November 5, 2017

A Mother’s Journey: The shape of the city

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Giselle Rivera-Flores / For Worcester Sun

Editor’s note: Since September 2015, Worcester Sun has chronicled the trials and triumphs of Sun contributor Giselle Rivera-Flores as she explores ways to help her daughter and other Worcester families find affordable educational support and assistance. We used to describe her as an aspiring business owner; now, she’s an inspiring one. During her journey to establish and grow her nonprofit tutoring collaborative she has, you could say, stepped beyond the walls of her dream.

Giselle Rivera-Flores

Browsing the Internet usually leaves you with a headache, a newfound anger for politics, a handful of Pinterest ideas you’ll never actually do, and with a profound feeling that you’re wasting your life away with every click.

But every once in a while, the Internet will surprise you with a few gems. Last week, while on my “downtime” – my new term for those times I find myself procrastinating – I stumbled across an interesting article about building a city, and of course, I instantly thought of Worcester. I wondered: Do they have a great master plan like this one?

In, “How to build a city from scratch: the handy step-by-step DIY guide,” an article written by Stuart Jeffries for The Guardian, the author compares building a city in real life to building a city in cyberspace, using games like Minecraft and Civilization to get his point across. Immediately, he notes there are obviously more challenges in real life to building a city, including “vainglorious dictators, pompous architects, bureaucratic impedimenta” and so forth, but after he clarifies the real-life challenges, he lays out a plan of action that is simply logical.

I mean, as an entrepreneur, I work off lists every day. I probably wouldn’t do well without my handy lists and overall plans.

Building a city with Jeffries means following an extensive outline of 20 steps, but I just want to focus on the top five:

Read Giselle’s previous chapter, The risk-taker’s lament, or scroll down to explore more of her story.

Step 1: Choose a location. That’s easy. I choose Worcester. (As a New Yorker, I never thought I’d say that.) And I choose it despite what many disenchanted people still might say about it. To me, Worcester has extraordinary potential, a perfect location on the map and an immense amount of green and blue spaces – which is rare for a city in the middle of the state – but we will discuss these assets in another step.

Step 2: Ensure a reliable water supply. Check! According to the city of Worcester website, “Worcester Water Operations is a public water system that serves the city along with some neighboring homes and communities. Worcester draws its drinking water from 10 surface water sources, or reservoirs, located outside the city. These reservoirs provide a combined maximum storage capacity of [7.4 billion] gallons.”

Step 3: Ensure a reliable money supply. While the article references “start-up” money to build a city, I’d like to look at our current city budget. In a recent article, it was stated Worcester is “looking at the prospects of carrying over into this fiscal year at least $9 million in surplus funds from the previous year. The so-called ‘free cash’ was generated from unspent budget funds and revenue in excess of budget projections from the previous fiscal year. Once certified by the state, that money is then available for appropriation by the City Council for the fiscal year.”

Hmm … I wonder how the City Council will appropriate these funds, and I wonder if any of the “free cash” will benefit the small businesses and infrastructure needed to make Worcester better.

More recent entries from Giselle:

Step 4: Think about jobs. This is where I begin to worry about Worcester’s master plan.

In the recent Amazon proposal, the city listed the three largest employment industries of Worcester County – not to be mistaken with the actual city of Worcester – “with 71,277 people working in education and health care across the county.”

While those numbers sound great, it is the average salaries listed that scare me to pieces: Health care average is listed as $46,647 and educational services is listed as $33,670. According to sources like Payscale and Glassdoor, these pale in comparison to the national averages.

I am skeptical, with such a significant difference in compensation that health care and education are our leading workforce industries. Now, if we are considering only the number of employment opportunities, then yes, but salary must be a driving factor, too. Nothing is less enticing than starting a new career in an industry that pays low wages if you’re a person with responsibilities – you know, like a family and rent or mortgage.

(Note that the average rent cost in the city of Worcester is $1,400. That is an annual cost of $16,800. With a salary of $33,670, I’d say you’ll need at least a second job to manage your living expenses.)

Step 5: Do not alienate locals. For me, this is Step 1. While Jeffries uses Lavasa – a new city, 130 miles southeast of Mumbai, India’s financial and entertainment capital – as his example to express the downside of alienating the locals, I’d use the current small-business development and creative community in Worcester to get my point across.

With our recent article about The Muse – a local bar located in the heart of the city, struggling to maintain its business based on the lack of people in downtown – and the lack of attention to the small businesses of Main South, I have to question if the locals are even a part of the “big picture.”

They say gentrification is inevitable, but I say, empowering communities, residents and business owners is the antidote.

Making Worcester a destination city may not be everyone’s goal, but making Worcester a better place for those who currently live, work and build here, should be. Being part of the creative economy can be hard in major cities. It is hard to break through the barriers and the oversaturation and the competition. But if Worcester isn’t oversaturated, then it’s lacking competition; therefore, the main issue is probably a lack of access.

Amazon or not, alienating local entrepreneurs will prove to be bad business for Worcester.

Follow Giselle’s inspiring story from the beginning:

Part 1 — The Brooklyn trip

Part 2 — The playbook

Part 3 — The space race

Part 4 — The unsettling score

Part 5 — The point of no return

Part 6 — The poetry of motion

Part 7 — The keys to success

Part 8 — The stumbling block

Part 9 — The Learning Hubby

Part 10 — The next breath

Part 11 — The imperfect storm

Part 12 — The defining moment

Part 13 — The balancing act

Part 14 — The right turn on Pleasant?

Part 15 — The exploration within

Part 16 — The long way home

Part 17 — The road to empowerment

Part 18 — The new direction

Part 19 — The social club

Part 20 — The way forward

Part 21 — The momentum conundrum

Part 22 — The Pleasant Street exit

Part 23 — The stemming of the tide

Part 24 — The starting line, finally

Part 25 — The full head of steam

Part 26 — The kernels of wisdom

Part 27 — The Book of Hub

Part 28 — The great debate

Part 29 The girls are all right

Part 30 — The movement keeps moving

Part 31 — The picture of serenity?

Part 32 — The network effect

Part 33 — The original Woopreneur

Part 34 — The gift of reflection

Part 35 — The resolution revolution

Part 36 — The model students

Part 37 — The growing pains

Part 38 — The time trials

Part 39 — The parent trap

Part 40 — The stress test

Part 41 — The place to start?

Part 42 — The accidental perspective

Part 43 — The road less traveled

Part 44 — The one dedicated to mom

Part 45 — The collaboration realization

Part 46 — The business of growing up

Part 47 — The new home frame of mind

Part 48 — The look of leadership

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