, Newburyport, MA

February 6, 2013

'Bookends' don't belong on Waterfront Park

Newburyport Daily News

---- — To the editor:

Although not a resident of Newburyport, I grew up in the area, attended Newburyport High School, buy most of my groceries, basic necessities and extravagances in the city of Newburyport. Over the decades, I have traveled to Newburyport by foot, bicycle, train, bus and car, and now as a senior citizen have the hope to be continuing to do so for a generous number of years to come. It is a lovely city with many treasures, not the least of which is the Waterfront Park location. Along with the downtown and historic homes, it is a major attraction to those of us visiting, as well as those living, in the city. Yet it is a small green area. The Boston Public Gardens, by comparison, is 24 1/4 acres, whereas the green area of Newburyport’s Waterfront Park is about 2.3 acres with the parking lots an additional 4.2 acres increasing the designated NRA area to about 6.5 acres.

I frankly do not understand why a far-sighted mayor with a cooperative NRA and supportive residents do not seize the opportunity to finish off the park and parking lots and make them really stunning for the thousands of residents and visitors who are drawn to the waterfront. The available land is so minimal for the number who enjoy it and for the potential activities that could occur there.

The threat of development to dedicated park land is not new. The Boston Public Gardens faced a similar threat as did New York’s Central Park, to which the following two excerpts will attest. In the 1820s, Boston “Mayor Josiah Quincy convinced his fellow citizens that this land should be annexed to the Common ‘and forever kept open and free of buildings of any kind, for the use of the citizens. ... private citizens began its conversion into a botanic garden in 1839, planting carefully chosen trees that have now grown to impressive proportions, yet greedy persons as late as 1850 still hankered to cut it up into building lots” (”Boston: Portrait of a City,” Katherine Knowles and Walter Muir Whitehill).

And although Central Park, which was designed by America’s great landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, was completed in the 1890s, apparently it was necessary to resist development even after completion, for “In 1902 when a private Central Park Association was formed one of its functions was to resist those who still wanted to appropriate park land for their own use” (”Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr.,” Fabos, Milde & Weinmayr ).

Had those earlier developers succeeded in building residential or commercial blocks on the Public Garden land and the land dedicated to Central Park, each of these great cities would be missing a splendid treasure and an attraction of significant charm and great pleasure.

Can Newburyport afford to cast off its opportunity by allowing developers to build condominiums to “bookend” the green area? The Union Studio representative at the September 2012 NRA presentation at the Firehouse used the term “bookend,” saying that a green area, i.e., a park, is visually enhanced by buildings behind it. I think it is the other way around, and I think that the buildings would be gaining much visually from the Waterfront Park while the structures would be detracting from it, literally. If the “bookending” concept is sold in Newburyport, I think the inventor of the term could have a great future in selling snake oil or financial derivatives. In addition, these “bookends” would also use some existing open park space, cast shadows and take up numerous parking spaces.

Jane Boyer