, Newburyport, MA

July 13, 2013

On NRA plan, ask yourself, 'what's in it for me?'

David Strand
Newburyport Daily News

---- — “What’s in it for me?”

Regarding the political topics that surround a community, it’s an interrogative that is rightfully raised. And Newburyport citizens share this right. What’s interesting to me, however, is that amid a recent flurry of opinion pieces here and online regarding the waterfront development plan being presented by the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority (NRA), which I ardently support, someone asked, “What’s in it for David Strand?”

I thought it amusing at first, but later sat back and asked myself, “What is in it for me?” Here I am running my mouth about this and what-is-it-in-it-for-me? I realize the question was delivered with intended rhetoric, but it compelled me to think about what is moving me spiritually towards action on this issue. I mulled, pondered, debated, even chewed upon the idea and a couple of weeks ago I figured out the answer: pride.

Yes, what is in it for me is pride, in myself, in my community and in the potential pride that one day soon, as I walk barefoot through dewy grass on a beautifully sculpted Waterfront Park with my daughter, Olivia, I can humbly hint that Daddy’s words contributed to a thoughtful conversation that moved things forward instead of in reverse.

But this still felt selfish, as the writer seemingly implied, and I had this inner voice telling me: “But why, Dave? Why? There has to be something deeper, you old softy.” And the deeper answer came to me yesterday as I returned from a morning jog on the beach. I paused and from the corner of Old Point Road, I looked at Newburyport.

The salt hay, being harvested by Colby Farm, and its sweet, musty, freshly-cut scent tapped my shoulder and whispered, “Breathe deeply and take a good look.” The harvest was near completion; the marsh had been cleared in a variety of crop circles, the hay bales stacked by the road, and a scenic spot in the middle seemed to call for a tripod. But yesterday I used only my eyes. In the distance on March’s Hill stood the water tower.

Mark Richey’s windmill spun in slow motion, as church steeples reached for the sun and sailboats from the A.Y.C. passed without sound; beneath my nose the fragrant salt hay, and within my ears the serenity of silence. With a camera I’ve captured images in this direction, but this time, unfettered, it was different. I was given a chance to really see Newburyport; and man, she’s a beauty. Having lived and worked in the downtown over the last 15 years I have the benefit of context through which I could fill in the parts I couldn’t actually see from here.

I closed my eyes and I envisioned the Custom House Museum full of our great history as a ship building port and stories of sea faring merchants taking trips to Asia and beyond, the beginning of a promising rail trail, the designation plaque of the city being honored as the birthplace of the United States Coast Guard, in which my grandfather served on Plum Island Point (I owe this little tidbit tribute as it was that uniform that captured my summering grandmother’s attention and is now what brings you these words today) the crossword-puzzle-like streets and neighborhoods of the south end that are a borough in and of themselves, a most engaged and spirited Chamber of Commerce, a bustling and inspired creative economy, the Lord Timothy Dexter Industrial Green full not only of great American companies, but a few business leaders who deserve praise as citizens who forged ahead and gave rise to this incredibly important area of our city. Nestled among these companies, a new company has embraced the Newburyport brand as its own.

In fact, closing my eyes a little tighter I can nearly taste the extra hoppy zing of Newburyport Brewing Company’s Greenhead Ale as a real greenhead bites me in that one spot on my ankle that requires a long-gone contortionist’s move to swat. And then, sitting there along that 4 acre or so waterfront area is an achy sore, almost forgotten wastelands spotted with cars parked this way and that. And I get an urge to fix it the way I might like to simply straighten a picture hanging crooked on a wall. It’s not that the image isn’t already beautiful, mind you, I just want it to be perfect. I want it to live fully for its intended purpose: to engage the passerby, to let themselves get lost, fantasize, and walk away with wonder.

But I can’t reach the frame and realize the only thumb and forefinger on the corner of the frame belongs to the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority. They are the only group that can actually straighten her out today so we can move on to other vistas needing our attention. They’ve been designated as the ones to do so. And I accept this. I could break out a ruler and snap them on the knuckles and attempt to take over as if I know better, or I can put out my palm and rest it underneath their elbow.

Pride. It’s a wonderful thing. It creates drive. I hope Olivia will be walking her son past the U.S.C.G. plaque someday telling him stories about family, uniforms, and parks, with her own pride that she’s from here. Losing myself in that fantasy is what’s truly in it for me.

David Strand lives on Plum Island and is CEO and Brand Director of Strand Marketing of Newburyport. He’s also the founder of Newburyport-FWD, a community action group who’s rallying behind the NRA’s plan to finish Waterfront Park. To learn more, visit