An Open Letter to Worcester

By Andres Lorenzana

As it stands, Worcester is in a precarious place, with the outbreak of COVID-19, the City’s plans for an economic overturn of Worcester has been brought a grinding halt, tossing the future of our city into uncertainty. Once any sense of normalcy returns, what will happen to theplethora of bars, restaurants, hotels, and other businesses the City has spent so much time vying for? Will they be able to withstand the economic crisis to come, or will most find themselves shuttering their doors, leaving Worcester in a worse position than before the “Worcester Renaissance”?

Photo by A&J Photographt

As critical as anyone would like to be of the City during this time, economically they can’t be blamed for this crisis; they are victims of this pandemic just as we are. However there is something to be said about the City’s ongoing steadfastness of their tunnel-vision. They are so focused on reclaiming the glory days of “Worcester, the Paris of the 80’s”, that they forget to help the residents of the city, not the ones who live in mansions in Tatnuck or any other part of the West Side, but the ones who live and breathe Worcester. What the City is trying to do isn’t inherently awful, new businesses are great! They provide new jobs and opportunities, but are these jobs going to the the citizens of Worcester? Are they given prioritization in the hiring process because they live here? Or on the other hand, are these potential jobs being given to people who live outside the city, where that money won’t be funneled back into the community? Doherty High School is finally getting a new building, but what about East Middle, whose building is so old, there is still barbed wire fence on one side of the building; Compare this to schools such as Norback Avenue, or Tatnuck Magnet, schools in higher income areas of the city, and as such are well funded and not plagued by these issues.

There is absolutely a case to be made that this economic redevelopment will benefit Worcester in the long run, but for whom? A decent population of Worcester’s infected are those who are homeless. While it’s fantastic the City is finally taking measures to help them, such as setting up a shelter at North High (among three others) and taking extra steps to find housing,
why did it take a global pandemic for downtown to act? We should be consistently providing assistance to the homeless, not just during times of crises.

For the families who live here, the ones on Main South, Belmont Street, or Grafton Hill, -take your pick – how will they cope moving forward? Should the City’s plans for redevelopment fail due to the effects of COVID, will they find themselves taking the brunt of it? Alternatively, should Worcester continue to prosper, will they be forced to out, unable to sustain themselves due to the increased cost of living? It’s no secret that rent in the city will always be higher, but undoubtedly the price has skyrocketed in recent years, and one has to wonder how high it will continue to climb.

Three years ago, my English teacher throughout most of high school found herself in a difficult position. She was having to leave her home of over a decade in Worcester, and was forced to buy a home outside the city because she had been priced out. What does that say about us as a city, when our own teachers, who dedicate themselves to teaching and inspiring our youth, can’t afford to live here?

A great writer once wrote “the easiest way to get an audience on your side, is to talk about the saddest thing you know.” Paraphrasing some, but you understand. Probably the saddest thing I can think of, is not a thing, rather a person, and his name was Sam Castro. Sam Castro died at 18, a month before he was set to graduate high school, just over five years ago now, May 13th 2015. He was a good kid, hanging around some of the wrong crew, but that night, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time; Sam was shot and later died in the hospital. I didn’t know him well, he was the step-brother to my best friend in elementary school, and in high school we only shared a few classes together throughout the years. When he comes to mind here and there, I can’t help but wonder what could have been done, if anything, to prevent his death?

What preventative measures is the City taking to improve the lives of and protect our youth, alongside their families? For starters, the City needs to reconsider where they are allocating funds. Approving a $250,00 budget increase, while simultaneously cutting roughly 100 teaching positions, is not doing anything for the community, nor is it dong anything to stop the School to Prison Pipeline. Why not instead take those funds and allocate them into more community based programs? Take Worcester’s Pow Wow!, an organization that gives to the community by creating murals in low income parts of the city. They provide families a chance to view art, art that they can relate to no less, who might not otherwise be able to go to a museum. But why not create a similar program for teens to give them the chance to put up their own art? It isn’t a foreign idea, the current trend of covering your city head to toe in murals originated in Philly, where it started as way to give teens something to do and to keep them off the streets. Though investing into these programs is a good a start, it is only half of the issue. More focus needs to be placed on the families as a whole. Many of these kids live in families where -once the program is over and they go home, it’s business as usual. By placing a greater emphasis on the families, not solely individuals, it provides structure and stability in the home, not just at their programs. Kids need a balanced life where they are supported at home and in their education.

Without a focus on both the individual and their surroundings, it isn’t a full solution to the problem. I don’t have all the answers. This a complicated, and frankly, multifaceted issue, but we need to start somewhere. Worcester, we know you mean well. Economic growth is phenomenal and all, it drives business and in turn funds our communities, but part of what makes this city special is its ethnic and cultural diversities. If they find themselves driven out, is Worcester even Worcester anymore? By ignoring these marginalized communities, it effectively sends the message that no one cares about them; A message many of them have been hearing their entire lives. What about Sam Castro and all the others like him, the loved ones they leave behind, our severe homeless crisis, the people here who need jobs, and the teachers working at underfunded schools? It’s easy to make Worcester cushy and appealing for those who don’t live here, but isn’t it time we focused on helping the ones who do?