It’s time to finally write my rant about Malden’s city hall, a.k.a. “government center.” The short story is that the building was built smack dab in the middle of Pleasant Street and now blocks access to that commercial area, and that the building and area around it create a hostile rather than welcoming environment. In the twenty years I’ve lived here, the city has repeatedly investigated tearing it down. While that dream sits in the pipe, I think there are relatively inexpensive ways the city could improve the area and funnel traffic to Pleasant Street.
Now, for the long story.
I walked some errands today. My stroll started at the Malden Center T station. I went down Exchange Street, in back of the police station, to Middlesex Street. I turned right to go into McGovern Physical Therapy where the PT tried to convince my recalcitrant ankle to shape up. From there, I went back up Middlesex toward Pleasant Street. I looked in the CVS for dixie cups that I could fill with water, freeze, and use to torture my ankle. There were way too many in the box for more than I wanted to pay, so I exited and turned left onto Pleasant. I thought about checking in the Super 99¢ Century store for dixie cups, but the cramped chaos in there scares me so I cruised on by. I realized I was hungry, so swung into the Ethiopian/Mediterranean Abiata Cafe and bought a shawarma.
My expresso in hand, I passed one of the banks, crossed Abbott Street, and swung into my shoe store. Mr. Solup, of Solup’s Shoe Case, has just celebrated his 50th year selling regular shoes and shoes for people with differently-sized feet. The second time I ever went in, he said “you’ve been here before, right?” The third time I went, he called me by name, and remembered my shoe size and the two pairs that fit my EE feet: amazing. Today, I bought new sneakers, and then continued my stroll down Pleasant.
A block and a half later, I had to turn one way or the other to get around the building that is labelled “GOVERNMENT CENTER.” Every time any pedestrian goes between the downtown section of Pleasant St. and the Malden Center T station, they are confronted by this big ugly brick building. Not because there are any signs, but because I know the most direct way: I angled left, between Government Center and the police station. I walked across the patio and garden area, which the city keeps neatly planted, and headed to the top of the ramp that goes to the bottom of Government Center, which is directly across from the T. Here is that walk, in pictures that I annotated with my criticisms and suggestions.
To summarize, I proclaim that the City of Malden should:
- explicitly and implicitly welcome people to Malden, inviting them to the city’s government offices and Pleasant Street shops
- by replacing “no trespassing” signs and hidden pathways with directional signage and art.
But wait, there’s more: the building’s innards. In September 2009, I needed to find a site map of our property that showed its boundaries and micro-acreage. I knew that information was somewhere in city hall. I went in the rear or “back” door.You know it’s the back door when what greets you is nothing but ramp down to a door that bears many markers of “keep out.”
Although I couldn’t, if you were able to stop staring at the menacing door as you approached it, you might notice an “Information” sign pointing toward the left. No matter what, when you reach the bottom of the ramp you see that the only way you can go is left, down a dark hallway. I couldn’t take pictures of the hallway because my iPhone doesn’t have a flash. I don’t remember being able to figure out how to get to the office I needed from the lower level, but perhaps they have replaced the light bulbs and there is a directory of offices. I went to the ground floor and started my search for a property maps office from there.
That September, once I had successfully found our property map, I decided to document how much more friendly the main entrance is. I was utterly disappointed. Though more obviously an entrance, the front is no more welcoming than the back. When you reach reading-range, you are immediately put on notice that there are “no deliveries,” “no soliciting” and, on a large red sign on the door, “no smoking” allowed.
Inside the first sliding door, you’re again reminded “no smoking,” and directed to “please use the side door,” whatever that means.
Once past both entry doors, there is a sign board with office hours and, my favorite, in red and white:
“NO TRESPASSING OR LOITERING ON THIS PROPERTY.
VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED.”
I can come into government’s center, as long as I don’t dawdle or linger? As long as I don’t trespass on this property? To me, “no trespassing” has always meant “unless you have the right to, you can’t tread on this property.” Have I been incorrect? To find out, I looked up the definition of “trespass.”
- As people of several religions know, a trespass is a sin.
- “To commit an unlawful injury to the person, property, or rights of another, with actual or implied force or violence, especially to enter onto another’s land wrongfully.”
- “To infringe on the privacy, time, or attention of another.” (American Heritage Dicitonary of the English Language, 5th Edition)
As a member of the public, the populus, the people of Malden, I own this building. As a citizen, I elect this building’s occupants, people who are caretakers both of Malden and of this building. As a taxpayer, I fund this building, its occupants, and the services offered within it. By definition, I have the right to this building. By definition, anyone residing in Malden has the right to this building. Does my government direct “no trespassing” to people here illegally? To terrorists?
Just to the right of the trespassing sign that fires my ire, there is, finally, a directory of what’s in the building and a note that the floor you’re on is actually the second floor, even though you just came in from the front, and if you’d used the back entrance you’d have walked into what looks like a basement.
That’s my harangue about Malden’s “center.” I am optimistic that our new mayor, Gary Christenson, will make the city government building more welcoming and “user-friendly.”
As for the area surrounding the building, separating two ends of Pleasant Street, the mayor, city councillors, and many others will continue to debate how to replace the monstrosity. No matter the debate and eventual solution, I hope that our government and citizens, together, will produce ideas and some money to go low-tech in the short run. It’s important to plan for the future. But it’s equally if not more important to live within your means and attend to the present. After all, just because you help a minor league baseball organization build a ballpark, doesn’t mean it will produce a windfall for the city.