In the past, the conquering and development of natural land has been a mark of progress in the United States. This is apparent in the settling of America during the eighteenth and nineteenth century and the American dream for the pursuit of manifest destiny. Despite this deeply rooted ideology, expansive development of natural lands was not readily apparent until the 1950’s and the arrival of a new set of standards for driveways and backyards for every home. From a land use perspective, the 1950’s suburban movement set the stage for the developmental pressures we continue to see today. In New Bedford, as well as other small industrial cities in the area, the suburban movement has been met with a transitioning economy struggling to redefine itself. The abandoned homes and businesses my dog and I see on our evening walks are a grim reminder of these circumstances.
But looking forward on a more positive note, it’s been refreshing to witness a growing debate about what to do with these vacated homes and storefronts (particularly the historic ones) with weeds growing in them instead of people and businesses. Is it possible to find ways to preserve them AND put them to good use? In extreme cases, local authorities have no other option but to call on the bulldozers and start over. This was the predicted fate of the 19th century Victorian, located on the corner of Allen and County Streets in New Bedford, before the Community Action for Better Housing (CABH) stepped in. The historic house lay vacant for 17 years when CABH purchased it in 2010 to historically preserve and transform it into an affordable housing complex.
Historic housing and affordable housing are rarely used in the same sentence, but perhaps this story is testament to a desire among new generations to find creative ways to invest in what we already have, rather than expanding into new territory, leaving these historically rich buildings behind in the process. The 12 unit complex, renamed the Oscar Romero House, is predicted to open in June 2013.