Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Heart of the Commonwealth reborn? (If the New York Times says so…)

When you grow up in a city that’s about a 10 on the ‘meh’ scale of everyone else in the world (at least the proportion that’s actually heard of your less-than-illustrious city), you end up grasping for whatever straws there are out there that have anything to do with your less-than-illustrious city.


We were the birthplace of Dr. Robert Goddard, Robert Benchley, S.N. Behrman (not to be confused with S.J. Perlman), Elizabeth Bishop, Rich Gedman.

So what if you haven’t heard of any of all of these.

They were ours, all ours.

And while Esther Forbes may have (disappointingly) not been born in Worcester, but a few miles down Route 9, she damn well died in Worcester. (Who’s Esther Forbes? Come now: she wrote Johnny Tremain. Don’t you know anything?)

The smiley face?

Invented here!

Only place where Sigmund Freud spoke when he came to the U.S.?


And, by the way, we’re one of a handful of cities which has been named an All-American City five times.

So. There.

We might not be the Hub of the Universe, the Hog Butcher of the World, or the City of Lights.

But we were the Heart of the Commonwealth.

And, boy, was I excited when I read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and saw that Worcester was practically a character:

"One wet afternoon the following November, a Greyhound bus deposited Perry [Smith – one of the killers] in Worcester, a Massachusetts factory town of steep up-and-down streets that even in the best of weathers seem cheerless and hostile." (Original source of quote is In Cold Blood, but I found it on Sean Dacey’s no longer active blog, Unfashionable Sentiments.)

[As an aside, my senior year in high school I entered an essay contest on Worcester, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, and led off with this quote. I was so naïve about the ways of the world, let alone the Chamber of Commerce, that I was actually surprised when I didn’t win.]

Anyway, Worcester-ites, whether current or past, like it when we get a shout-out.

One of our more recent brushes with fame was when a funeral parlor in Worcester was the only one in the state willing to take the body of Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev and see that it got a proper burial.

And, most recently, just a couple of weeks ago, there was The New York Times talking about Worcester as a college town.

Oh, The Times tells us, it took Worcester nearly two-hundred years to get that it was a college town. But, day-am, with 35,000 college students – more than 1/6 of its population – it sure is. Holy Cross. Clark. Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Worcester State. Et al. Colleges ‘r Us. And, what’s more, the city is moving beyond college town-ery and is flourishing in general.

From one end of the city’s 245-acre central core to the other, Worcester is attending to the 35,000 college students who study and live here, and its primary boulevards are steadily filling up with the civic amenities that attract new residents. They include a busy public transit hub, comfortable and affordable housing, new restaurants and watering holes, computer stores and coffee shops, a performing arts theater, biotech research facilities, incubators and office space for start-up companies, and renovated parks — including one alongside City Hall with an ice rink larger than the one in Rockefeller Center. (Source: New York Times.)

Although I grew up skating on Henderson Pond (a.k.a., Hendy’s), I am especially delighted about that City Hall outdoor rink. To me, there are few more wonderful urban sights than folks skating on a winter’s day – or night. I try to walk by the Boston Common  rink at least once a day. In the summer, it’s a splash pond, which is fun to see in action as well.

What else up in Worcester?

A mix-used (including apartments) development right near City Hall (which takes the place of the heinous and failed Galleria Mall.) The ongoing fabulous rehab of the fabulous train station. The Hanover Theater – which used to be a dumpy movie theater, the Loew’s Poli and is now a beautiful performance space. (I’ve been to two events there in the past month: it’s gorgeous.) A new Marriott’s going up.

And as often as not, it’s the colleges that are helping Worcester revitalize. (I’m sure in self-defense: they’re competing for students who want to be in cool places like Boston and Providence.)

Worcester Tech’s partnering to turn “an 11-acre parcel on the edge of its 6,000-student campus into a life sciences teaching, research, laboratory and office complex called Gateway Park.”

The Mass College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences built a new campus in beautiful downtown Worcester a few years back.

When Quinsigamond Community College expanded into downtown, it decided not to build-in its own coffee shop and café. It wanted its students to patronize what was already around.

As a result of all this do-goodery:

According to the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Worcester’s steady redevelopment, fostered by well over $1.3 billion in public and private investment, is producing results that are at the top of urban demographic and economic performance in New England. The city’s population has climbed to more than 182,000 residents, up 13 percent from its modern low of under 162,000 in 1990. Worcester is now the second-largest city in New England.

The jobless rate in October, 5.6 percent, was lower than the state’s unemployment rate of 6 percent. The city added 6,900 new jobs from October 2013 to October 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and average wages during that period increased nearly 5 percent.

Resurge, dear Heart of the Commonwealth, resurge.

“We haven’t rushed to rebuild the city,” said Frederick H. Eppinger, the president and chief executive of Hanover Insurance Group [a big part of all the development, including the Hanover Theater].

“Haven’t rushed in?” I’ll say.

Better late than never, and you might as well get it right.

God knows there are plenty of places in Worcester, including the neighborhoods skirting much of downtown, that are bleak and nasty.

But I’m delighted that Worcester’s on the rise.

After all, with the sea levels on the rise, I may end up flooded out here and end up doing a re-lo to Worcester.

God West, old lady, go West.


A tip of the Worcester Tornados (a defunct minor league baseball team) cap to my friend Cathy, who sent me this link.


Rick T. said...

Even I, who has not spent all that much time in Worcester, know something about the town that seems to have escaped your notice. I hear that, EXACTLY LIKE a certain city in Italy that once ruled the western world for many centuries, Worcester was built on seven hills. Few others can make such a claim, moving Worcester up to "world class" level.

Frederick Wright said...

My spouse and I are able to jump on a high speed, comfortable, and efficient commuter rail train after work and zip out to Worcester from South Station and relax in the stunning Armbsy Abbey, rated as one of the very best places for beer in the entire United States, then zip back home to Boston late in the evening. Nearby Crust bakery is also a gem, with others in the pipeline. The Crompton Collective, a sprawling complex of artists, antique dealers, and crafters (including one of the only places to get authentic Kantha quilts outside of Etsy) is well worth seeing too, on any given weekend.

Maureen Rogers said...

Rick - Ah, The City of Seven Hills. Most of which I, apparently, could not name. I got a few - Bancroft, Green, and Packachoag - but some i'd never heard of. No Grafton, no Belmont, no Vernon, no Dead Horse. Maybe I found the wrong list.

Frederick - Thanks for the tips of what to do in Worcester. I will put the Crompton Collective on my list. And, yes, that commuter rail is great.

Cathy aka Natasha said...

Thanks for the mention, Maureen. I spent several delightful years of my working career at State Mutual Insurance (aka Allmerica Financial) on Lincoln Street after departing the Wang Towers in Lowell. I was pleasantly surprised at all the good places to eat there
even in 1991. My all time favorite spot is Coney Island Hot Dog in the old Peter Pan Bus Terminal.