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NBx2: Wheels on Fire

The start: Inside Grace Episcopal Church.

Who knew riding a bus could be so much fun?

NBx2: The New Bedford Neighborhood Bus tour cruised around the city this past Sunday, September 17 riding a funky vibe all its own. It felt like a union between a school field trip and a duck boat tour as familiar places were seen from a new perch – the comfy seats of a Tremblay’s Motor Coach.

The idea behind the NBx 2: The New Bedford Neighborhood Bus is simple. Bring people together from different neighborhoods to share stories, discover something different in the city and build bridges. It arose from a discussion about how downtown revitalization efforts could extend to the neighborhoods and bring more people into the process. The co-working Facility, Groundwork! At 1213 Purchase Street sponsored #NBx2 with the support of MassDevelopment.

A Tremblay’s coach ready to whisk us away.

Two bright yellow, black and white Tremblay coaches picked up passengers at the NBx2 starting point, beautiful Grace Episcopal Church on County Street. From there, just over 50 folks were transported to New Bedford’s North End and the artist condo community, The Ropeworks. Then it was a loop up Acushnet Avenue to Mt. Pleasant Street on our way to The Kitchen, serving “The Best Soul Food In Town,” in the cafeteria at the United House of Prayer for All People on Kempton Street. Finally, down on Brock Avenue, the final stop was Youth Opportunities Unlimited (Y.O.U.).

Throughout the tour – caught by The Standard-Times in this story – riders expressed delight in discovering or revisiting places of interest in the city as a group. While a good number of us had been to one or two of the stops before, NBx2 offered us a communal viewpoint into The Ropeworks, The Kitchen, and Y.O.U. – and we got to learn something new about each of them.

Artist Tracy Barbosa (in purple) greets visitors to her Ropeworks studio.

Artists at the Ropeworks invited riders into about five of the live/work spaces in the building for an intimate look at where some of the much-heralded art in New Bedford is created. It was a nice preview of the Open Studios tour the building will be holding on Saturday, Oct. 14 and Sunday, Oct. 15. (Details here.)

In The Kitchen, we learned that serving food isn’t just a past-time. It has allowed the congregation (and other congregations) to build or purchase mortgage-free their houses of worship.

Chowing down at The KItchen (open every Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the United House of Prayer for All People, 419 Kempton Street).

And at Y.O.U., we toured not only the group’s HQ – the Victory Park Warming House on the site of the old Poor Farm – but it’s community garden, too.

Between stops, our two tour guides (one on each bus) were Mark Fuller and Carl Simmons – two guys who have New Bedford in their bones. And speaking of bones, they will also be guiding folks through the New Bedford Artists and Artisans Tour at Rural Cemetery on Saturday, Oct. 7. (More info here.)

The Community Garden at Youth Opportunities Unlimited (Y.O.U.).

We here at Groundwork! Were thrilled with the response to NBx2, and enjoyed the opportunity to help put it together with our member, MassDevelopment TDI Fellow Jim McKeag. He and all of us here would like to thank Carl Simmons, Mark Fuller, the artists at The Ropeworks, the congregation at the United House of Prayer for All People and the good folks at Y.O.U. for being part of this first New Bedford Neighborhood Bus Tour.

And we’d like to thank everyone who came on the tour – the reason why we all volunteered our time to put it together. An enthusiastic response to NBx2 is reward unto itself, and we were well-rewarded by our 50+ riders. They behaved so well we didn’t even need bus monitors!

Smaller-scale events like NBx2 have a great impact here in New Bedford. Between the big events – like the Folk Festival, Portuguese Feast or monthly AHA! Nights – they foster a sense of community and keep the positive momentum the city has achieved recently rolling along.

So, you can bet another NBx2 bus will be traveling around New Bedford. When and where to, we’ll certainly let you know. In the meantime, if you’d like to support future tours, swing by Groundwork! And grab yourself an official NBx2: New Bedford Neighborhood Bus tour tee-shirt, produced here in the city by Scrimshaw Printing on Sawyer Street. They’re $15 each and the money raised will help fund future NBx2 bus tours.

Grab your NBx2 tee at Groundwork!

Steven Froias