Now walk out to the center of the park. What do you feel? When I did this walk, I felt Waterfront Park transformed into the front yard of a residential shopping district. What is this open space we have on the waterfront? It’s our central park, our downtown park, our commons. Enclosing the park with two long, 40-foot walls of shops and condos changes our perception of what it is. It becomes more like Inn Street than a common. The park becomes an extension of the shops and condos, not a refuge from them. It changes how we feel about the space. It is no longer public space, but private space the public is invited to use. It is a very different space from what we have today. It will change downtown Newburyport forever and forever is a long time.
We are not done with our tour yet. Now look where nobody wants you to look. Look behind the historic Unitarian Universalist church. What do you see? An expensive three-story parking garage. The parking ramps and stairways would, of course, be Federalist style in keeping with our historic downtown and perhaps have flower boxes on the edge of the rooftop parking level. While parking lot advocates seem to be on hiatus lately, once the condos are built, and the new 450-seat restaurant, and the new Karp hotel on Merrimac Street, and the new whatever is built at the flea market by the Custom House, the same people who are promoting the waterfront development will promote the parking garage. With it, and all the other changes, Newburyport as you know it will be gone. But you will be able to buy scented candles.
Marcel Proust said, “The true paradises are the paradises that we have lost.” He may have been thinking about public spaces the NRA is asking us to give up forever. A better idea is to give up the NRA. Its job was done some years ago. It is time for the city to take responsibility for the most important open space we have left.
Tom McCarty lives in Newburyport.