Friday, January 25, 2008

Nathaniel Hawthorne lives here?!

Two Hawthorne Boulevard 002, originally uploaded by dmoisan.

When I rail against over-entitled "historic" property owners and snob Salemites (Hi, Washington Square! Hi, Federal!), a bitter gibe I'll never stop making is that these people really think Nathaniel Hawthorne lives in their building or in their neighborhood, spreading historic character, not to mention property values.

At Two Hawthorne Boulevard, it's really true! This is a sheet of paper printed off a realtor's color laser and stuck to the corner of The Old Spot, kitty-corner from the hotel.

According to the website, units start at $200K for one bedroom. Nathaniel can be your neighbor at no extra charge. Granite countertops, too!

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Homeless and the "Character" of Salem

The Globe has a good article on the clash between homeless people in Boston's South End and the affluent people who are gentrifying the neighborhood.

Salem, as well, has seen this same friction. We have been rapidly gentrifying and becoming more affluent for the past ten years. Salem has had a homeless shelter for many years, at the Crombie St. Church (since moved to St. Mary's on Margin St.).

Downtown merchants and one notable neighbor, David Pelletier, fought the shelter for years. Benches at the fountain at Town House Square, a relief for weary tourists, were removed; they encouraged the "wrong" people.

The old state welfare office was in the Newmark building on Essex street for many years. When their lease ran out in the late 90's, they were encouraged to go someplace else, moving to Shetland Park, not coincidentally near the Point. With the sole exception of Social Security (now at 10 Federal, after being in Museum Place for many years), there are no human-services offices in downtown anymore. (I'm surprised there are still public housing units downtown!)

I believe, to quote what Microsoft always says for its bugs, "this behavior is by design."

One blogger in the South End says what I've always meant to say but could never seem to write:

Another one of the article's subjects describes how she has heard the patrons of her yoga studio exclaim, "I don't want to go out to my car late at night. I don't want to go there," in reference to the throngs of homeless clogging the streets much like the zombies in the recent film "I am Legend."

My response? You don't GET to go there!! As I have mentioned on this blog before, like a mantra, get over yourselves! You live in a CITY, not a suburb! You don't get to choose your neighbors and keep in mind: they were there a long, long time before you and your yoga mat showed up. If you choose to live in a city, there is a trade-off. You GET to walk out your front door in the morning and walk to pick up your soy latte within 50 steps of your condo.

This is the mentality amongst condo-dwellers even in Salem. They typically paid (er, took out an overleveraged mortgage) $400,000 and up for their condo. The realtor promised them pristine urban living, and since this is Salem, Currier & Ives horses that don't poop, and Nathaniel Hawthorne as a bonus! (UPDATE: You can live with Nathaniel, apparently!)

These people are bitterly resentful of every dirty fact of urban life that intrudes upon the fantasy. They hate each and every piece of infrastructure--snow plows, exposed overhead wires, gas stations, convenience stores, phone poles, the Salem Harbor Power Station--that makes it even possible for them to live where they do.

Even a homeless shelter is necessary infrastructure, considering the alternatives.

I wrote before about the harbor-front condos on Derby St. that won't get built. Look at the location again. There's a gas station next door. The back edge of Derby St. at the South River is mostly industrial; they were there first. And across the water is the Point, Salem's poorest neighborhood.

What would condo owners say?

"Can't you do something about those people?" "Isn't it a shame what those tenements do to the character of the city?" "I'm living next to a gas station?!!"

I've grown up in a city for 43 years and have seen the best, and too often the worst, of Salem and urban living. I've lived downtown for 13 of those years. I was fortunate to be able to choose to live downtown and I tolerate a lot of things so I can have easy access to the T and easy walking to work and the local CVS. I even put up with the Federal St. snobs and those who won't let me in their neighborhood groups because I'm a renter and I didn't take out a huge mortgage for a tiny condo.

It's disgraceful, but not that I expect our politicians to really listen.

Hat tip: The South End Is Over: Be Ashamed....

Friday, January 18, 2008

Impassable sidewalks at St. Peter St., Gazette weighs in

[View of Howard St. from St. Peter. during a snowstorm in 2005.]

The Gazette's Robert Moran chimes in on impassable sidewalks, and brings up the same points that I've been making for some time. He talks about my "favorite" neighborhood, St. Peter, Bridge & Howard, seen in the photo:

Absentee owners are among the worst. The old jail and Howard Street Cemetery are particularly galling. Running an entire block from Howard to St. Peter and a half block up St. Peter, they sit between home and the Salem Depot for scores of commuters.

Yet, the sidewalks are never cleared. Access to the busy crosswalk at St Peter and Bridge is impossible. For fans who like their sports extreme and potentially bloody, the two-hour, Bridge Street dodge ball game is a twice-a-day spectacle following a snowstorm.

I have as close an insider perspective as one can have. I live at the corner and have watched the bypass road being built and I've seen the blueprints. The stretch of Bridge St. between Howard and St. Peter is going to change. In the photo you might be able to see the hints of a road near the townhouses at the left top of the frame.

This is part of the new alignment for Bridge St. From Howard St., the road will take a northward jog to meet the new road, which will itself curve back south at St. Peter. The existing road will be turned into a pedestrian island. A photo is on my Flickr page; the intersection is at the lower right.

As Mr. Moran knows, there has never been a paved sidewalk on the jail's side of Bridge St. ever since it closed. The pedestrian signal there, now all by itself, forlorn, was originally placed to service pedestrian traffic to long-gone Parker Brothers. Heavy trucks now use the circular "driveway" in front of the jail for parking and turnaround, so this hasn't been good for pedestrians in the summer, either.

I have to share a little responsibility for this situation at St. Peter. Last summer, I was watching the construction and was totally convinced that Bridge St. would be realigned that fall. Then there would be the possibility that the closed part of Bridge St. would be a temporary sidewalk.

I and my fellow Commissioner, Charlie Reardon (who lives on Howard St himself), had planned to meet with Sue Cranney to discuss that section of Bridge St., but winter almost literally overtook us before we were able to arrange that. Worse yet, the realignment did not happen last fall; Bridge St., would keep its present alignment for another year. (The road is nearly complete and reconstruction at the St. Peter intersection will be the final major part of the project in 2008.)

We hear a lot about impassable sidewalks at the Salem Commission on Disabilities; I take every report personally. I'm sorry we couldn't get this resolved at St. Peter, but I plan on watching the construction closely and I will ask Ms. Cranney to keep a temporary pathway for pedestrians and wheelchair users when construction starts up again in the spring.

Of course, I'm aware that the bypass road and the intersection at St. Peter may well be the worst intersection for pedestrians in all of Salem when it is completed, but we have no choice now but to fish the pearls out of...manure, so to speak.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Waterfront condo project 'dead'

Ferris wheel at 289 Derby. The proposed condos would have been six stories or about the height of the spoke of the wheel. Derby Lofts, in the background, is five stories.

The condos next door to SATV are officially dead: Waterfront condo project 'dead' -, Salem, MA

This was a waterfront project, fronting the South River, and Massachusetts has strict regulations on public access to the waterfront. Many private projects, such as the Jefferson apartments on the North River and the condo complex near the Willows and Collins Cove, have public walkways directly on the coast per regulations. The city has been working with the state for several years to build a walkway between Lafayette and Derby St. on the water and the city just got money to build a playground at the Lafayette St. end next to Wendy's.

The developers had to have known this:

"At this point, I would consider it dead," said Henry Bertolon, the Beverly developer who took over the project more than a year ago.

Harborview Place was the victim of a down real estate market and, according to Bertolon, foot-dragging by a state environmental agency. The long delay obtaining a state waterways license from the Department of Environmental Protection hurt the project, he said.
"The DEP sat on it for 15 months," Bertolon said. "It's a shame - they would have been built and sold (by now) if the DEP had been more responsive."
The DEP disputed that claim, saying some of the delay was due to valid issues raised by the public.

Do developers really think, "Oh, we'll get the city, the state and everybody around to rubber-stamp this and ram it through before the economy turns?"

What turnip truck did we fall off of?

A project as complex as that condo, with its underground parking, is not going to be finished or even substantially complete in 15 months! Two other comparable projects in the area, the Derby Lofts project and the old police station each took about 3 years from permitting to construction.

The expansion project at 10 Federal to add three floors did take about 16 months, but there was no parking involved. The parking garage that was planned has been put on hold and perhaps shelved.

It's obvious now that the real estate market was peaking when that project was permitted three years ago. Any informed observer could have seen that but for Upton Sinclair, who said, "It's very difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

Developers and advertisers, the Salem News and the Salem Gazette, have an interest that depends on their deliberately not understanding our economy. Politicians, too. I expect the News to be calling us ignorant peasants who don't appreciate the benefits of development, or is it, the benefits of real estate ads, rampant gentrification and the "cool dynamic hip people" that these ads solicit.

And Tom Furey will say, "Oh, but it's a blow to Salem, a real tragedy!" (And why hasn't Boston and Bridge been developed all these years? Cue the crickets.)

If this does mean that Salem goes down the tubes, perhaps a future government can resolve to do it right and Salem can come back for real next time.

Let's hope.