can flourish!
The last people we need to make our medium-sized city sizzle is a bunch of rich old fucks. We need youth! and conflict! and alliances! and posses (but without the knives/guns). All the great art that has come out of America was born from people who were most definitely not of a “better class,” whether that be blues, jazz, rock n roll, tin pan alley, THE GREAT AMERICAN SONG BOOK. The sons and daughters of immigrants – poor Jews, Italians, blacks, Latinos have given America her American-ness. They were part of the lower classes, even the under class … and yet, the music Irving Berlin, the movies of Frank Capra, the sound of Frank Sinatra will live on forever.
Does a really great meal at a bistro = Frank Sinatra or “You’re a Grand Old Flag”?
Let’s keep our city a real AMERICAN city. Full of sweat, labor, dreams, desires, ambitions, traditons from countries all over the planet! Worcester needs to support/respect the people who are here/who want to come here. The city’s CDC’s do just that – respect inner-city folks, create places and spaces that Worcesterites can enjoy… and thrive in.
We don’t need a better class of people, Worcester. We need a better class of city leaders.