The diorama at the Lynn museum http://lynnmuseum.org/ memorializes urban life, neighbourhood, and a waterfront destroyed by the progress of urban renewal. Of course, one can now drive the Lynnway without a care for the past. The empty lots and greenspace can also make one wonder.
If your thoughts tend to the later, read “The Brickyard: The Life, Death, and Legend of an Urban Neighborhood.” by Kathryn Grover. The museum published it in 2004. Major sources are oral histories done in 1982 and between 1999 and 2001. Newspaper articles and planning reports provide additional perspectives. Elderly, former residents fondly recall shared family values; playing in the streets; and commerce carried out by peddlars and small business.
As expected, their reflections tend towards the nostalgia of youthful good times experienced and bad times weathered in common with neighbours. Petty crimes are controlled or punished by police who know everyone’s parents. Tensions around race are glossed over with memories of everyone getting along.
Lynn was a premier US manufacturer of shoes. The Brickyard was home to many craftsmen and close to factories. Italians, Jews and Poles settled there because of it. Over time the work left, buildings and yards once tidy became neglected. Post war suburbs and malls beckoned. The cars that took them there needed fast roads. Capitalism had wrung out the value of people, land and buildings and now pushed governments to acquire, demolish, pave over and re-develop.
In 1970 I started working as a Relocation Interviewer for the Springfield Redevelopment Authority. Eminent domain is cruel. Fortunately, our project abandoned wholesale demolition. In its place we had limited acquisition, extensive rehabilitation, road improvements and social services. Buildings run down by owners and those in the way of new roads were taken. Residents, often elderly who’d lived in the neighbourhood for much of their lives had to move – often out of the area. Earlier, I’d made a short film illustrating the destruction of Springfield’s North End and the visible priorities of public spending – https://mielniczuk.wordpress.com/2019/01/14/springfield-1969-public-choices/
In Lynn as in many other 1960’s urban renewal projects, the planning and public debate contributed to uncertainty, decline and the flight of residents from the area. It was no longer the cherished neighbourhood they idealized. The suburbs offered a better life. If not better, at least one where families were better hidden.
One of the attention grabbing illustrations in this book is the re-creation of a hand drawn map done by a resident. The details literally map out many of the references and relationships in the oral histories. Personal and newspaper photos enliven characters, street life and other places of community activity. Like a complex, multi-character novel, the book contains cross-references that challenge memory. The extensive index by person, company or organization is a welcome feature.
While driving around I found a small corner of the Brickyard remains – its presence announced on a railway bridge.