What Happened to Worcester? (We Read It So You Don’t Have To)


Photo: Joe Shlabotnik

Cities are changing, but our expectations of what cities can do for us might not be changing so much. Planet Money founder Adam Davidson’s New York Times Magazine essay shares what is now a quaint story: the author’s ancestors moved a century ago to the central Massachusetts city and worked their way to the middle class and beyond. Davidson’s great-great-grandfather started as a fruit vendor and tonic salesman, selling to fellow immigrants who worked in factories. Each generation built on the previous one’s successes: the fruit vendor’s children worked as stenographers and bookkeepers; their children in turn became lawyers, accountants, and executives. Davidson acknowledges that manufacturing center “Worcester wasn’t anybody’s first choice,” but it was “an engine of betterment,” a place where reasonable dignity was reasonably possible — and a place with a way out. Despite today’s “dead industry and collapsing buildings,” Worcester still attracts those priced out from popular coastal cities. And the story ends with a beautiful line from Ahmed Yusef, an Iraqi immigrant who put down roots in Worcester and sees it as a place to build a better life. “You like Worcester,” Davidson says to him. “No,” Yusef responds. “Not like. Love. I love it. I have a future. New York is for dreams. Worcester is for working.” Working and dreaming, another generation enters the city …

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