Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Blackstone Canal Basin Garage

In a previous post titled Moving Forward While Honoring Our Past I lamented the loss of all physical evidence of the Blackstone Canal in downtown Worcester. I have been trying to come up with some ideas for how we can reestablish and celebrate that connection to our past and one of the concepts I have come up with has to do with the municipal parking garage at Major Taylor Blvd. and MLK Jr. Blvd. (adjacent to the DCU Center), the historical location of the Blackstone Canal Basin.

Municipal Parking Garage at Major Taylor Blvd. and MLK Jr. Blvd. in downtown Worcester

1829 Map of Worcester Showing Blackstone Canal Superimposed on Map of Present Day Worcester (Garage and Historic Canal Basin in Upper Right)
Today the garage seems to go by many names - from the Municipal Garage, to the DCU Center Garage, to the Major Taylor Blvd. Garage (I believe there is a sign over the vehicle entrance off of MLK Jr. Blvd. to this effect?) to Republic Parking System Inc. if you look it up in Google Maps (I assume they have the management contract for the garage from the city?) In contrast, if I say Pearl-Elm Garage or Federal Square Garage, most people know exactly which municipal garages I am referring to and they are consistently referred to by these names, even in online mapping applications such as Google Maps.

In an effort to 1) provide the garage with a consistent and single identity and 2) link today's structure to Worcester's history, I suggest that this garage be officially named the Blackstone Canal Basin Garage. In addition to basic signage, I suggest that each floor be identified not only by a number but also assigned a symbol linked to the historic canal. For example, let's say a visitor parks on the 3rd level. In addition to identifying it as the 3rd level, we could use a stylized symbol from the canal to identify the floor, say the canal boat Lady Carrington, or Tobias Boland, builder of the canal. Signs would be posted throughout each level showing both the floor number and the symbol, and the elevator buttons could also be labeled with the floor symbols in addition to the numbers.

At the elevator lobbies on each floor, a larger symbol could be mounted and a brief description of the symbol's tie to the Blackstone Canal could be provided. Most people don't read these markers, but you do have a captive audience here without much to do while they wait, so I'm willing to bet the read rate would actually be quite high. The first floor elevator lobby should also contain some basic information about the canal and basin in order to provide context and link the site to the larger Blackstone Canal.

Providing free business card sized floor identity cards at each floor's elevator lobby with the symbol is another great way for users to not only remember their floor but also reinforces the historical link in the users mind. There is of course some expense associated with the design, printing and stocking of these cards, so perhaps a modern alternative would be to post a sign at each floor's lobby suggesting that visitors use their cellphone camera and take a picture of the symbol. The user can then reference this picture upon their return if they forget which level they are parked on.

Perhaps today's use of this site as a parking garage actually has a lot stronger connection to it's past than I realized. In the early 1800's canal boats would come to this site to park and offload their goods from all over the world for use in Worcester. Today, autos come to this site to park and their occupants from all over the world go out and experience Worcester. 100's of people every day park in this garage on a daily basis, whether they are staying in the nearby hotel, have business at the new courthouse, or are attending an event at the DCU Center. Today's visitors to this garage are unknowingly carrying out a long standing tradition as they go about their business; let's help them navigate their way through our parking garage while simultaneously providing them with an opportunity to connect with and experience what makes Worcester unique.


  1. Only thing I know is, the second elevator, known as "Filechia's Cousin" on YouTube, is one hell of a DEATH TRAP, and suposedly, is due for serious repair work.
    It's a thrill ride, for those who ride it, and that thrill might be gone soon, after it's overhauled.

  2. if you want to see the canal entrace(its sealed off so you know) go to google maps and type north quinsigamond village and zoom in by the bend in the river between the feild and the red bridge that goes across rt146 and click on pictures and you will see my photo of it. (mike-mjl)