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Interviewee: Sarah Garcia

Role: Community Development Director and Harbor Planning Director, Gloucester, Massachusetts

Date of Interview: December 30, 2014

Collection: Preserving the Working Waterfront

Click on the link below to view the interview.

Sarah Garcia Interview

Abstract: Sarah Garcia, former Community Development Director and Harbor Planning Director, Gloucester, Massachusetts, was interviewed to document the community's experience in completing an economic assessment to better understand the economic contribution of waterfront activities. Ms. Garcia discusses the history of Gloucester, the long standing polarization around waterfront issues, and the harbor planning effort which included the economic assessment. For Gloucester, the economic assessment was key to understanding the value and continued economic importance of the community's waterfront.

Transcript: Gloucester is very coastal; it has sixty-two miles of coastline and the settlement is concentrated around the edges of the island so that almost everybody in Gloucester lives within a mile, maybe two at most, from the water, from the shore. The harbor represented to the City is kind of the image of the City. Gloucester is a fishing city and the idea of the working waterfront is kind of core to the identity of the community even while jobs on the working waterfront were no longer very available.

We started with this polarized community, like I said. If you were for loosening the regulations on the waterfront you were anti–working–labeled anti–working waterfront, you know, selling off. If you wanted to preserve the working waterfront you were labeled unrealistic and also, you know, putting people's properties on hold. And it was abundantly clear that piers and wharves were deteriorating and buildings were vacant. So our first step was to identify the values of the community that would drive development on the waterfront.

We spent several years, just developing relationships and understandings and where it all came into the tool that really is what we're about today was when we had to renew our Harbor Plan and Designated Port Area Plan. So we wrote the scope for it as an economic–we said we want the economic data. We want the data for who we are, how our labor force–what the skill sets of our labor force, how they align with potential compatible industries. We want to understand what are the range of industries out there, where are they, how are they funded? And then finally, we'll know how we get to them, which ones are compatible with us. And do we have any obstacles to doing that, which of course we do.

So when we started to look at the data, what was astonishing to us is when EDA first came to Gloucester for example they looked at the NAIC Codes and they said do we really only have 140 people working in the fishery? And are we really here for 140 people? And we're like, 'no; that's not true,' but I didn't know what to tell them. I hadn't–like I don't know; I mean it seems like a lot more. But we did some of our own data gathering. So in the end we found 2,900 of our 10,000 jobs in the city were in the maritime economy–2,900. That's from going from a 140 fishermen to, oh, guess what? You know, we're hugely maritime–oriented. So that in and of itself is–it's really important to know the data that's underlying what you're trying to work with. It gave weight–the people said, 'the fishery's not dead,' while also explaining that a lot of the maritime jobs weren't actually actively using the water. So how do we start linking that up?

At least in our community there's a lot of polarization around the idea that working–. It is very difficult to develop a working waterfront. There're not obvious uses. I think the community values that drive waterfront development are really important to establish first. Gloucester has a beautiful downtown. It has coffee shops. It has cool restaurants. It has live music all the time. The indigenous culture of Gloucester is really fun. And to have a way for other people who are interested in maritime issues to come in seem to me essential. But you have to get people down to your waterfront to love it and protect it.

This collection is part of an effort to document oral histories that focus on the application of specific tools for sustaining working waterfronts across the country. To learn more about the Preserving the Working Waterfront Oral History project, click here.