Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Semi-Constructive Gripe About Lynn, MA

The famous Serenity Prayer says, "God grant me the the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference". I'm not sure where "complaining about things on the internet" fits in with all that. Maybe it doesn't. My ranting blog posts certainly do violate the "serenity" part, but if these self-published opinions can make a tiny change in the universe, then maybe they're OK. Either way, they're enjoyable to write.

Anyway, I've got some ranting to do today, and it's about Lynn, Massachusetts, the "city of sin", my current residence. Before I get started on the negatives, let me get the positives out of the way. #1- There are plenty of good hearted people here, just like anywhere, and some of them appear to be actively involved in improving the culture and infrastructure of the community. #2- Geographically and historically the place is pretty cool. Lynn is right on a scenic, rocky coastline and has some nice hills and a few little parks and lakes. It is about as old and historic as its more famous neighbors Boston and Salem. Nevertheless, it remains my opinion that Lynn has serious challenges to overcome before it can become a generally desirable place to live.

Challenge #1- Layout and transportation. Lynn is laid out like an ancient city from before the invention of the wheel. That is, its streets are narrow and cattywompus like the spiderweb of cracks in a windshield that has been hit by a baseball. This would be OK if Lynn was small enough that you could get in and out of it by walking, or nice enough to be a place you'd want to walk around, but it is questionable on both counts. There are no convenient "arterial" roads (even the yellow roads on the map below are mostly one lane each direction) and it takes forever to drive the seemingly close 10 miles to Boston or 4 miles to the freeway. It's worse during rush hour or when the roads are further narrowed by snow piles. There's OK public transportation, but you have to take the bus to get to the outermost Boston subway stop, and the overall trip will take you a good hour.

View Larger Map

Because of the high population density, old buildings, and narrow streets, parking in Lynn is a nightmare. During a so-called "snow emergency" you can't park on the street even with a parking sticker, and if you aren't one of the lucky few to have your own driveway or a deeded spot in your apartment's small lot, you'll have to park way far away at a school or public garage. Tonight I had to pay $4 for the privilege of parking half a mile from my apartment and walking back in the middle of the blizzard of the decade. If only I hadn't spoiled my laissez-faire next-door parking arrangement this morning by saying "Good Morning!" to a man I met in the parking lot who turned out to be the grouchy landlord of the building next door, who when he found out where I lived told me I couldn't park there any more and he didn't know or care where I could or should park. Phooey. Well, it's just as well since the next-door parking lot is basically just a trash dumping-ground and weed garden, anyway. Sigh.

For contrast, check out the layout of this other city, my hometown of Olympia, Washington, which has about the same population as Lynn. Note the nice grid aligned with the cardinal directions, and the convenient, straight thoroughfares leading to the nearby freeway.

View Larger Map

Challenge #2- Being in limbo. Lynn is too far from the cool parts of Boston to be a place that someone seeking the hip Boston urban experience would want to live. Yet it's not separate enough from the Boston urban blob to be a cute city in its own right like Nahant, Salem or Marblehead. It ends up just being a big, inconvenient, low-rent, blue-collar, outgrowth of Boston with all the disadvantages of urban living but few of the perks. Because the area is low-rent and blue-collar, there also appears to be a lot of crime and gang stuff going on. I haven't had any serious problems so far besides my loud, violent neighbor (who I can clearly hear at this very moment crashing around and yelling, "F*ck you motherf*cker! Hit me again, I'm gonna f*cking kill you, n*gger!"), the trash in the parking lot, the overturned shopping carts on the curb, some bad attitudes here and there, etc., but the local papers are always full of sketchy stuff that makes me nervous when I'm walking back from the bus stop with my bags from the airport or something.

Shopping cart in a snowbank, far from any supermarket.

Challenge #3- I sense that there are some political, economic, and demographic problems facing Lynn beyond the basic stuff that I talked about, but I don't really know enough to weigh in on all that.

Upshot- I think Lynn is going to show some signs of improvement in the next decade or so, but it has a long way to go. For now the most positive thing I could say to someone thinking about living here is, "the price is right".

PS- On a totally unrelated note, I just signed up to do a spring break board test for windsurfing magazine the first week of April in Avon, North Carolina. You know I'll be videographing and blogging up a storm about that... at least as much as I can without giving away the magazine's proprietary secrets. Woo hoo!


Corey Jackson said...

Interesting take on things. Do you live right in the Downtown area. I'm surprised you're not a bit more encouraged by current success of Blue Ox, Turbine, and some of the stuff Arts After Hours, LynnArts and the Lynn Museum are doing to shake things up a bit in the past 6 months.

I can't agree with you more about the roads around here. Everything is a one way and parking is ridiculous. I never have a problem living very close to the MBTA garage, but I can understand other folks gripes.

Nice blog.

James Douglass said...

Hey Corey- Your blog is cool, too, man. I'll see if I can motivate my peers to get down and try some of those Lynn places you recommend.

PeconicPuffin said...

cattywampus? that is a big-ass word!

Hey let me know which week you'll be in Hatteras for the tests...I may be down there for a few days that week.

peggy g said...

As I've said before, you need to move your a$$ while you still have one ;-)

James Douglass said...

Puffin- Ha ha. :) It was a tight decision between "cattywompus" and "higgledy piggledy".

Peggy- But what would I complain about if I moved? ;)

charlene mcbride said...

I think lynn's geographic challenges are not unique to lynn, but some weird new england thing. i keep hearing that the crazy streets of downtown boston are that way because they just paved over a bunch of cow paths. well you shouldn't let cows do your urban planning! i wonder if the same thing happened here.

The thing that i find really weird is there's no obvious main street. In the towns heading up the Hudson, when you get off the train, you can clearly identify a street that is probably the "main" street. It usually runs perpendicular to the train tracks. Here, I haven't seen that at all. I thought maybe Market St. or Common St. but they don't feel like a main st. Then one day i was waiting for the bus in front of the commuter rail station facing toward sagamore st. and i swear for about 30 seconds, it felt right. It was so weird.

i look at maps all over the area and just scratch my head. i went out to phoenix on business last year and it felt so incredible (well, except for the fact that it was phoenix) just being on a grid that was strictly oriented north/south/east/west for a few days. i just felt like i could breathe better and think better. it's amazing the influence of the design of a place can have on you.

James Douglass said...

Thanks for the great comment, Charlene! It's reassuring to hear that I'm not the only one who gets the same feeling about the layout of Lynn. There really does seem to be a psychological / emotional effect of how clearly or unclearly a town is arranged. I imagine it would be near impossible to change the arrangement of Lynn at this point, but maybe some key arterial routes could be widened and straightened by trimming away the foreclosed buildings on either side.

charlene mcbride said...

I think a little reconstructive surgery could certainly help. There certainly needs to be a willingness to look forward and modernize a bit. As for issue 2, here's my take on how lynn can change: http://train187.blogspot.com/2011/01/why-not.html

The one problem I realized later is that a lot of people would be displaced by the types of housing that I'm thinking of and I don't know if that's fair. It's always the problem with gentrification.