Saturday, December 06, 2008

Fall River and the Big Yellow Taxi

Recently, I and several other bloggers were called out in a post on Mondo Lizzie Borden.

"Hey, Lefty, do
you care? Hey, HMSImpossible, do you
care? Hey, Fall River
, do you care? Hey, Fall River-tastic, do you
care? Hey, Keri Rodrigues, do
you care? Hey, other Fall River bloggers, do you care? "

The topic in question is whether or not we care if Charlton Memorial Hospital tears down a few nearby buildings in order to create additional parking. What makes this a natural topic for Mondo Lizzie is that one of the dwellings was once the home of Alice Russell. It was Alice who made Lizzie famous by reporting that she saw Lizzie burn an old dress a few days after her father and step-mother were murdered. Lizzie claimed it was stained by paint but the speculation led to the indictment that made her a legend.

Now Alice didn't move to the dwelling at 18 Hillside until many years after the murders. Other than her living there the only real historical interest is just how close it is to Lizzie's French Street home, Maplecroft. Despite the short walk you can bet they didn't visit one another.

Stefani, Mondo's author, doesn't rely on the Borden link to make her case. She also speaks of the irreversible changes that Charlton is making to the neighborhood with its ever increasing expansion.

The problem is parking IS a problem at Charlton Memorial and I can't see of any way for them to increase parking other than tearing down some nearby buildings. Stefani believes they should build up and not out, but there is no way for the Hospital to do that without severely impacting parking during the construction process. The buildings in question do not have any historical value that merits preservation. The Alice Russell link is interesting but not significant and the buildings themselves are hardly a rarity in Fall River.

That said, it shouldn't be this easy for the hospital to tear down two, century old, buildings. Charlton could have addressed some of the concern here by offering the buildings to whomever would move them. It would have been a nice gesture. It wouldn't have addressed the bigger problem, which is responsible development.

Parking at the hospital has been an issue for at least 20 years, even the addition of the current parking garage didn't really eliminate the lack of parking. What makes anyone think that this will solve the problem once and for all? How long before Charlton is purchasing more property to pave?

We, the government and citizens of Fall River, should be asking Charlton is this going to solve all your parking needs? Is this going to keep folks from congesting nearby side streets because there is no available spaces in your lots? Let them come with statistics and schematics. Let them prove that this will meet the need not just for today but for the next 5, 10, 20 years. If they can't we should put pressure on them to expand up. The additional parking they are adding now would help alleviate the pains of construction. And we should also insist that our city put tools in place to better protect all our neighborhoods from irresponsible development.

We need to care about the fabric of our neighborhoods and while at times even history must give way to progress, it shouldn't be done without that progress being carefully considered against what will be lost. Consider the 'progress' made with the creation of I-195. It robbed us of our historical City Hall and buried the very waterfall this city was named for. Consider the historic Academy Building being converted to senior housing when today many in Fall River long for a venue like New Bedford's Zeiterion Theatre. In fact, Fall River's history is filled with examples of development that never attempted to fit in with the fabric of the existing community and never considered the long term impact.

When I was thinking of a title for this post the Joni Mitchell song, Big Yellow Taxi, instantly popped into my head. Obviously, the line "put up a parking lot" stood out and many will scoff at the idea of Fall River being "paradise" But the song speaks of the regret that can follow irreversible change, and perhaps not intentionally, would seem to argue for responsible development.

Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot


Anonymous said...

I think roommates Stefani Koorey and Michael Brimbaugh have a personal and vested interest in Charlton Memorial Hospital buying up more surrounding properties for parking lot purposes. Brimbaugh owns the house (apartments actually) known as the “Henry House” at 328 French. His neighbor directly east at 344 French Street is the 120+ year old Isabella “Hooper” house. Only a stone’s throw from the back side of the hospital this eye sore is ripe pickens for the land acquisition by the hospital. Now imagine how threatened *you* might feel with the ever encroaching tentacles of the hospital’s continuous land grab? Think of how an open parking lot where the Hooper house is now would change forever the landscape and nostalgic vista of that street? On the other hand, it has already changed so much since Lizzie Borden’s time, that there’s little to feel nostalgic about.

One has to look at vintage picture postcards of Fall River’s Highlands during the Edwardian era to appreciate the once-was vistas and beautiful tree-lined streets. The fabric of the neighborhood has long been tattered. The question in my mind is: Where’s the Fall River preservation groups in all this? Just *which* specific property down the line that Charlton Hospital may consider purchasing for parking will ring the “over my dead body” bell and take preventative action? If Fall Riverites were not effective in saving the old City Hall from the wrecking ball 40 years ago, why the hell should anyone think they’d give a hoot about the Hooper house?

-Faye Musselman

Anonymous said...

Meowww, CAT FIGHT!

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Lefty said...


I understand you have some strong feelings on this but I think Stefani brings attention to a real issue.

Charlton's ever expanding foot print is swallowing the character of the neighborhood that once existed there. Just because Fall River has stood by and watched landmark after landmark disappear doesn't mean we should continue to stand by and let the very fabric of our neighborhoods disappear.

Responsible development IS a real issue for this city. I would like to keep personal feelings out of it.

Anonymous said...

Aye, Aye, Captain. ;)

My point was twofold: (1) People living next door to the Hooper house WOULD feel threatened by the ever encroaching land grab of Charlton and would have a personal interest beyond civic concern for responsible development. I know I would. (2) Where the hell is the outrage from the organized so called "preservation" groups? Are the 30 and 40 somethings now more or less concerned about responsible development than those when the old City Hall was torn down?

Fall River has never fully rebounded from the 1920's. Economic growth includes population growth and in both Fall River has declined from its once-was glory days. For over 40 years I've observed the stranglehold on Fall River's ability to bust through that canopy of corruption and cronyism.

The sincere passion of long time Fall River residents who want to see positive, honest change need to get their fannies parked in the chairs that make policy decisions via the voting mandate. That's the only way Fall River politics will morph into something that doesn't foster a general malaise and develop - with sound fiscal and economic development policies - into the vibrant city it should and can be.

There are plenty of caring and competent people in Fall River to crack that canopy. They need to run for office.

Faye Musselman

Anonymous said...

Plenty of caring and competent people did run for City Council, School Committee and even some for Mayor in 2007. Problem was that plenty of caring and competent people didn't come out to vote.