Monday, June 7, 2010

They're just not that into you Worcester

I am slowly starting to realize that this right here is Worcester's biggest obstacle to becoming a true city with a non poor urban core. The majority of people who grow up in Central Mass and stay here are not people who enjoy a dense urban lifestyle. People who do enjoy city living and want to stay in the area almost always end up moving to Boston, Providence or NYC. So what you have left is a very small minority of folks who truly love the city and are living in the urban neighborhoods and trying to make things better. Than you have folks moving to "the second largest city in New England" (a title true in population only and false in every other way imaginable) expecting all that title would entail and being hugely disappointed. What you have here is a bunch of people trying to run a city who haven't the faintest clue about what true city living is being voted in by a population who could care less about true city living.

Worcester for most of it's history prior to the industrial revolution was a small town. In the span of about 40 very quick years it became a city on the cusp of being a great American city. I-290, the GI bill, and white flight halted this practice in it's tracks in the 50's and 60's and the entire city has been an exercise in futility ever since. The title of second largest city in New England plus the skyscrapers and other big city infrastructure has fooled Central Mass into having faith that this city should be something it isn't and fooled New England and the rest of the outside world to expect this city to be something it just doesn't have the capacity of becoming.

Add in the fact that the metropolitan area is absolutely tiny. Worcester has far less people coming into the city on a daily basis to use it's services and amenities than Boston, Providence, Hartford, New Haven, Springfield, and Albany, and even Lowell. We like to compare ourselves to Providence but people can't seem to grasp the idea that a Northeastern cities density and metropolitan area are what make it feel like a large city not it's population.

If Boston was laid out like a southern city of over 150 square miles it would be an absolute megalopolis. Providence and Hartford would be very large cities of over a million people. Worcester would still only be about 300,000 people. Think about that next time you are comparing and thinking about what you think Worcester should be versus what it is.


Brendan Melican said...

The one place I would disagree with you Gabe would be the last paragraph. Central MA (primarily west of Worcester) has seen some of the largest growth in the Commonwealth over the last few decades and many if not most of those people are only a generation or two removed from living in Worcester. Auburn for example is essentially all of pre 1980's Main South, people who essentially just up and moved down the road. I believe Jim Dempsey, in one of his last columns for the T&G, made the sarcastic argument that Worcester should just annex Auburn and let them keep their political autonomy, since so much of the town consider themselves Worcesterites anyways.

Point being, if the combination of the GI Bill and the Highway bill had not made rural development so affordable and the Commonwealth system had not made it so equitable for small towns to grow their infrastructure off the backs of urban taxes, Worcester would likely have a population well over 500k at this point. That's assuming of course, much like you pointed out in regards to Boston, that MA was set up like southern cities with non-disposable agrarian rural areas surrounding the cities which would naturally limit sprawl.

Just a quick glance at the T&G shows this is at least partly true, look at how quick non-Worcester residents are to criticize Worcester politics; many still consider themselves to be 'Worcesterites' even if they're paying taxes elsewhere.

Gabe said...

I am just stating right now Brendan, if you were to do this right now those would be the numbers. I have already run them myself. I have spread sheets. Don't forget how much of a nerd I am about this stuff. :)

Of course if over the history of the city it had developed as a 150 square mile municipality then of course we would be looking at something completely different.

Gabe said...

I went back and checked the spread sheet. Different than I remembered but it still proves my point. I will post the actual numbers and explain the process I used in another post.

Brendan Melican said...

I'd be very interested in seeing what you have, not to criticize mind you, just interested. I just look at the county as a whole, 750k in 2000 and I can't think of a single community in there that seems actually livable other than Worcester, is all I'm saying. Does Paxton even have a gas station yet? Remember, we just passed an international milestone where the majority of humans now live in cities for the first time, yet in this region we see the migration in the opposite direction.

I agree with your premise in its entirety, I just feel we've made it way too easy to live in a town in MA. And if we hadden't started to lose the middle class to the suburbs over the last few decades Worcester would be an entirely different animal today.

Nicole said...

I live in an area of Worcester that was once farmland, in a house that had a barn (that we've since knocked down) and still has a chicken house.

I live on nearly an acre of land, some of which is wooded. I guess it's not news to me that I don't want to live in a dense urban area.

I look at Worcester as a great place for me to have my big yard and my woods, to live within walking distance of two big parcels of conservation land, and still have access to awesome libraries and museums. And my impression -- at least from the MetroWest folks who move into my parents' suburban-ish Worcester neighborhood -- is that others are looking for that as well. I know no one who moved here and expected Providence.

Why would someone move to "the second largest city in New England" without checking the place out and seeing how it really is? It would be as if someone moved to Framingham sight unseen and expected a town (which, incidentally, is what it is -- it isn't a city) and was shocked when he finds that its density is nearly four times that of Westboro.

Gabe said...

Nicole, like it or not the overall expectation of Worcester is that of a city. The city however pretty much ends at Park Ave at which point the city of Worcester becomes a town. For the last 60 years a large majority of the elected officials of the city have come from the town part of Worcester elected by popular vote by the entire city.

And no, judging from some opinions of Worcester that I have heard from talking to people I don't think people do their research before coming here. And even if they do the city still is trying to capitalize on a false image by the second biggest city claim.

My post was not meant to offend, it was more to state that there are far more people like you than like me in Worcester and that is why Worcester is like it is.

Worcester is a great town, near a nice city to visit, which is a horrible city to live in. It is all three of these things all at once in a very compact space.

This is the main thing I forgot to mention in either of these posts, Worcester actually is laid out very much like a southern city, accept instead of 300 square miles, it is all in roughly 38 square miles. What would be the metropolitan area suburbs for any other Northeastern city are actually nestled right inside our city limits with only pockets of Shrewsbury and Auburn resembling anything close to a Cranston, Somerville, or New Britain. This also means Worcester has to absorb all of the immediate areas poor and substance addled without the help of places such as a Pawtucket, a Chelsea, or a Holyoke.

What I am hoping to do with these posts is try to persuade people to stop thinking of Worcester as something that can compete with Providence and start thinking on new terms. I am not sure what that means for all the urban infrastructure that is already here , but I know we have to stop putting pressure on city government to turn this place into a true city, and stop buying into it when they sell us a bill of goods that this is what they are going to do. At the same time we have to figure out a new model of raising our commercial tax base because trying to do it the way other cities have is not going to work until we agree that we need to start to cater to people who enjoy city living, which isn't going to happen any time soon.

Gabe said...

I will say this again to. If you were to take everything west of Park Ave and Indian Lake and annex it to Holden and Paxton the city would get a whole lot poorer but I think we would have a much clearer and concise picture of what we were dealing with along with leaders who were also dealing with it every single day of there lives not just Monday through Friday, but at night when they get home too.

Sorry Westside, but I actually do believe the city would be better off without you, no offense. Besides, and I am not saying this sarcastically at all, you could just just form your own town called the town of Tatnuck, which would no doubt become one of the nicest suburbs in the entire state. You would have a sweet airport too.

I would be interested to see exactly how the town of Tatnuck would govern itself.

Nicole said...

Gabe -- I didn't mean for my last comment to be grumpy, and I certainly don't mean for this one to be.

I live in the west of the city, but I do not live in the West Side. (We live in a city where South High School is at the extreme west of the city, and no one would consider that school to be in the West Side.)

I guess I have a tough time with what you want: do you want Worcester to be a City-with-a-capital-C, or do you want it to live up to what it could potentially be? (The latter, as far as I see it, would have a downtown similar to Greenfield or, better yet, Northampton: walkable, local stores, a good mix of college students and locals.)

As you said, the majority of people are like me: discontented with the state of downtown, but ultimately unwilling to do much about it.

Paulie's Point of View said...

"but ultimately unwilling to do much about it."

oh you do something:>) get pissed at those of us who do not agree with you on how we want the path to be:>)