Monday, November 27, 2006

My Paper on Lynn - Continued

Once upon a time, Lynn used to almost be its own metropolitan area. In many ways, people who lived in and around Lynn went to Lynn for all their shopping needs. It's where they went to work, be it at the GE (which paid well enough to afford a high quality of life for its employees) or lawyers. Downtown was bustling, with three movie theaters and over a half dozen department stores. Can anyone imagine that - department stores in a city's downtown?

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(My mother's favorite theater.)

The other day, when I first wrote about Lynn, I said that it was suffering from an identity crisis. Since the 1970s, that's probably true. As its industrial base at the GE and other factories declined, Lynn had little to replace it. Furthermore, Lynn was no longer its own metropolitan area. There was easy access to Boston, be it either through the Lynnway and into Revere or a series of commuter rails running through the North Shore (including a stop in Lynn). Whereas people before used to work in Lynn, now many more commuted to Boston. Whereas people used to shop in Downtown Lynn, now they shop in Peabody, Saugus and Danvers.

That said, I sense a real identity starting to form. Young professionals are moving into Lynn, a lot of them in and around the old Downtown area. Newly renovated, large and beautiful lofts can be had for sometimes half the price as something in Southie or elsewhere. People who are hardworking, but just can't afford the crazy prices things are going for, are finding cities like Lynn and Salem appealing. There's some hope for Lynn.

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(You too could own a loft like the above in Lynn - really, it's from Lynn!)

However, hope isn't enough. Lynn (and other cities like it) has to take its new potential and turn it into jobs. They need to create jobs that some of these people moving into these cities may just want, as opposed to having to commute. It will foster an environment that will bring new commuters into these cities looking for jobs. It will foster an environment that will lead to new business environments that can support restaurants, little shops and artsy things that are culturally unique to the city they're in.

What Lynn and other cities are missing are their hearts. Most of them were punctured by job loss and destruction of their Downtowns. Cities will never be as they were. However, there's no reason that something new can't form that both reflects on the old and builds on it. Maybe there won't be a half dozen department stores in Lynn ever again, but that doesn't mean there won't be something better - be it an art gallery or new .com.


Joe said...

It's an all too common story. In Whitman, where I grew up, there was a clothing store there since before I was born, and it became one of the staples of the community; a place we all went and knew.

When I left for my Freshman year, it went out of business, and a Family Dollar moved in. The same thing happend to the family-owned newsstand store, and the local comic book shop. The capitalist in me knows its the natural progression of the economy, but the Whitman resident in me likes the personal service and comfort of a small shop.

I just don't see a recourse for this type of situation. The heart is a pretty expensive thing these days, and it seems like Dunkin Donuts and Family Dollar can afford it more than mom and pop.

Ryan Adams said...

Like I said, the days of department stores in Downtown Lynn are long since (1950s) over. That said, it doesn't mean at least certain cities can't find some sort of niche for their downtown area with other attractions. Some cities, like Wakefield, do it through having useful shops that everyone needs to go to but doesn't really feel like driving 30 minutes to find. Others, like Salem, does it through having stores that cater to tourists (not just witch stores, but things tourists would find interesting). Still others do it through having artsy stores and things of the like. Lastly, you'll see a lot of downtown areas with stores that cater to specific minorities or immigrants that you just won't find anywhere else.

To me, Lynn should do it with a combination of everything: they have a very young crowd of 20 and 30 somethings moving in nearby the downtown area. Those people like the fun restaurants and would probably go for the arty, ecclectic stores. Plus, Downtown Lynn could house the stores that everyone needs to go to - if people were confident in the safety and there is a stable population nearby. Then, of course, there's going to be stores that will cater to immigrants - and even non immigrants as more and more people shop there. It could be an interesting area.

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