Friday, March 7, 2008

Geography Geek

When I first moved back to Worcester from Baltimore I was all fresh with all this Baltimore stuff that I felt Worcester should be doing. Sitting at Vincent's one night talking to a friend he said something to me that has always stuck with me.

He said, "You know, Worcester shouldn't even really be here."

His point was that Worcester is a total anomoly. It's not a port city and it's not a capitol city. It has no riverfront. I am big on comparing Worcester before trashing it. Really thinking about my negativity before I start bitching and reasoning out through comparison whether or not my negativity is justified. Well, what American cities can we really compare Worcester to? I decided tonight at work, while it was a little slow, that I would find out.

I found this really cool site called Maps'N'Stats. All the stuff you need to keep a geography geek happy for days. I went through and found all the cities in the U.S. with populations between 148,000 and 202,000. This gave me 56 cities in 26 states. I needed to narrow it down a bit for comparisons sake. First thing I did was take out any cities that were on the ocean or a river using our Streets and Trips software here at work. As has been pointed out many times, lack of water really has alot to do with how things are and how things have developed here in Worcester. This cut the field pretty much in half to just 27 cities in 13 states. Then I removed all cities that are state capitols. State capitols are going to have a bit more activity simply by being a state capitol. Not really a fair comparison. This got me down to 23 cities in 10 states.

Next I got rid of cities that were just part of the metro area of another larger city. Glendale California and Tempe Arizona are two that come to mind here. Silly me, I did not record the number this got me down to. My next qualification really shrunk the numbers down though and this is the thing that really makes Worcester unique. I wanted to remove all cities that were out in the middle of nowhere. So basically for these last two qualifications the city had to be more than 30 minutes from a larger city but less than 45 minutes. Just far enough away where it was a pain in the ass to live your life in that bigger city yet close enough where that bigger city couldn't help but invade the culture of the city you live in.

This got me down to four cities including Worcester. Four qualifications and I go from 56 cities to four cities. I knew that Worcester was unique, I had no idea it was that unique though and to me this explains quite a bit about why we are the way we are here. These are the only four landlocked, non capitol, non metro yet close to larger urban area cities in our country with populations between 148,000 and 202,000 people.

Santa Clarita, California (Santa Clarita should not be counted here. It is a brand new city and mainly is the same thing as if Framingham, Marlborough, Hudson and Westborough decided to incorporate into one city, it is north of the LA metro area)

Worcester, Massachusetts (just outside of the Boston metro area)
Durham, North Carolina (just outside of the Raleigh metro area)
Winston-Salem, North Carolina (just outside of the Greensboro metro area)

So I am going to spend some time reading about Durham and Winston-Salem and see how our city compares. Should be interesting. Of course there are things inherently wrong in Worcester that have nothing to do with whether the city has a waterfront, or whether the city is a capitol, or whether the city has a large metropolitan area or whether or not it is part of a larger cities metropolitan area. Of course this is true.

But maybe just maybe there are things that we want out of Worcester, things we see on a night out in Boston and Providence, things we see when we travel to other cities in this country that just aren't in the cards here in Worcester and never will be. Maybe we need our leaders to help us find an identity for ourselves as Worcesterites and then go from there instead of trying to give our citizens things that most well thinking people left to find on their own a long time ago. What can Worcester give me that I can't get 45 minutes up the road and most of the time get better?

Mrs. Lukes, Mr. O'Brien and the rest of the the folks who sit in the big wooden chairs in city hall this is my challenge to you. Define Worcester. Define it positively. Tell me what it means to be from Worcester and why I should continue to live here. You are our leaders. Step up and lead.


Anonymous said...

I have been all over the US, whether it while in Americorps in places like Des Moine IA or Tulsa Ok. I have been to many mid sized cities and Worcester really has no reason for people to live here. Maybe we are all in the MIST, stuck because it contains people and tons of homes left from the industrial revolution. We all just wish we lived in Boston or Providence but as a blue coller city think the high prices don't make sense. We stress to outsiders that we are in the middle and less than an hour to so many other places. Head east go to Boston...Head west spend the weekend in the Pioneer Valley.
I think I am in awe of such an orginal city that keeps its roots in the blue coller world and has character. We are more NYC of the 80's then Paris of the 80's. NYC went from having burning cars on the side of the Cross Bronx Parkway to everyone carrying around they toy doggies coming back from a Puppy and Me manicure.
I am so much more the "rawness" of a city then the 5th Avenue princess.
No more empty warehouse space in NYC....But we have the buildings I can dream of buying and converting the whole building to a living space..

JL said...

So I am going to spend some time reading about Durham and Winston-Salem and see how our city compares.

Durham is a depressing comparison, seeing how it's part of the Raleigh-Durham metro area and the Research Triangle.

Gabe said...

This was pointed out to me the other day, that although Durham is just as far outside of Raleigh as we are outside of Boston it's still considered to be part of the same metro area. Okay, subtract another city. Worcester really is looking like a one of a kind.

FreeArtWorcester said...

Here is a map of something interesting goin' on in Worcester!

Give a shout out!

Time and Man said...

Hey Gabe,

Just found your blog, and I really liked this post. Thanks for taking the time to geek out all the geography stats. To add further to Worcester's uniqueness, I read in a John McPhee article awhile ago that Plymouth rock (and most of eastern Massachusetts) was originally part of a subcontinent between nascent North America and Africa. In the article he mentions that the terrain of Central Mass is of unknown origin.

Keep up the posting.