Monday, March 2, 2009

A New Senior Center: More Shouting

Salem CoA Building 8-3-2007. (10)The Salem News (and the Gazette)  have reported on last week’s public hearing on the mayor’s proposed site for the new senior center, Boston & Bridge Sts.

As reported, and as I feared, the meeting was a shouting match according to the News , a “marathon 3-1/2 hour public hearing”.  Just like the Courthouse meeting last year.  I didn’t want to go to that hearing or even film it for SATV, knowing that it was going to be all screaming.  Sadly, I wasn’t wrong.

If you’re a long-time reader of my blog, you probably have guessed my position on the new center.

Unfortunately, I am going against most of my friends, including Leo Jodoin and my own ward councilor, Mike Sosnowski:  The senior center at Boston St. is the best and most affordable option for Salem.  The Willows site should not even be an option if we value access to the senior center for all our elderly, not just those with complete mobility and good eyesight.

Some of my reasoning has been posted before, but I’ll summarize it again.

For the past several months, the Commission on Disabilities has been discussing pedestrian and bus access to the new YMCA at Leggs Hill Road on the Marblehead/Salem line.  Presently, the route 455/459 runs the closest, passing by Leggs Hill about a 1/4 mile from the YMCA, at Loring Ave, where a small bridge runs over Forest River.

Unfortunately, the Y’s on a big hill and the road up to the facility has no sidewalk.  We discussed this at length.  We also discussed the lack of a sidewalk at the curve outside South Campus, on which many motorized-chair users go to and from the college.

In fact, we took two meetings to discuss how disabled bus users could possibly get to use the new Y.  When Maureen McConnell (paralympian and commissioner on Marblehead’s disability board) comes to our March meeting, we’ll discuss that some more!  Our February meeting just past was full of discussion over the Highland Ave. sidewalk situation and praise over my getting it into the News.

The Commission and I consider transit access very important, obviously.

The Willows site proponents don’t even pretend that it’s accessible by foot.    They are amongst the 70% of seniors using the center that now drive to the center.  Buses haven’t run to the Willows for 39 years and probably never will again for the foreseeable future.

Where does that leave the 30% who don’t drive?  I know, the vans, right?  Not really.

A concrete example:  Let’s say it’s 2030, I’m still in Salem (I’m not sure how) and I want to go to the senior center for a class.  Let’s say, additionally, I want to volunteer and teach the class.  (If I want passive entertainment, I’ll watch TV!)

At Boston St., this is easy:  I walk down to the bus stop a little while before class starts and take the #465, which I expect may still be running in 2030 since it is a long-established route.  I don’t exactly have perfect freedom—I have to wait for the bus—but it’s not bad.

At the Willows, there is no bus service.  I loved walking down to the Willows in the spring in 2009 but since my hip got worked on I can’t walk very far.  So I get a van.  Right?

This van, though it’s the best the city can provide, and a real necessity for many, is limited.  I can’t take it when I want;  I have to plan to go to the center.  And I can’t just go for my class and then go home, I have to stay the whole day, like a schoolchild.

This assumes the van is running, that it’s not late or didn’t forget to pick you up, that the weather is reasonable.

I’m not going to have the same experience as the 70% who can drive there whenever they feel like it.  More often than not in debates over transportation access, the 30% who have to rely on other transit are just told to "just deal with it, we can’t serve everybody!”

When my mother was confined to a wheelchair and got her motorized scooter, she wanted to go everywhere with it!  If she decided at 8PM Saturday that she was going to go to the convenience store for goodies, she was going whether she got my permission or not!  She got into the paper herself over handicapped access.  I’ll be shocked if I don’t think the same way when I’m her age.

The disability community in Salem won’t settle for vans if there’s a better alternative for independence.  The Willows site isn’t it.

Another issue brought up at great length on Salemweb:  pollution.  The Boston St. site is of course the former Sylvania site and will need to be cleaned up.  Aren’t there cleaner sites? 

Reality check:  Salem is nearly 400 years old.  For most of its history, the industry it needed to have in order to be a prosperous city was in its borders or close nearby.  We hadn’t yet invented the concept of having our infrastructure or our industry in China where we never had to think about it or pollution, nor were we living solely from our “historic property values”.

Just in Blubber Hollow alone, there are sites our seniors may be familiar with that they may use every day and take for granted:

  • Walgreens (was Ideal Finishing)
  • Moose Lodge (industrial)
  • Sunshine Laundry (the auto body shop’s out back)

The whole city is filled with old industrial sites:

  • Morency Manor (was a gas station)
  • Jefferson (Parker Brothers & the old Salem DPW garage)
  • Salem Depot (B&M railroad turntable and yard for a century!)
  • Salem State College Central Campus (Sylvania)
  • Wendy’s, Lafayette St. (old factory)
  • SATV (old industrial block with still a few commercial tenants like Salem Overhead Door Co.)

Since virtually every house in Salem once burned coal, who knows what’s in your soil?  Oh, and the Willows site:  Right next to the power plant and its mercury emissions.  You say you don’t run scared in line at Hobbs Popcorn?

The proponents of the Willows site would no doubt discount any unfavorable environmental findings that came out about their favorite place, using the same logic I’ve just used.

The senior center debate, for the loudest shouters like Teazie Goggin, isn’t about pollution or transit or traffic or any of that.  They really want a boon, a clubhouse and a special place at $7.5 million dollars (and rising).

To me, the senior center is none of those things.  It is a place in trust for the community and all seniors in Salem, all of us who get that far, regardless of our income, social status or ability to drive.

It’s not a clubhouse.  Or a “special place”.  Or a boon.  It is for all seniors in Salem.  All of them.  Soon.  Today, not “Someday”.

I wish my ward councilor would stop fighting Mrs. Driscoll long enough to realize that.  He has business in his own ward he should attend to.  Such as a new playground.

Update:  John Walsh makes the same points in the News.    Chris Smigliano has a very cruel, but unfortunately very true editorial cartoon on the controversy.


Geoff Millar said...

Amen David. That meeting was terrible.

Rick said...

Good point...the Boston street location is best.