Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Lynn is THE Up and Coming City

My analytical skills are quite advanced, but I must admit there is no science or method behind my statement. What prompted my statement is that I've seen more articles about the gentrification of Lynn, and the subsequent challenges, in the Boston Herald and Boston Globe more often than someplace like Lowell. Every article about Lynn mentions the renovation of downtown with hyperbole such as "renaissance" and "rebirth." These terms are a bit too flowery for my tastes. I like to think of it more as downtown sporting a snazzy new coat. To quote Fernando, "If you look good you feel good. If you feel good you'll look maavelous, dahling." "Renaissance" strikes me as a bit high-brow, and "rebirth" just seems like a down-right-painful experience- imagine pushing a football through a cheerio, twice. Get me?

Walk around Central Square on any clear night and you can see the change. It's palpable. Just look at the cars. Cars say a lot about a neighborhood. We have everything from Hummer H2s to Corollas. Now a street savvy person would say this just means we're in a dealers den. I counter this by pointing out we have a high number of Mini Coopers, S version and standard, as well as a high number of Elements, New Beetles in vapor blue, one very stylish Audi TT coupe with the original German suspension in place, and an alarming high number of Saabs. No self-respecting gangsta would call this block his crib. All the cameras, the police HQ down the block, and high dog population help keep any nefarious persons in check, too.

Speaking of dogs, have you met Cloe (sp?) the great dane in the Keith Building? She is enormous, and beautiful. Such a sweet disposition too. The best resident in the building by any measure. I think she's also the most popular resident downtown. Everybody knows her and says hello, but can't seem to remember her human cohabitant's names. Really funny. Such a sweetie.

Speaking of dogs, nighttime, around 7ish, is a great time to meet dog owning neighbors. Everybody's out walking the family furball. Such a grand procession too. All sizes, all disposition, tailed, tailless, grandiose, and goof balls. Shanna's Chinese pug puppy is the cutest! Hyper, lots of energy, so much that she tires out even little Fenway Jack; until recently the energizer bunny of pups. Scary.

Doughnuuuuuuuts! We have a new Dunkin Doughnuts setting up shop at the corner of Union and the square. Now that's a sure sign of progress! There's also a rumor of a nice Italian restaurant going in somewhere close on Union St. If we could get a little movie rental place on the square, now that would be terrific. Someplace like Mike's Video in South End. A wine shop would be terrific too! I wonder if Deluca's Market would be interested in setting up shop here. Hmmmmmm. We'll see.

I hear Ikea may be coming to town. Email Jamie Marsh, Mayor's chief of staff for more info.


sculpin said...

frankly I don't see it. Don't get me wrong, Lynn has a lot going for it; an active arts community, lots of good ethnic restaurants, some interesting architecture. But it's primary draw I think, with the recent condo developments, is that it offers relatively inexpensive housing close to Boston, although high $200k - low $300k does not seem affordable to me. I think the acid test would be this: if you work in Boston or Cambridge, are you excited about heading home so you can experience the night life of Lynn, or do you want to stay in town as long as you can? I am not saying that it's not a pleasant place, but I think you may have slightly rose colored glasses on. I have worked in Lynn for the past 6 years, and lived in Swampscottfor the past 8 years. I don't find Lynn particularly dangerous, although I know where the dangerous parts are (not downtown). I don't find downtown Lynn particularly interesting either. I do like the 2 big cambodian markets that I mentioned earlier, Tacos Lupita is wonderful, the upholsterer on Oxford streeet does a nice job, there are quite a few good Hispanic markets, Zimmans is a great fabric store in an interesting building, but I do not see Ikea coming to Lynn, and I do not see it becoming like the South End. For one thing you are seeing it in the best of times, so things ought to be really hopping, lots of restaurants and funky stores opening up, etc. What happens in the next downturn? I lived in Lowell, in a beautiful condo for 6 years. I liked that city too, and I believe in its future, but cities like Lynn and Lowell are buried under the weight of poverty. Look around you. Most of the people around are desperately poor. Take a ride up Essex street, or down Washington Street, and you will see the real Lynn. Which is not to say particularly unpleasant, or particularly unhappy, just poor. You are asking the city to shrug off decades of neglect for a few score of "blow ins", as they called people like me who moved to Lowell to find affordable, interesting housing. You might be right and I may be wrong, but I think it will take Lynn 20 or 30 years to prove it.

Marcus said...

"Slightly rose colored?" I have very rose colored glasses. With that said, I am an optimistic realist. These two are not mutually exclusive. Lynn is rough; I don't believe I've ever denied that. I acknowledge you've lived here far longer than I. You lived in Lynn for 6 years and in Swampscott for 8. Have you considered that your perception may be colored gray by these very same facts? You've seen Lynn in no other state but bad. I've been to downtown Lowell, it’s ok, but there is absolutely no draw there except for the housing. Lynn has two key elements in addition to housing. It’s closer to Boston, it has a beautiful beach complete with ocean side park. Downtown Lynn is not interesting, yet. One requires vision or rose colored glasses like the ones I have to see what it can be, and a mindset that says what it will be. We are not seeing Central Square in the best of times. I've seen photos of what the place was like during the best of times and we're no where close to it, and those same photos record and demonstrate what is possible. It would be more accurate to describe downtown as seeing a better time than recent years. Cities lives stretch for centuries while our poor souls are lucky if they see 75. To expect a place to turnaround in a matter of a few years let alone just 2 is unrealistic. Cities do not heed to peoples needs of instant gratification. South End took 15 years to get to where it is now. Back in 1990 the place was in bad shape. I don't expect downtown to be another South End. If nothing else, it just doesn't have the same kind of architecture and geographical draw. I believe that downtown Lynn will become a very desirable place to live, but more like downtown Waltham or Davis Square Somerville. There shouldn't be cute little shops sprouting all over the place. There hasn't been enough time and there isn't a large enough customer base yet. I would be more worried if there were because I would expect most to go under within 2 years which would actually further depress the area. All cities have poverty. Boston has a huge low income population. One only has to go to Mattapan, Dorchester, the other side of Mission Hill, and south of Mass Ave into Roxbury - right next to South End, to see it. Considering there is a housing project smack in the middle of South End, you don't even have to go as far as Roxbury for a little taste of it. Like all real cities Lynn has the same basic divide between the have and have not. To expect otherwise is to live in a utopian fantasy land. I am not asking the city to do anything. It wouldn't listen to me anyway. Instead, I am doing my part to make my home, Central Square, the spot outside my front door, to become a nice desirable place to live - a more active alternative to the sleepy, but beautiful, Diamond District next-door. I do get excited about coming home. Gregory is spinning at Gulu and I think it's been long enough since my last mooching that I can ask my neighbor Cheryl for another apple pie. It's the people who make a place a home. We have the people, and more are coming every week. 20 or 30 years, sure, that' seems like a conservative realistic assessment. I like to think 15. Like you said, time will tell. One of us will be right, but I believe I have the upper hand, because I actually live here.

Oh, and as for Ikea - I am hopeful. :)

sculpin said...

Fair enough. I was just concerned that you were expecting everything to blossom in a couple of years. By the way, I have never lived in Lynn, as I have 3 kids. I have worked in Lynn for 6 years, lived in Swampscott for 8. Ride my bike to work, it takes 15 minutes, walk to work along the beach, it takes 1/2 an hour. Sometimes I bring the dog to work. I agree that it is the people who make the city. You know, the South End actually began its "renaissance" in the late 70's, not the 90's. It's been a long time coming. It has just taken a long time for the acceptable borders to expand. When I was looking for a condo, I saw something on Mass Ave., about all I could afford. But it just seemed too dangerous and difficult. Probably is high priced by now. Lowell actually has a lot going for it, and has been in this game a lot longer than Lynn. That is why I say don't expect too much too fast. My neighbors were great, and the building still has wonderful people. When I moved to Lowell, there was a club called The Safe (or something like that), in the basement of an old bank, that shared the same music circuit and booking agent as T.T. The Bears, the Middle East, and Green Street Station (which you won't remember I am sure). The city also has a great theatre, a couple of very good expensive restaurants, a State University, lots of good ethnic restaurants, etc. Point being, And yet, there are still hookers down the street from my condo, my next door neighbor once rented to a drug dealer when he could not find a good tenant for his tiny studio condo, and the picturesque B&O railroad building that was slated for redevelopment 16 years ago when I moved there has a new roof and exterior, but is still no closer to completion. My point is, I guess, to just appreciate the city for what it is now, and not expect it to transform itself just because a bunch of city planners and developers get on the "urban revival" bandwagon. So I guess we probably don't disagree much there. However, I think you will find in this climate that some of your neighbors will expect more, and when they are disappointed in the short term, and as the economy cycles and property values drop (which I think they will short term; my experience in Lowell suggests it), and as people discover that they can barely afford their ARM's, you will see some bitterness over the whole "urban redevelopment" hype. At that point you may be able to pick up a second unit cheap.

Marcus said...

Worked in Lynn, right. I stand corrected.

I suspected South End's turn-around started much earlier, but I've only been in New England since 89, and first saw Boston in the Winter of 90. I remember aimlessly wandering into South End and just amazed with the row houses - their beauty and their terrible condition. I'm impressed with how things turned out down there.

You bring up a good point about the ARMS. I have a fixed, so I'm safe, but I suspect just as you do that in a couple of years some of my neighbors may be hurting a little. I'm waiting for that cheap unit. I think your experience in Lowell is a good one to learn from. I'll definately be keeping an eye out.

Something I find remarkable about downtown Lynn is that in my knowledge it doesn't appear to have ever been a bastion for crime. It has just been stark vacant. No point here, really. Just interesting observation. Oddly, the vacant feeling of Central Square when I first saw it 2 years ago reminded me of downtown Houston back in the late 80s. No life after 7 p.m. Everybody lived in the suburbs.

What I'd love to have across the street in that old building with the Art Supply signs is a multi-level organic grocer with a deli. Maybe something like a Whole Foods Express. No snickering. It could happen.

Nika said...

The only reason why I personally would call it a “renaissance” is because it’s just what it is… the revival of learning and culture in Lynn. Forget about the shops, the cafes, the restaurants and the lofts, the people here, the LYNN OLD-TIMERS are changing. Not the new community that is settling in the lofts around Central Sq, but people whose roots and lives are here. We no longer are satisfied with calling this the City of Sin. We want to be proud of our community and with the financial help of the new residents, we are trying to make reality of all of the things that Lynn has lacked. This “renaissance” has started a while back. Anyone who was here in the very early 90’s will tell you that this was the point of total collapse of everything descent. Fifteen years is a long time and in that time, this city has certainly flourished from what it was at it’s lowest point. One thing Marcus that you will find out is that nay-sayers around HERE … will always be that and wont be satisfied with what is going on until their own theories are proven. Hopefully, they never will. I commend you on being proud of where you moved. For everyone that shits all over everything good here, there are a hundred more that cannot wait to come see the new downtown and enjoy it’s revitalization.