What do you want Newburyport to be?
That question hovered over the dozens of speakers at Tuesday’s City Council meeting as they shared their thoughts on the 4.2 acres owned by the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority. Everyone agreed adding to our existing Market Landing Park is wise, but the disagreement that arose of the proposal to add buildings to a small, street-side portion of the lots raised this overarching question.
What do we want Newburyport to be?
Those professing their love for a sea of green along the waterfront have answered this question. They want Newburyport to be what it is — or even what it was. A suburbanish community with a downtown that swings between sleepy and lively. No doubt, the city comes alive during the summer when the cooling sea breezes and refreshing waters draw visitors to Plum Island’s beaches and the downtown’s shops and restaurants.
Expanding Market Landing park alone won’t change things. Our city is rich in waterfront access, blessed with green walkways stretching along Cashman Park, the boardwalk, Market Landing Park and a rail trail plan that will carry folks all the way to Joppa Flats and beyond (and I’m not even counting the views from Maudslay or Moseley). I’m so thankful for that. The NRA lots — if covered in grass — would hardly be the beginning or end of our recreational waterfront; the two lots merely would serve as a way station for people enjoying our growing lush waterfront span.
At best, the sea of green would serve as a oversized pendant on our city’s growing emerald necklace. At worst, the park could choke a fragile downtown. Park-only advocates fail to acknowledge that inserting a wide span of open space in the center of Newburyport’s downtown actually could drive a wedge between our existing downtown and any future plans Steven Karp may have for the Waterfront West sites.