NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

October 21, 2013

Why the NRA can never build a park

“Oh my god, we have a dirt parking lot!

“Oh no, what should we do?”

“Quick, cover it up with a hotel or condos!”

“Why?”

Why do we have a dirt parking lot 20 years after the hotel option was closed and the Old Port plan to build a road through the Waterfront Park was shot down? Why does the NRA only offer two options, do nothing or build large buildings? The answer is simple. The NRA organizational structure can only deal with two options. Leave it as a dirt lot or sell it and develop it.

There are two reasons for this. One, the NRA, with a handful of volunteer members, doesn’t have the mandate or resources to anything more. Secondly and most important, the NRA “owns” the property, creating barrier to any new ideas, funding sources and motivation for anyone to do something. The NRA works under the assumption that it must find a way to pay for any improvements, including adding on to the park. The only way to pay for it is to sell off the development rights. Even after several surveys that found that most people want minimal development and more park, the NRA can only pursue its single-minded course of action. It is following its mandate and its mandate was never to listen to the people.

While the NRA was perfectly capable at directing the downtown urban renewal, it is not designed to tackle building a park. Imagine what would have happened if an NRA-like board had been placed in charge of the abandoned rail lines. It is likely that the lines would have been sold off to abutters. In fact, one lot was. It took the creativity of citizen groups to envision what was possible. Without the passion that volunteers brought to the rail trail idea, the city would never have been motivated to find the funding. The rail trail is now the largest and most used park in the city and will double in size in a few years.

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