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Dr. Ravi Perry: Worcester Needs More Transparency in City Hall

Saturday, May 12, 2012

 

Dr. Ravi Perry, GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTER™

I study politics. Politics is the study of who gets what – when, where, why and how. A key feature of such work is the “who” of the aforementioned definition. The people. To what extent are they represented? Under what conditions do the people participate in political arenas? The other main feature of that study is institutions – government and government bureaucracy. The “getting” has to come from somewhere.

This brings me to quality of life in Worcester. Often I’m asked do I live in Worcester, and when I respond with a resounding yes! – people seemed shocked. Now, whether that shock is in response to their preconceived notions of myself or in response to their negative perceptions about Worcester, it is concerning. It should be no surprise that an urbanist chooses to live in the city in which he or she works.

Moreover, it is very interesting that when media and public officials (elected and appointed) often speak of issues in the community, they rarely speak of them in terms of quality of life. From various private reports (e.g., CNN, Best Livable City indicators, “Quality of Life” indexes), one might think Worcester enjoys a reasonably high quality of life. However, those scores are often based on metropolitan statistics data and therefore are not a reflection of conditions within the city of Worcester. Additionally, frankly, those scores are also limited statistically, focusing on average temperatures, crime incidents, home sales, etc. While important, these data tell you little about how life is actually living within an urban city.

It’s apparent if you’ve lived in Worcester for any amount of time that there is vast inequality in the “who-gets-what…” mantra of politics. And it’s not just the “West Side.” Downtown also gets a significant amount of attention at the expense of some key neighborhoods. This resource distribution is not unique to Worcester but is almost always driven by the interests of those in city hall.

To be fair, yes we have a great Worcester Museum of Art, Ecotarium, and many projects revitalizing downtown, and other great things we should continue to brag about.

However, we also have a lot of missteps. For many in the city, it takes 15 minutes to get to the Pike – not a good indicator of transportation access. We built an airport on a foggy hill that has been the source of complaints by aviation experts since its inception. Not to mention that the airport is nearly inaccessible given no direct highway route to and from the airport.

We have no major zoo within city limits.

Many streets have limited or hard to read street signs and significant pot holes. We like to tell ourselves that the streets are old cow paths so that explains it. Unfortunately if that argument worked, the entire northeast would not be drivable.

Beautification efforts in the city should be a stronger priority.

Our parks, while plentiful, have very limited walking and running paths. Outdoor recreation is a huge feature of detailed quality of life indicators. Yet, for Worcester, in nearly every park there are not only no long distance walking and running paths on appropriate surfaces but there are not bathrooms either. No dog scoopers and limited trash cans. No grills for family outings. Limited picnic tables.

And I can go on – there’s no serious shopping mall within 30 minutes; the limited commercial businesses, while supportive of local ones, also devalues the American spirit of competition.

The trash bag fee is simply ridiculous – and inconvenient. And reeks of a lack of creativity among elected officials to solve pressing economic problems.

For a city of 30,000 plus college students, there’s no real encompassing economic development or “brain drain” initiative that seeks to keep those students here after graduation or help them to enjoy the city off-campus while they are here.

Other projects implemented, while grand, seem not to scale, such as the new marbled entrance to Institute Park. It seems as though a new entrance was needed, but not that one. The pillars are nearly as tall as the trees!

Speaking of that park – that’s just one of several city tennis courts that clearly are not a priority. Many are deteriorating and the lights basically never turn on. If they can’t be used – why have them?

The city is also not very walkable – literally. This has less to do with city design, although I’m sure some urban planners would love to help-re-design the city’s layout. Rather, the issue is that there are limited sidewalks. Yes, there are some being built now near Kelley Square and in other areas, but incremental progress for a basic safety need is not acceptable.

These items are important because they are the first things people notice when thinking about moving into town. Yet, when I’ve shared these and other issues with neighbors, colleagues, friends and public officials - oddly, I get very similar responses – “that’s just the way it is” or “that’s how it’s always been.”

And my response? “And that’s the problem.”

Citizens of Worcester deserve a more transparent accounting of dollars spent by the city. I recommend the city institute something that President Obama’s administration already has – (click here). A Taxpayer Receipt. The White House has for the first time given online access to American taxpayers to see how their federal tax dollars are spent.

Worcester should do the same. An online Annual Local Taxpayer Receipt that is truly detailed and transparent will allow residents and taxpayers to really see where the money is going.

Maybe then the city of Worcester quality of life issues won’t be subject to being ignored.

Dr. Ravi Perry is currently an Assistant Professor of Political Science and Director of Ethnic Studies at Clark University where he specializations in Black politics, minority representation, and urban politics. He concentrates his research, oratory, and activism in areas such as the new generation of civil rights debates, public policy, and urban politics public service delivery to persons of color. His activism, commentary and oratory have been featured in media outlets nation-wide. 

 

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