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Thursday, September 19, 2013

September 19, 2013: Gloucester Stories: What’s Next

[A series of posts highlighting some of the many interesting American histories and stories in our oldest seaport. Add your thoughts, please!]
On where a city like Gloucester goes from here.
There’s a really striking and compelling sign located on the Gloucester waterfront. I wish I could remember exactly what it says (and the Google is letting me down in my searches for it), but the gist of it is this: there’s a currently unoccupied and pretty sizeable plot of land standing vacant amidst the Harbor Walk, the restaurants, and the fishing docks, and the city has posted a sign explicitly asking visitors (and presumably locals) to share their ideas about what could be done with the space. It’s a unique and impressive approach to city planning and public policy, but it’s also profoundly symbolic of the kinds of questions that Gloucester and all so-called “post-industrial” cities face as they transition from the economies that have supported them for centuries to … well, whatever’s next.
I don’t mean to suggest that Gloucester’s fishing industry no longer exists; nearly 25 years after Billy Joel released “The Downeaster Alexa” (1989) and sang that “there ain’t much future for a man who works the sea,” I still saw plenty of active fishing boats on the city’s docks. But like Martha’s Vineyard, a fishing community with which I’m deeply familiar, Gloucester can certainly no longer depend on the sea to sustain its community. The obvious answer, particularly for a place with as much interesting history as Gloucester, is tourism; but besides being hugely vague, that option (at least if pursued too comprehensively or predominantly) seems to me as if it risks turning a place into a museum to itself, rather than a living 21st century community. Emblematic of that danger would have to be the Crow’s Nest bar, a local establishment that was recreated (nearly adjacent to the actual space) for the film version of The Perfect Storm (2000) and that continues to fly a banner proclaiming its role in that story and movie.
I’m not going to pretend that I have all the answers about where Gloucester could go from here—and in any case I agree with the idea behind that striking sign, that such developments should be crowd-sourced in the fullest and best sense, should solicit and build upon as many voices and perspectives as possible. Interestingly, there’s already one space where many Gloucester residents are already sharing such voices and perspectives, and it’s a digital one: the blog “GoodMorningGloucester.” Started by one man, Joey C., the blog has evolved into a deeply communal space, one as likely to highlight current events, restaurants and attractions, and inspiring local residents as historical and cultural connections, scenic views, and local issues and debates. Such a blog isn’t itself a next step for the city, necessarily—but it certainly illustrates the role that digital and social media can play in helping to bring a community together, present what’s best about that place, and, perhaps, imagine how the community builds upon those starting points as it moves forward.
Final Gloucester story tomorrow,
PS. What do you think?


  1. " risks turning a place into a museum to itself, rather than a living 21st century community. "

    Yes, that's the balance that's so difficult to find. I love this place because it is one of the few coastal communities left which still feels as though the main function is not tourism or being a habitat for the wealthy or those who wish to be around wealth. It is still real, authentic, and rare. There's a place off the beaten track where they get the flounder straight off the boat - yum.

    Having said that, I'm really interested in hearing more about the crowd sourcing of a city, and will try and catch the next post!

  2. The sign says "Under Idea Development".