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News :: Politics
WORCESTER CITY SQUARE: What have We Gotten Ourselves into?
19 Dec 2005
Monday, Dec. 12, 2005 at 2:02 PM

What do we want Worcester to look like?

Worcester’s third attempt to reinvent its downtown, City Square, is a work in progress. With Worcester’s new motto “a city on the move” being hyped up, I’ve got to ask, what have we gotten ourselves into, and who is moving where? Let me give you a little background. City Square is a three-phase public and privately funded downtown revitalization project. The first phase is the publicly funded rebuilding of roads, sidewalks and an underground parking garage. The second and third phases are privately funded residential, medical, retail and professional buildings, which the city has little final say on, other than through its granting building permits.
WORCHESTER CITY SQUARE: What have We Gotten Ourselves into?
This is the most substantially funded project this state will see outside of Boston. It’s not just a grant that doesn’t need to be paid off; the public portion of this project is a loan, paid by our taxes, revenues raised through the parking garage and taxes raised through the success of private development. The project is expected to take 10 years to build and 30 years to repay. The city will borrow $65 - $75 million dollars from the state to be paid back by the tax revenues hypothetically brought in by this development.

There is much talk of ‘sustainability’ in the City Square development. However, I think there is little understanding of what the term means. Those who study development consider a sustainable system one that will, in its lifetime, produce the energy required for its construction and maintenance. A definition of a sustainable economy is an economy based on social equity, economic prosperity, environmental responsibility, and cultural authenticity. A critique that is missing from this dialog is the sustainability of the modern consumer lifestyle as created and maintained by large profit driven corporations, such as the Banana Republics, Hollywood movie theaters, Whole Foods Supermarkets and chain restaurants that are being suggested to fill in the retail shops created by the City Square project. Let us think about how the city, its people and its resources, will be affected by City Square. Can Worcester sustain this type of project?

Resources are vital for any project. Which types of resources are needed for this project? First, we need money to build and reconnect roads and sidewalks. Also we need to dig up the ground and build a sturdy garage. Where will this money come from? We hardly have enough money as it is to keep up what we’ve already got. Is it sustainable to build more? Secondly, we need people to buy these condos, shop at the stores, and pay to park. People are already reluctant to do these things. The 2 previous malls were not sustainable. Will these stores be sustainable? Thirdly, land will be needed. Places proposed for rezoning as a part of downtown revitalization include most of the Green Island/ Canal District. This rezoning will displace many thriving locally owned businesses by Eminent Domain. Lastly, buildings need to be heated, plumbed, and powered. Our city is running a massive deficit due to the energy crisis. We cannot sustain our current energy needs. Some city entities such as Worcester Common Ground and the Main South Community Development Corporation use green building designs. We need sustainable green building initiatives citywide. City Square seems like a fine place to start!

A lot of people are saying this project is cursed. One woman says that mall is built on a Native American burial ground, and that’s why it’s cursed. Most agree that this project simply doesn’t fit the needs of the people of Worcester and that alone could make it dead on arrival. My point is this, City Square may be more damaging than stimulating in the long run.

The debate naturally evolves into, what, if not just stores, condos and parking garages? The city is in an awful rush to pump in dollars, to knock down and rebuild buildings. Why the hurry? Downtown is the heart of our city and we should be very deliberate about what we do with it. For example, some cities mandate a certain percentage of all new building be related to the ‘arts’. Our city is pushing for an arts district and a "creative city initiative", but there’s little creative or artistic about the development before us. In fact, the development could be considered boring. People with little experience in planning cities are calling the shots; let’s make sure we know what we’ve gotten ourselves into before the wrecking balls come in.

Let’s think about the needs of our city’s people. We as a people need affordable housing, public officials who are accountable, better public transportation, and better connection to and amplification of already existing culture, not more corporate driven monoculture. Let’s be intentional about which stores we let in. As important or more important than economic and environmental sustainability is cultural sustainability. Part of cultural sustainability is being conscious of things like who makes our clothes, how much they’re paid and where the profit from our purchase goes. Most often those employed by corporate retailers do not see that profit in their pockets.

Who will new stores and expensive condos cater to? Let’s demand control over what is built, accountability from those in charge, and recognition that our city is a small ‘working class’ city (how likely is that to change). High-end stores and expensive restaurants are out of reach to most of Worcester's people. We cannot cater to the rich and expect them to support our city when they haven’t in the past.

A lot of people tell me a lot of things. There are so many points of view that it’s hard to sort it all out. I have however noticed a trend. Those avid supporters of projects like City Square typically own land and their profit depends on City Square’s success. On the flipside are those who’ve seen Worcester’s plans, projects, and failures and say they can smell a rotten use of nearly $100 million dollars in public funds before they see it. We’re risking a lot, how much are we willing to gamble? Is this project sustainable? Who are we trying to captivate and benefit? What, if anything, have we learned from our two previously failed attempts at revitalizing downtown? Lastly and most importantly, what do we want Worcester to look like?

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Re: WORCESTER CITY SQUARE: What have We Gotten Ourselves into?
19 Dec 2005
Drop the H. It's spelled Worcester.
Re: WORCHESTER CITY SQUARE: What have We Gotten Ourselves into?
19 Dec 2005
my guess would be that worcester is trying to captivate and benefit rich people at everyone else's expense. . .most developments like this that i've seen have been all about getting yuppies in and everyone else OUT.
every struggle of this kind i've been invovled in has failed, because money talks. but i understand that some municipalities HAVE been successful in getting concessions out of the asshole developers who profit on things like this. Lowell has been developing, and i've heard mixed reports about it. . . . i think teh coolest example i know about is actualy the way sacramento'CA got converted entirely to solar after a nuclear power plant started makign mistakes. Ithaca, NY has also done some interesting things to stave off this kind of gentrification.

from what i've seen, developers usualy propose their projects in a MUCH WORSE form than they actualy expect to build, because they EXPECT resistance from townsfolk. . . .i might try to find those weak links in this development. see if you can find a lawyer in the neighborhood who hates it, too, so s/he can nail the project with zoning problems and housing questions and environmental lawsuits and things. . . . trying to get all the abutters on board about determining the course of the project will help too. . ..

at all events, i hope you all get some of it changed in ways that are more helpful to the REAL community and not the imagined yppie-rich yuckiness that the city wants to replace you with-- cause this sort of thing is so grotesque and classist. . . . .
If you don't like the architecture of the modern world...
20 Dec 2005
The move to the neaderthal caves. Go paint hands on a rock wall. In the USA we like malls, medical buildings, and business plazas.
Re: WORCESTER CITY SQUARE: What have We Gotten Ourselves into?
22 Dec 2005
The leaders of Worcester should be ousted. The empty Worcester Common Mall is appalling. Sure CVS is open. That's it! The parking garage is being used, next to the mall. That's about it! Real sorry...
The politicians? Don't have a clue.
Worcester should have never agreed on building that mall. Now, it's a ghost town. Too many malls within a 10 mile radius.
Real dumb planning!
Tear it down. Build a FREE public parking area!