June 4, 2017

A visionary Worcester under fire

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Chelsea Creekmore / Destination Worcester

While the Canal District and downtown garner most of the attention, it's another Worcester neighborhood that just might be able to shine a light on the city's cloudy economic future.

Cranes left dormant for months have come back to life in the city of Worcester, as the thawing weather has once again opened the city’s streets and neighborhoods to the hum of machinery and smell of molten asphalt.

In each vat poured and block stacked, these alterations to the cityscape mark the partial realization of a vision for Worcester, its businesses and its residents. Yet the underpinnings of any vision emerge from a broad pool of opinions, and therefore are subject to debate.

For one Worcester resident, the standard-bearer for Worcester’s future is the city’s Main South neighborhood.

“I mean, you look at it [and] you have a very dense commercial corridor, you have mixed-use buildings that have storefronts and housing,” said Joyce Mandell, noting the mix of churches, schools and residential buildings in Main South. In short, the community exists as its own organism, with workers living within walking distance of their jobs.

The provocative idea to model the city’s future on a symbol of its troubled past often seemingly neglected in the present by the powers-that-be, arises from this resident of Worcester for over two decades, with a doctorate in sociology from Boston College. Mandell sees the city through her lens as a soldier of Jane Jacobs — the 20th-century New York thought-leader on urban development who believed in dense corridors, short blocks and a “power to the people” ethos, and who inspired Mandell on her yearlong blog Jane Jacobs in the Woo and Jane Week series in May.

Mandell is an enthusiastic and engaging individual; the type of person with whom you find yourself unexpectedly speaking for two hours on a Saturday morning, but not feeling like that time has been lost.

It became clear early on that while Mandell enjoys the city, she positions herself an outsider-in-residency working to challenge an establishment that may have new names behind it, but expresses an ideology that has shaped Worcester for the past half-century.

“We’re going against the tide with the powers-that-be,” the former adjunct-professor at Worcester State University said bluntly.


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