Issue 7: A New Bridge

Rockland’s development 160 years ago as an industrial city was based on local resources: mainly limestone for the production of mortar, and lumber for shipbuilding. Within 50 years those industries were in decline, but Rockland had been built and Main Street had become the commercial center for our region.

After the lime and shipbuilding, sardine canning became important, and then a fish oil rendering plant, both were gone by the 1980’s. A snow plow factory and the seaweed plant remain, and we have local family owned O’Hara fishing, and Prock Marine’s dredging and construction businesses.

What commerce and industry remains, however, is less and less connected to the exploitation of natural resources such as lumber, limestone, and fish, and increasingly connected to a quite different resource: the increasing attractiveness of Rockland and our region as a place to live. We have become a retreat from the cities and suburbs to our south, from the crowding and high prices, from the strip malls and chain stores, from the crime and division, from the rat race.

The Rockland shore, in our industrial heyday a dirty smoking beehive of a hundred limekilns, is increasingly a safe haven for private yachts. At the O’Hara Corporation, buildings that had housed fish processing operations now house yacht storage and repair facilities. Multi-family tenement buildings, worker housing, are being torn down while the elegant homes ofour early entrepreneurs are being renovated by residents ofthe new wave. Main Street, the core of Rockland for all these 1 60 years, is being transformed as mass retailing moves to chain stores out of town, and the downtown shops increasingly become elegant art galleries and restaurants catering to that new wave.

These tidal changes have brought us our own tensions and divisions. Our local working class struggles with the loss ofthe old industrial jobs, and with high rents and property taxes. Their children are moving away, even as the children ofthe more affluent are moving in. Newer residents, old and young, are challenged to be worthy of their growing power over those who welcomed them here. Everyone knows we will be happier and our city more successful if we get along and collaborate, but it is not easy.

What we need are bridges, and we have a fine new one in Rockland, crossing Lindsey Brook at its mouth on the harbor. It is a pedestrian bridge, symbolic of what divides us, and at the same time a means of crossing that divide.

The new bridge is part ofthe Harbor Trail, a civic project ofover thirty years that has made much progress despite the ridicule of some older residents who may remember the “blue line” incident of twenty years ago. This progress is evidence of the inevitability of change. We are not getting back the lime kilns and the sardine canneries. We must look forward to our new opportunities as a small, beautiful, friendly, seacoast city not so very far from New York and Boston. That proximity has been our constant ally these 160 years, just now the trade is different.

Perhaps the bridge is telling us that a more pedestrian Rockland will be better for all of us. When we walk we talk, and when we talk we make our community work. Sadly, while the new wave meets on the walkways, the old guard drives down Main Street to the perimeter – downtown is less and less a part of their lives. More new bridges are needed.

On the Rockland Metro Show, this Wednesday, May 17, from 5 to 6 PM on WRFR, 93.3 Rockland and 99.3 Camden, and online at wrfr.org, the topic will be A New Bridge. Calls will be taken at 593-0013. To join the on- air discussion, or reserve a place at the round-table supper where the conversation will continue following the show, email robert@thebuzz.me.

The Buzz is published by WRFR and is available online at thebuzz.me. To propose a story, contact joe@interhuman.org or 596-0731.