Monday, October 13, 2008

Downtown Salem named A Top Ten Neighborhood: Last Gasp of Gentrification?

As has been widely reported in the News, and the Gazette, the American Planning Association has named Downtown Salem as one of its Top Ten Neighborhoods:

One of colonial America's most storied towns, downtown Salem, Massachusetts, blends 17th century history and architecture with a 21st century pace and liveliness. The neighborhood's picturesque Common, eccentric street grid, and profusion of archetypal old houses belie a humming, mixed-use district with dozens of retail stores, more than 50 restaurants, and 400 newly built residences.

Given the neighborhood's success in retaining its historic character while incorporating modern-day changes to make the area economically vibrant, compact, and sustainable, downtown Salem has been named one of 10 APA Great Neighborhoods in America for 2008.

To be fair, this is a great victory for Kim Driscoll.  Three years ago, Mrs. Driscoll was the assistant city manager in Chelsea, the once-troubled small city just north of downtown Boston.  In the 1980’s, Chelsea was in state receivership, but starting in the 90’s, the city gentrified at a fierce pace.

Driscoll had to have wanted that for her city of Salem. 

Indeed, during one mayoral debate, Driscoll bragged about the steep rise in property values in Chelsea, at the time the city was listed as the 2nd highest increase in values for a town in the Commonwealth.  Her opponent, Kevin Harvey, was less positive about this fact, saying that it was a list he didn’t want Salem to be on.

And now Kim has it.  She has the steep rise in property values in downtown.  She has, in her city, $300K condos named after Hawthorne.   Even my ward councilor is caught up in the gentrification wave with his support of the Salem Jail redevelopment.

We make our money downtown from “history”, tourists and ever elevating property values, rather than the industry and business of years past.

Salem celebrated this honor in a ceremony this past Wednesday with our state rep Keenan, state senator Berry and Congressman Tierney.

I wasn’t invited.

I’ve lived downtown for 13 years.

People at the ceremony were given T-shirts (“Downtown Salem/I Live Here!”)

I don’t have one.

I’m slighted.  Snubbed.

This Top Ten Neighborhood honor is not for the long-time citizens who have quietly worked for Salem’s benefit, but more for the up-and-coming dynamic individuals who can pull down $500K mortgages for tiny condos. 

Kim, the Council and the administration got their wish.  So too did the condo owners.

But what will happen to them in an economic collapse?  What will happen to us, when we can’t make money out of churning property values and Halloween visitors?

If your condo is foreclosed upon, will the same city officials who feted you, return your calls?

One last quote:

Other signs that downtown Salem no longer is just a draw for tourists, says former city planning director Bill Luster, who has lived downtown for several years, are the neighbors he sees when walking his dog, going to the drugstore, or doing other everyday errands. "There's definitely a neighborhood feel to downtown now," he said.

I’ve been around, Mr. Luster. 

Where were you?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I share some of your opinions on the gentrification of Salem and the celebration of the newcomers who think 4-500K for the new condos are a "bargain". for not being invited to the Mayor's big announcement - correct me if I'm wrong, but it was posted on the events calendar - for everyone to come celebrate, hear the surprise announcement, get a T-shirt, etc. Some folks I know went, and they certainly didn't get a personalized engraved invitation...