Worcester on the Rise

Clarkies’ Attitudes on Gentrification in Main South and Beyond

Elyse Wyatt, Opinions Editor

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A few weeks ago, National Public Radio published an article identifying Worcester as the new “it” town. Similar to the experience of Oakland or Hoboken, Worcester has experienced a boom as a result of rising housing prices in Boston driving residents out and driving them to the next best city: Worcester. Worcester has experienced rapid economic growth, and is currently a booming center of education, industry, and technology.

This image of Worcester as a desirable destination contrasts sharply and favorably with the image of Worcester that existed just a couple of decades ago as a dangerous, decrepit old mill town that was “waiting to die.” While Worcester is still working to shake off this reputation, it is undoubtedly perceived more positively now than twenty years ago, and is empirically a better place to be.

Among Clark students, there is indisputably a divide, and arguably a fair amount of hypocrisy regarding this boom. Incoming students are warned by upperclassman that Main South is a dangerous neighborhood, and warned not to go out by themselves or after dark. The Main South neighborhood often finds itself the punchline of comments by Clarkies about the perils of Worcester, that things are only so bad because Clark is in such a “bad neighborhood.” Students may spend their entire Clark careers wary of leaving campus, and may insulate themselves in the campus bubble from orientation to graduation.

Despite this fear of the community Clark is in, many students are also vehemently opposed to gentrification. Arguments against gentrification are valid – it is unethical to rapidly drive out low income, vulnerable populations for the sake of improving the crime and income statistics of a neighborhood. But a crucial and often overlooked component of community revitalization is to address the underlying causes of those damning statistics. When changes are implemented gradually and tactfully, they improve neighborhoods and standards of living without pricing out residents suddenly and without warning. Hardworking Worcester officials have, in the past few decades, reduced crime and drug use on the streets, improved public safety, and made the city and neighborhood a more appealing, comfortable place to live.

Clark students cannot have it both ways. They cannot joke about and disparage the local community and be opposed to efforts to improve it. Gentrification is happening in Worcester, and it has already had some unintended consequences for Worcester’s most vulnerable populations. However, that same gentrification has made it safer for Clarkies to live and work off campus, and to experience the surrounding neighborhood without significant risk to their safety. In short, the gentrification they condemn has granted them the privilege to condemn it.

The NPR article addresses concerns of rapid gentrification, noting that housing prices have risen significantly in the past year. A continuation of this trend could result in Worcester facing a crisis similar to what Boston is facing, rather than being a respite from it. The article offers hope, though, that Worcester officials are dedicated to keeping housing affordable, and that for the time being, the surge in prices has been largely limited to the city center. If this upward economic trend continues, it could be a double edged sword. It will be more difficult to provide affordable housing, but the benefits of economic growth will outweigh the increased difficulty of making housing placements, and may actually increase the city’s capacity to invest in affordable housing.