Monday, July 28, 2008

Another plan

The Telegram reported today on yet another proposed redevelopment plan for one of the cities many blighted urban neighborhoods. As most of these plans do, this one has it's good ideas and bad ideas. Good being knocking down that AT+T building. Bad being operating a trolley in one neighborhood that sits in between several neighborhoods that all are walkable.

As an aside by the way, a trolley that serviced Shrewsbury St, The Canal District, Downtown, and Elm/Highland would be phenomenal, but this is only talking about North Main.

Why I do this I don't know, but I usually read all the comments on any stories involving development and planning on the Telegram page mostly to get myself all riled up and the ignorance that gets spouted over there. Every one in a while you see something pretty good.

From a poster known only as "Gonzoworm":

"As a professional city planner born and raised in Worcester, I can hear and understand some of the frustration with 'another plan,' but such plans are the only way that investors and business people get the signal that a certain area should be invested in...however, the city's real problem is not so much too many plans, it that there is no one unified vision for the city...Tim Murray wasn't a plan...Worcester Ctr. Common Square or whatever Mr. Park calls is not a plan or vision either...the reason Worcester continues to languish is that no one can articulate how these competing and sometimes incompatible mini-plans (north main, courthouse, Hanover, canal district, Shrewsbury street, gateway project, union station etc.) work TOGETHER...that's where real planning happens...the city has no trained city planners working for it (sorry, Joel Fontaine) and the the continued recycling of long-time ineffective city hangers-on (see: Steve O'Neil, Dennis Hennesey, Julie Jacobson) and grandstanding unimaginative and under-educated elected officials, it's no wonder people continue to feel that despite all the activity in recent years, it's not leading anywhere. Like Hemmingway said, never mistake motion for action. For what it's worth, I work for a real estate and architecture firm consulting nationwide...large scale moneyed investors often look to see is a city has a current master plan before making investment decisions...Worcester's last master plan was done in 1987 before computers using typewriters and hand-drawn graphics...Worcester is fond of promoting it's innovative industrial heritage and current biotech-university new frontier...but with a no modern, unified plan, we'll be having this same discussion within 10 one time Worcester was a national leader. It's time to reassert ourselves. GENERAL PLAN NOW!!!!"

I think we need more people like this Gonzoworm character getting involved with the reshaping of urban Worcester.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Downtown Preacher Man Live Blog

As blogged about over at 4rilla is For Real this guy has been down at the Worcester Common every Saturday in the good weather since I moved here in mid October of last year. Sometimes he is so loud that I can't even watch television, read, or even concentrate in my own apartment, and I am 8 floors up and about 70 yards away. I decided this weekend that I would get to the bottom of it. Here is what transpired. Kudos to the police for the quick response.

1:03 PM
Here I am. In the common on the free city wi-fi. I am about to call the police on the dude. Let's see what they do.

1:08 PM
Supposedly an officer is on his way.

1:18 PM
An officer arrived and talked to the preacher. He in fact has a permit for every Saturday in the common for the rest of the summer.

So what is the next step here? Ask yourself. Would you stand for this? How much does it cost to get a permit to do something involving amplification in one of the most high profile public spaces in our city? If I wanted to have a concert in the common with amplification every Saturday could I? Would I need a police detail? Should the preacher have a police detail? Does my city councilor know about this? How does he feel about it? All questions I intend to get answered this week.

1:33 PM
I haven't heard a peep out of him in about 10 minutes he talked for a little bit after the police showed but since then I haven't heard much. The officer did tell him to turn down a bit.

I honestly don't mind him being there if he keeps it to a dull roar. I didn't move down here for the peace and quiet. Almost anything that loud that happens on a weekly basis though has gotta go.

1:55 PM
He's gone. He is usually here, two three hours. Interesting. He has a permit, but the police coming down obviously made him think about some things.

To be continued next week...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Do You Remember

That PSA that used to run in the 80's about cocaine? "I need to keep working more hours, so I can make more money, so I can buy more coke, so I can work more hours, so I can make more money so I can buy more coke, so I can work more hours so I can buy more coke...." And so on and so on.

I have a new one for Worcester.

There's no one downtown, because people think it's dangerous, because there's no one downtown, because people think it's dangerous, because there's no one downtown, because people think it's dangerous... and on and on and on.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Quick Public Service Announcement

Long time Worcester music community member and my former roommate Justin "Pez" Day needs your help readers. If you have spent any time around The Lucky Dog, Ralph's and the rest of the music venues around the city you know Pez as one of the premiere 4 string players in the area and have seen him play with local outfits Gutta and Huxley. Pez's current band, The Luxury, is currently in a contest sponsored by WFNX where the winner gets to open up the sold out Coldplay show at the Boston Garden.

The contest started with 400 entrants and was narrowed down to 15 finalists. Right now the final 15 are being voted on with 3 top vote getters to be put in front of Coldplay themselves for the band to decide who they want to share the big stage in Boston with for the night.

The Luxury are currently number 2 in the voting and need to stay that way until Thursday when voting concludes.

Take a moment out of your busy day and help a local boy do some good out there in the world. The Luxury are the second down from the top. Take a moment to watch the video too, it's for their song "Malcontent" and it's pretty good.

Soft Opening

The Union Station parking garage is finally open. Of course I really had to go snooping around to figure this out. Franklin St, on the garage side, is still not connected to Grafton St. If you come down the hill into the city from Brown Sq there aren't any kind of signs letting you know the garage is open. There are however all sorts of signs that say "detour" pointing down Franklin St from the end of Harding and it was kind of comical yet also kind of sad watching all the cars zoom down Franklin, hoping that one of the best short cuts in the city was now open again, only to come face to face with do not enter signs.

I walked through the tunnel into Union Station. It isn't "scary". (in a Telegram article a few days ago about the garage's grand opening someone in the comments section said that there were many unanswered questions about the new garage, one of which was whether the "tunnel" that goes under the tracks and to Union Station from the garage would be safe. We really have some grade A geniuses in the Big Woo). I also hoofed it (the elevators aren't operational yet) to the top floor of the garage to check out the view. I've always been really into the views from the tops of urban parking garages. It's not often you get any type of roof access in the city and here they are letting you go right up there.

This would make a real good spot to get a nice picture of the Worcester skyline. Hey Zoback, Womag should do a Worcester skyline photo contest. I don't think I have ever seen a good pic of the city's skyline.

So yeah, garage open, no Grafton St access yet. Other than that it looks beautiful. I wonder if the shops have any confirmed tenants yet. I will lay money on Starbucks or Dunks. Maybe we'll get a Tim Horton's?

I forgot to ask the rates folks. Sorry.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

No One Cares About Downtown

Did you know that someone got stabbed in the chest in our city on Thursday? Did you know that this happened at 4:37 in the afternoon? Did you know that it happened right across the street from City Hall?

Why are people not completely furious about this?

The story has 10 comments. Someone almost gets murdered in broad daylight across the street from City Hall and it musters up 10 comments? It's not even in the most read stories of the past few days list.


No one cares. No one could give a shit about what goes on in the urban core of Worcester. It simply isn't a priority for anyone.

I know I reference Baltimore quite a bit but I am going to do it again. I am sorry but it's what I know. What do you think would happen at Baltimore Police Headquarters, Baltimore City Hall and The Baltimore Sun if someone were to get stabbed at the Inner Harbor? I'll tell you what...

All hell would break loose, that's what.

Pay attention Councilors. Take note of this. Someone got stabbed in the heart of your city and everyone just shrugs their shoulders. Why? Because everyone expects it. That is the attitude you are dealing with in the Worcester metropolitan area. There is no outrage about someone getting stabbed downtown because most people believe that it is just par for the course.

Do you think the people of Boston would shrug their shoulders at an afternoon attempted homicide in Government Center? Or the people of Providence in Waterplace Park?

The phone should be ringing off the hook at City Hall, Police Headquarters, and at the Telegram. But it isn't. Because no one cares.


Hey councilors, deal with this shit. Hey Palmieri and Lukes, you should be on the phone with the Chief on the hour until those guys are aprehended.

It's about 1 trillion times more important than whether Dougie Garden Fresh sells one less mediocre salad because Johnny Hot Dog is stealing his customers.

I want to see the guys that did this in cuffs on the front page of the Telegram within 7 days and if I don't see that I want my local newspaper to provide me with answers as to why not.

Hey Worcester(and I am talking to every single person reading this who calls this city home), you are just as much at fault in this as City Hall, the poe poe, and the Telegram. Your, "Oh well, somebody got stabbed downtown. See Margie? I told you that place was a war zone" attitude isn't helping matters either.

I mean as a city are we really okay with dudes just getting stabbed in broad daylight in our downtown? A place where our tax money is building an ice skating rink not 50 yards away that our children will be using by winter of next year? Or maybe you have already decided your children aren't going within 1 mile of that rink or downtown in general for that matter. Ever.

I am shocked and horrified that this happened on Thursday. You should be too. Or maybe you aren't because you reside in the town of Worcester. Stuff like that happens in the City of Worcester, that's why you moved out. Thank god you don't have to worry about that anymore.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Downtown this morning 7/12/08

Got up early (well early for me on a Saturday) with the goal of going down to the barber on North Main and getting my hairs cut. Like a whole lot of businesses in the city this week he is closed for vacation. I was going to write a big diatribe here about this and then remembered that I took July and August off for the First Fridays so I need to drink a big glass of shut the the f*ck up.

On my way there I noticed that there is a new designer glasses store opening up at the corner of Walnut and Main. The guys inside said about two weeks. They weren't the owners though so who knows how factual this is. They couldn't even tell me the name of the business. There is a very nice Georgio Armani logo stenciled on the front double doors however.

I was looking to eat some lunch/breakfast and passed by Garden Fresh. They were open. I kept walking. The owner thinks that street vendors are going to cause bomb like hysteria in downtown Worcester. Stupid folks like that are bound to mess my food up. I won't ever go there again. You shouldn't either. You are only asking for eventual bad food.

I went walking around behind Garden Fresh up George St and Eden St. There is an absolutely gorgeous old house I have never seen before at the end of Harvard Ct with it's windows all smashed out and a big red x on it which of course means it's destined for the wrecking ball. It's really too bad. This house could have been a really cool three or four unit apartment or condo building.

I continued down Eden and was noticing all the urban residential in this area. A great deal of what looks like 6 or 7 plus unit buildings. You would think with Unum and Fallon right here never mind all the other offices that these buildings would be packed with young professionals. Especially with the rising cost of gas. What has changed where it was so common in the early days of industrial America for workers to live so close to where they worked but now this just isn't the case? I would love to live directly across the street from my job. I would love to live 80% of my life on one block and spend the other 20 traveling. Maybe this is just me.

I walked back down to Main and ended up getting lunch at Spoodles at the corner of Main and Maple. This place is a real jewel that doesn't get much play in the Worcester word of mouth. It's one of those places that does everything right. Food and atmosphere. I had a pastrami on rye while sitting up in the loft seating looking at pictures of Dean Martin and James Dean and listening to an early 50's pop satellite radio station. Yep good experience down to the last detail.

I walked past City Hall on the way back to my place. There was some crazy Christian Jesus Saves type demonstration going on on the steps of City Hall where a bunch of people were yelling at a bunch of other people and telling them that the way they live their lives is wrong. What happened to separation of church and state? What would happen if next Saturday I wanted to have a rock concert on the steps of City Hall? And for jeebus sake can someone get that preacher with the high wattage public address system out of my front yard on Saturdays?

Last Night On Green St

After a long night of drinking some very tasty beers on the new patio at the Dive Bar I walked out with the idea of getting a sausage from Chris, the new vendor who sets up right outside the Dive on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Thursday I got a pulled pork sandwich that was really really good. Apparently everyone else thought so too because he sold out of it for the weekend already on Thursday night.

Some friends I was with only had $4 between them (not enough for anything Chris sells) so we went down the street to "Moe's Hot Dog's" who set up on the other side of Green St half way between Creegan's and The Lucky Dog. The dogs, at $2 a pop were great and Moe took the time to grill the buns on both sides. Always a plus for me.

Last Saturday night I pretty much stayed in for the night. Around 12:30am I got hungry and so I walked over to the Kenmore and got some grub. Thursday night I got a pulled pork sandwich from Chris's cart outside the Dive, last night Moe's Hot Dog's, tonight maybe it will be Fresh Way or Wings over Worcester.

But here is the bigger point of all of this. These are my options in The Canal District for eating after midnight:

Kelley Sq Pizza: Decent Greek style pizza and okay sandwiches. Nothing spectacular but they are there and they are open until 2:00am AND they deliver.

Wings Over Worcester: Outrageously good wings, bone in and boneless. There is usually a pretty long wait but if you are in the mood for wings it's totally worth it. The place is usually completely packed up so if you are getting wings mostly you are getting them and taking them home.

Fresh Way Pizza: Awful cardboard taste like crap pizza close to three of the bigger mook bars in Worcester, Fusion, The Blackstone Tap, and Jose Murphy's. Due to the mook factor the people behind the counter are dicks to everyone. It's kind of warranted. Still, shitty food, and their delivery kind of blows too.

The Kenmore: A Worcester institution. You always know what you are going to get at the Kenmore which is average at best diner fare and a long wait in line if you get there past 1:15-1:30am. Sometimes it does the job nicely though and it is really your best option in the Canal District if you want to sit down with friends and chill and have a conversation after the bars close.

Chris' Wacky Green Street Sausage Stand: I am not sure what he is calling his business but he offers very non standard fare and pretty decent prices and it is food you can hold in your hand and you don't need a table for it. It gets made quickly and Chris is a pretty friendly dude.

Moe's Hot Dog's: Like I said these hot dogs are made right to my own specifications, grilled dogs, grilled buns. You can get two of them for less than your average beer and they are GOOD.

So I have six options as to where I want to get food in the wee hours in the Canal District. I see myself giving all six of these businesses my patronage again depending on my mood, the circumstances, the color of the moon, which knee is bothering me, if I had a good week at work, if I am feeling social, etc, etc.

You get what I am saying.

More options overall means a better experience for me, the urban Worcester dweller. If they all cancel each other out I know that I will still have options because Kenmore and Kelley Sq Pizza aren't going anywhere. I hope they can all survive though because options and convenience are two of the cornerstones of real city living. Just in one neighborhood if I want to get something to eat between midnight and 2am I have 6 options all within walking distance of each other. This is really awesome.

The thing to note about my above list however is this. At the moment, of the six listed only three are making an effort to serve quality food. Quality for what they do at least. Of course the food at the Kenmore is just as good as the food at Moe's Hot Dog's but I don't have to wait in line with a bunch of bouncing off the wall drunken mooks to give them business. Sometimes I will though because sometimes I will want to sit down with my friends at a table.

Everyone of these places isn't perfect and isn't the absolute best thing for everyone looking to get food in The Canal District at this time. But this is where the real answers to problems comes in.

It's all a numbers game. Simple percentages.

As a business owner instead of worrying about the next guy you should be reaching out to him and working together with the city and with neighborhood representatives to insure that every night you are open for business that there are enough people to go around for all of you to make a little money.

If you only need five customers a day and there are 100 potential customers walking by your business every day well then all you need to do is get 5% of those potential customers to be your customers, right? Now if you can't and the numbers are there the only person you have to blame is yourself. Not your competition, and not the city. Right now the numbers aren't there. Right now the growth of our urban core is a rather new development too. It is way too early in the game to start pointing the finger at each other. Form neighborhood business alliances and work with the city to try and figure out ways to increase the numbers. This is the real answer and the one that will make the city, the people that live in it, and the businesses happy in the end.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Downtown this morning

Downtown this morning is really awesome.

Dude playing catch in the common with his kids. Two street vendors on Front St, one selling flowers the other selling jewelry and incense. Another vendor, who is selling hot dogs in front of City Hall, told me there was TV coverage this morning on the street vendor issue.

My favorite thing going on this morning though?

In a transformation of space that should embarrass City Hall, there is a busker singing and playing guitar in the foyer of the old Paris Cinema on Franklin St. Seems to be cleaning up too.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Neighborhoods 2

Let's face it. Worcester doesn't know whether it is coming or going when it comes to neighborhoods.

If you look around the internet you will find all sorts of different info on the neighborhoods of Worcester. Over at Buy Worcester Now they list the city as having 26 different neighborhoods. If you go to the city council website you will find that according to the city each district councilor represents about 12-15 different neighborhoods. At 5 districts that's about 75 neighborhoods. We all know Worcester doesn't have 75 different neighborhoods of course. My favorite breakdown of the neighborhoods and the one I feel to be the most correct is supplied in the Worcester Housing Study. The study breaks Worcester down into 15 submarkets along with maps that clearly define each of the submarkets.

Beaver Brook
College Hill
East Side
Great Brook
Green Hill
Green Island
Main South
North Side
Oak Hill
South East
South West
West Side

This is my favorite simply because I agree with it. I feel the way they have seperated the neighborhoods is correct culturally as well as the overall feel of the neighborhoods. There's a couple things I would change. I would extend the downtown neighborhood all the way to Chadwick Sq. I would leave the natural boundaries of Green Island intact and include the whole Canterbury St area with the rest of Main South. That is only two off the top of my head.

So why all this neighborhood talk?

I feel it's important.

I think there is a need to define Worcester's neighborhoods. To give them distinct boundaries. To profile them. To let the world know about them. To give people an expectation of what they will find when they visit them. To give people a bit of a guide as to what it is like to walk down the streets in these neighborhoods. If you are a Worcester resident or someone familiar with the city ask yourself this. If someone where to want to move here and they were to ask you where they should move, what would you say? If you asked them questions as to what kind of neighborhood they were looking for would you be able to give them an idea based on their response?

Simply put, if you break the city down into neighborhoods and then look at it that way it is easier to tackle some of the problems that ail it and feel good about some of the progress that it is making.

I think it is very easy to think of Worcester and think of it as just one big neighborhood. I know for a fact that is how a great deal of people who know of Worcester but don't KNOW Worcester feel about it.

Imagine a guide that broke down all the neighborhoods, what housing was like there, what the schools were like there, talked about the parks and the shopping and the nightlife or lack of in each of the neighborhoods. I think if there was something out there that did this and did it comprehensively I think the neighborhoods would really start to take shape. It is an insider's city. If I was to come here to live and not know anyone odds are I would end up in the wrong neighborhood. There is nothing telling me anything about any of the neighborhoods in the city online. This is something else that ails our urban core too. We are an old mill town. I feel we can get to the point where the city is asthetically pleasing but it is going to take a lot of time and we are already way behind in getting there. If you don't know the city the entire urban core most likely appears to you to be a train wreck that you are better off stearing clear of.

Maybe this is something the city could work on. Defining the neighborhoods. Fostering strong neighborhood associations who will take the reigns in the marketing of their neighborhoods. I know I would love to see it.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Cities and Towns

Inspired Mike Benedetti's post over at Worcesterite the other day I went to the city council website to write Phil Palmieri about the street vendor issue. While I was there I noticed that all of the councilors have their addresses up right on their profiles. I was curious.

Paulie over at Paulie's Point Of View has really been making a point to enlighten us about the fact that only one of our eleven city councilors actually lives within the urban core of Worcester, that one being District 4's Barbara Haller. Since I think it is pretty loosely defined and I am sure there will be some questions asked, I define the urban core pretty much by squares running from Chadwick Sq down Park Ave to Webster Sq down Cambridge St into College Sq, down 146 and up Providence St into the Rice Sq area and down Plantation across the hill to Lincoln St and Brittan Sq. That to me that is urban Worcester. You live within those boundaries and you are living in the city of Worcester. You live outside of that and you are living in the town of Worcester. Worcester really does exist on two different levels. You get outside of that urban core and it really is hard to tell you are in a city. Most people would say that is a plus, and I guess they are right. Here is the kicker though and here is the crazy crazy thing I found out.

I opened up map quest and threw all eleven of the councilor's addresses in there to find out if this was in fact true. It really is only the queen of district 4 that lives within the dirty scary filth that is Worcester's urban core. It is a fact. What I also found out though was even more disturbing.

Six of our councilors , more than half, live less than a mile from the end of the Worcester city limits. Along with Barbara, only Phil Palmieri (District 2), Paul Clancy (District 3), Gary Rosen (at large) and our Mayor Konnie Lukes (at large) live more than a stones throw of getting the hell out of Worcesterville. The other six councilors barely live in Worcester. BARELY! That's right Mike Germain, Joe Petty, Rick Rushton, Kate Toomey, Joff Smith, and Bill Eddy, I am talking to you.

See here is the thing. I lay my head down every night in the City of Worcester. When I walk outside to my car I do it in the City of Worcester. I probably spend about 120 hours a week in the City of Worcester. At least Mr. Palmieri and Mr. Clancy live a stones throw from the urban core, just outside of Brittan and Rice Squares respectively. Mayor Lukes and Mr. Rosen live on the West Side but in the most vibrant part of the West Side close to Chandler St and Tatnuck Square. The other six can't possibly know what my day to day is like. How I can't find a place to get a quick bite to eat in the downtown of the second biggest city in New England past 7pm. How people will not come into my neighborhood because they think it is "scary." How when I got mugged a few years ago on Beaver St a cop actually advised me that it would be better if I "just moved to the West Side." I like city living. Scratch that. I love city living. I live in a city however that just so happens to be two entities. A city and a town at the same time. Most of the money and influence resides in the town. It also happens to be run by an 11 member city council form of government, 10 of which don't actually live in the city.

If you are reading this and live within the urban core of Worcester do me a favor, next election vote these people out. If you enjoy city living and want your quality of life to be better, vote these people out and vote people in who actually live in the urban core. The Suburban 6 do not know what city living is all about. They for all intents and purposes live in the suburbs and you know what their dirty little secret is?

Go to any other desirable city in the US and take note of where the good parts are and where the bad parts are. Really all you have to do is take a look at where the bad parts are. They are on the outskirts. They are not in the center. The city part of Worcester is being left to die by people who have no stake what so ever in seeing it succeed. It would sure be nice and all but it is not even close to a priority for them. Look how long it takes to get stuff done! The one thing Worcester has in spades that every other city has is the negatives. The crime, the drugs, the homelessness, the grime, the pollution. The general unsightliness. This stuff is kept tightly inside the urban core. When was the last time you walked out of the White Hen at the corner of June and Chandler and someone asked you if you had any change? Worcester is being kept from sprawling within it's own city limits. You want to really give people who can only afford low income housing a nice place to live? Build them a nice high rise on the shores of Lake Quinsigamond or Indian Lake. Stop screwing my neighborhood up. Please! I am begging you!