Representing all we fear

By David Grima | Mar 08, 2018

There are rumors of fake $20 bills in town, again.

Not sure if the rumors are true, of course. They could be fake rumors, I suppose.

Only in the Day of our Blessed Lord Prez Trumpleton could we be even a tiny bit concerned that news of fakery could in fact itself be fake news.

Will things ever get back to normal?

* * * * *

It seems that many in Rockland are sharpening their scythes and honing the points on their pitchforks, in response to the notion that the city harbor might be developed, especially in the middle part near the public landing.

As a newspaperman for a couple of decades in this neck of the woods, I do have some experience of this phenomenon, and for the price of a cup of coffee I would be willing to share my thoughts.

The immediately obvious comparison concerns the arrival of MBNA in Camden in the 1990s. It bought the Knox Mill and renovated it for its main facility, but did not want to stop there. Another MBNA facility, this time a new development altogether, was soon being proposed for a location further on up into town, and this time the people stood up at a public meeting and said enough was enough.

MBNA took umbrage at such a public show of being unloved, and instead of carrying on with its second Camden plan it set off in the direction of Belfast, and Belfast has never looked back.

And if I had that well known dollar for every time I covered a million other news stories in which the public predicted terrible things would inevitably follow some kind of project, I would now be so rich I could afford a very large cardboard box, instead of the simple refrigerator carton I now occupy at the top of the concrete towers at the foot of Mechanic Street, where I am forced to live.

But the Rockland harbor development story is rather different. I can smell the difference, even up here in the late winter evenings when I scribble this stuff on used burger wrappers.

Speaking with my well-known modesty, I can say I more or less kicked off the regular coverage of the rebirth of Rockland (call it that if you will – others have) in the middle 1990s. It began with discovering people involved in the arts downtown and what they were up to, and this led to covering other significant developments, such as the opening of Second Read (now called Rock City), Café Miranda, and so forth. Changes were also happening in the harbor and along the waterfront, which at that time was territory about as much ignored by The Courier as it was by the city at large.

So this change and development has been coming to Rockland for a couple of decades. It’s not the same thing as happened in Camden, where it took only about a year or two for the town to turn its back on the second MBNA project. Indeed, MBNA built two facilities in Rockland, much to the general satisfaction of the community, one of which is the property with the boardwalk along the harbor that opened in the summer of 2001.

We took all that comfortably in our stride.

So it’s not the pace of change that is worrying Rockland, then. It is something else, and most likely the story of the camel’s nose under the tent is what explains it best.

It is as though the city woke up one morning and found that change had been happening for years, but that now it had become impossible to ignore. The reason people seem to care all of a sudden is that they believe the city to be slipping away from them in a way guaranteed to make them about as nervous as possible.

In the neighborhood of my wretched old house on Linden Street (the one that sank halfway into the mud one unexpected 80-degree March day all those years ago, and forced me to move into the towers, etc.), there are four houses I know of currently undergoing major renovations. The roof was just torn off the one house facing the harbor, and the whole place seems to be undergoing major surgery.

Across the bottom of Linden Street from this place, the old Berliawsky house where Louise Nevelson partly grew up has been undergoing a very leisurely and probably costly rehabilitation, having taken some two years or more at this point and being still not finished.

Behind the first house, on McLoud Street, another house is also undergoing major surgery. The fourth place, on the corner of Linden and Pacific, is being completely done over. (I have met the doers, and they seem like nice people.) Everywhere you look in the South End, there are new houses that have replaced old properties, some houses that have been spruced up, and many houses that are still in the process of it.

And the word is also going around about how damned difficult it has become to rent or buy a house anywhere in town. Certainly it is a true word, and can be attested to in many quarters.

This is what is making people nervous. The camel has been creeping into the tent for more than 10 years. Suddenly the people in the tent have taken notice.

Rockland once had the reputation of being a place where anybody could find a place to rent, or could more easily afford to buy. But economics has come to town, and it’s making people who have lived here a long time very nervous. People who are trying to live off small savings and Social Security. People earning minimum wage. Young people who want to buy and settle down where their families are, and not be forced to move out to the willy wacks, where every day is bookended with a 25-minute commute to their jobs and then to home, interrupted, of course, by also having to play the parking game in between.

So I come to the conclusion that the changes now being proposed in the harbor are not in themselves making people nervous, but rather they have come to symbolize to many people the potential takeover of Rockland by invisible others. Or, more to the point, it’s the fear of a potential takeover.

There are some whose concerns about the harbor plan are indeed about the use, access to, and future of the harbor itself. But I suspect there are far more people for whom the harbor plan, and the appearance of cruise ships here each summer and fall, are really just a symbol.

As I said earlier, Rockland (City Hall and all the people together) used to entirely ignore the harbor and could not have cared less about what happened there. To be honest, I am not sure the majority genuinely care very much more today.

But in the end we should be more truthful about what makes us afraid, if ever we are to confront it for real. It isn’t the plan for the harbor, nor the ships that visit us, that themselves are upsetting people.

These are merely things that people can at long last take aim at, tokens representing all we fear about losing all we love and all we hold dear, in this lovely little city by the sea.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Mar 08, 2018 15:43

And it all boils down to taxes and as they rise the natives seem to decline!

Thanks David. I will bring breadcrumbs down to the towers, to the seagulls down by the sea!

Mary "Mickey" McKeever +:)

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