1st impressions; Gateways give visitors a sense of the city.

Position:NEWS
 
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Byline: Bronislaus B. Kush

WORCESTER - If Lucie Linzkaus had her way, the mammoth crane that's assembling the seven-story Unum building downtown would forever be part of Worcester's skyline.

"You drive along the highway (Interstate 290) and then you see this giant crane sitting smack in the middle of downtown," said the "40-something" office worker. "To me, that piece of equipment is a symbol of a city on the move. It leaves an impression on all who see it."

To many urban architects and planners, there's some relevance to the old English saying that "first impressions are the most lasting."

And with so many portals, including I-290, the city offers many different perspectives to visitors about what it's all about.

Motorists zipping along the highway, for example, may get a sense that Worcester might be a regional business hub, given that the nearby downtown's core is filled with office buildings.

Meanwhile, visitors traveling along the so-called Route 9 east corridor may think of the city as an entertainment venue because of the mix of restaurants and pubs that are located in the Shrewsbury street neighborhood.

The stretches of strip clubs and old industrial and warehouse parcels along Route 20, between Auburn and Shrewsbury, solicit vastly different responses.

"Some people may come to an opinion about a city, just by traveling through a gateway," said Timothy McGourthy, Worcester's chief development officer.

The concept of gateways dates back to ancient civilizations, when travelers were greeted at a settlement's boundaries by elaborate decorative gates.

According to planners, gateways welcome visitors and provide a means of celebrating a community's corporate and civic history.

They are often designed to directly link the suburbs to downtown districts, increase green space, reinforce a municipality's identity and uniqueness, and promote a community's economic vitality.

Gateway projects - many utilizing federal grant money - began blossoming across the nation as far back as the early 1980s.

In Worcester, city officials have continuously invested, over the past three decades, in infrastructure improvements to the major routes that bring people into town.

For example, Shrewsbury Street, heralded by city boosters for its eateries, has been revitalized with much work to its "streetscape."

Telegram.com last week ran a survey, asking its readers what major routes provide the best impressions of the city on visitors.

One hundred and eleven people...

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