Do you ever get that sense of déjà vu? You know, that eerie, “I think I have been here before” sense of dread as if something ominous is just around the corner. I am feeling this once again as I read about the plans to sell off part of the downtown open space to developers.
If you haven’t given it much thought, I have a suggestion. Go to the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority website and download the proposed plan. Now, let’s take a walk. We will cross Merrimac at the Green Street intersection and begin walking toward the Firehouse Arts Center. Now look toward the water. You see the parking lot, but your eye doesn’t stop there. It continues to the boardwalk, then over the river to the Salisbury shore and onto the horizon.
Now, turn down the path to Market Landing Park on the waterfront. Look west, you see the Gillis Bridge. If it’s sunset, the sky is filled with pink and orange clouds. Keep walking. Make your way around the bandstand and back up the east path toward the Firehouse. Stop and look toward the mouth of the river. There is the parking lot in front of you, but beyond that is the harbormaster’s office and then the river and eastern horizon. You can see the boats coming in.
Walk out into the middle of the park. Look around. You see a green space bordered by trees and the low expanse of the parking lots. It is not paradise, but it gives you a feeling of openness. The sense of a park.
Now let’s fast-forward to post-NRA development and begin the walk again. On Merrimac, look toward the river. No, I’m sorry. Look up, 10 feet, 20 feet, 30 feet, 40 feet of new brickwork, shop windows and two floors of condominium balconies. As you walk along, you realize you are looking at one of the largest buildings in Newburyport. Keep walking down Merrimac into the park. Keeping walking and walking. The 40-foot wall of glass and brick is still there. You are drawn not to the park, but to the shops. Walk to the other side of the park and you find you are in the shadow of the same 40-foot wall of shops and condos.