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Problems living in the Clark neighborhood

Monday, March 19, 2012

 

In the beginning of the year, Clark University finalized plans to close off the portion of Downing Street that runs through campus. This decision not only created increased traffic congestion and parking problems, but also spoke to a trend in Clark’s recent actions. Neighborhood residents aren’t thrilled about the university’s acquisition of Downing Street and think it’s a model that benefits no one.

David Bogoian grew up in the Clark neighborhood, and his family has been immersed in its student life and the community of Main South for decades. He’s seen it grow and is happy that the school is prosperous, but thinks Clark is going about expansion in the wrong way.

“Clark University has gone from a school with three major buildings with a couple of dorms to an institution that’s dominating the neighborhood from Park Ave. to Main Street,” Bogoian said, overlooking the view from his porch on Hollywood Street. “I’m not opposed to Clark University making a better campus, but this is just an example of a big institution pushing its weight around.”

Bogoian remembered back to the Goddard library opening when he was still in grammar school.

“I used to deliver newspapers to the apartments that are now administrative buildings on Downing. I used to live at an apartment on Florence Street which my grandfather sold to Clark. My brother was a Clark grad in 1982, so I was on campus a lot,” he said.

Bogoian knew students and faculty and grew up embracing the institution as an extended family of sorts, but from his viewpoint, Clark’s recently finalized plans to close Downing Street is not the kind of community engagement he remembers so fondly.

Safety vs. Expansion

While Bogoian and other nearby residents attest to the plan was improperly put into place, the Clark administration and the City Manager maintain that they in no way rushed the closure.

Bogoian is also not convinced that the deal was made for the reasons Clark is proposing.

In an email to the Clark community from President David Angel on January 26th, he stated, “After several months of discussion with the city and our community, the Worcester City Council recently approved the closure of Downing Street and the abandonment of that area to Clark. This step was pursued by Clark to improve pedestrian safety for those crossing Downing Street and to blend the north and south sections of Clark’s campus together.”

“No one has ever been hit there. Ever, ever, ever. They know it would be cheaper to put in speed bumps or a traffic light,” Bogoian said. “Clark is slowly turning into a gated community.”

In his email, Angel stated that work on the Downing Street project will, “begin this summer to create a pedestrian plaza along this stretch that will soften the edges of these spaces; bring the campus together with green spaces, walkways, and seating areas; and still maintain access for emergency vehicles to the buildings.”

It is the university’s stated goal that through projects such as this, that the relationship between the campus and its neighborhood will improve.

“As you can see, there are several very important projects at Clark and in the community planned over the next few years that will significantly improve the quality of life for our campus community and our neighbors,” Angel said. “We remain committed to our partnerships in the community and will continue to see mutual benefits from these positive relationships.”

Bogoian says that plans like these only negatively impact the area and that there are better ways to expand an institution that do not include inconveniencing the neighborhood.

“I regret the notion that for an institution to be successful, it has to grow in size,” Bogoian said. “There are other economic models that don’t include this measure. Until they’re convinced, they’ll continue do to this. And they’ve got a willing city council behind them.”

The Numbers

Clark University acquired the stretch of Downing Street though a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program, which began to take form last year. According to the agreement between the city and the school, Clark will make annual payments of about $262,000 to the city, with that amount increasing by 2.5 percent annually. The money will go toward renovating Crystal Park and benefitting the Worcester Public Library.

While the closure had been discussed in some degree since September 2010, serious steps were taken in fall of 2011, when city council okayed the abandonment and closing of the portion of the street on December 19th.

A Plan Quickly Put into Action

While Clark hosted multiple meetings about the closure in the summer and opened discussion to the surrounding residents, Bogoian attests that these meetings were slanted and achieved nothing.

“Everyone at the meetings (held at Clark)was against it. The only people for it either worked for the city or worked for Clark,” he said.

Bogoian attended city council meetings during this time, and stated that President Angel never attended.
“Angel was never at a single city council meeting about Downing Street,” he said. “It is arrogance? ‘I can’t be bothered going to these meetings,’ or does he just not want to push his weight around in a public meeting? I don’t know.”

Fall meetings held on campus for the community to voice its opinion also did not serve their purposes, according to Bogoian.

“The City Manager was there. He made a deal with Dr. Angel. It was a wink and a nod,” he said. “He would say, ‘There’s nothing finalized about this. That’s why we want community input,’ which is a big, fat lie.”

When students returned from Winter Break, the Department of Public Works and Parks installed traffic counters around the area to estimate the impacts on traffic flow; however, these counters were placed after the street was closed off with cement barriers, allowing students and other Clark-related traffic to park on the street, but not drive through.

These traffic counters gathered the number of passing vehicles when the barriers were up. They were then removed to estimate the “normal” flow of traffic, but many local drivers had already altered their normal driving patterns for the barriers.

Clark’s Future

According to the email sent out by Angel in January, there are extensive plans to change multiple areas on campus this summer. With the closure of Downing Street will come landscaping additions to the intersection at Downing and Woodland Streets, as well as three other public projects that are planned over the next few years.

Clark will be involved in changes to Crystal Park and its “core services and safety in the park,” including reconstructing sidewalks and various recreational facilities, as well as electrical power which will be used “for special events such as the Main South Celebrates festival and possible student-sponsored afternoon concerts.”

The email also states that there will be major improvements made to Main Street between Downing and Beaver Streets including “lighting improvements, new landscaping, sidewalk seating and bike racks, and improved pedestrian safety with sidewalks curving out closer together and clearly marked crosswalks.” Clark received $2 million Federal grand with support from Congressman McGovern for these improvements.

A Bigger Problem

While these plans for Clark’s campus sound beneficial, Bogoian is not in favor of how they were carried out or how they will impact the city of Worcester.

“The neighborhood has changed a lot, in some ways it’s been for the good, but Clark has bought so many residential, off-the-tax-roll buildings,” he said. “It’s detrimental to turning Worcester into a city with a good tax base. Clark is not helping the city when they do this.”

With this issue in mind, Bogoian pointed toward a larger issue within the city.
“The fundamental way in which this city works will never change,” he said. “Worcester used to be a working class city.” He said that since so many people who work here live outside the city, tax issues come up; this is one thing, he says, that is stopping the city from growing to its potential.

While local residents like Bogoian are still upset with the plan, Clark remains steadfast in their statements that these changes will benefit the neighborhood.

 

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