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New Bedford / Fall River: It’s Complicated

Back in November, I took the SRTA 10 bus from downtown New Bedford to Fall River. Sometimes I just do these kind of things.

I was prepared for the journey: Cash, credit cards, Charlie Card, MP3 player, and…passport.

Because traveling to Fall River from New Bedford feels like going to another country. I wanted to make certain I was ready for the border patrol!

I’m joking – but let’s face it. Anyone who has grown up in this area realizes that there can be a palpable sense of rivalry and outright antagonism between the two cities – which only exist about 20 minutes from each but spin on their own individual axis, “Southcoast” be damned.

New Bedford’s Shelley Cardoos tried to get to the bottom of the antipathy between the two gateway cities via a Facebook post a few weeks back – and the responses were illuminating.

As I often write, the first step toward recovery is admitting you have a problem in the first place. And the replies to Shelley’s post mostly revealed that yes, there is a problem between New Bedford and Fall River. We’re not imagining it!

The Facebook post

But her goal with the post was to try a determine a way to end this Cold War – not fan the flames. Here’s her post:

“I have worked in New Bedford and Fall River for 2.5 years. I have a few questions for people that have been here longer about the connections between New Bedford and Fall River. Or newbies in the know.

– Has there ever been a time that New Bedford and Fall River communities supported each other?

– Are there good examples of businesses, institutions, or organizations that bridged the gaps well?

– People that successfully represent both?

– Are there things we can do to unite better?

(I will delete any negative comment about either city if it’s negative without being constructive. I genuinely want to hear of how we can end this FR/NB BS.)”

The Replies

Paraphrased below (to protect the innocent) are some of the replies.

It’s all about football

Numerous posts brought up the fact that New Bedford High School and Fall River’s High School, Durfee, have a long-standing rivalry because of their annual Thanksgiving day football game. Which would mean the antipathy to downright aggression is a learned behavior.

It’s all about the funding

As two post-industrial, “gateway” cities in the Commonwealth, the two cities scrap over table scraps – i.e., state funding for programs and projects.

Fall River is just sooo Rhode Island

Fall River tends to look west rather than east and just feels cozier with its other near urban center, Providence than it does to New Bedford. In other words, that city says to this city, “It’s not you. It’s me.”

New Bedford is just groovier

On the other hand, some put it all on the Spindle City and attribute Fall River’s diss of New Bedford to arts envy. This city is just perceived as the more happening, cool place to be, with a dynamic arts scene, better downtown and funkier vibe.

Can’t we just all get along?

Regardless of the causes, most people recognize that the whole New Bedford vs. Fall River debate is poisonous to the region. It’s rooted in a provincial mindset, and perhaps it will simply peter out – after another generation or two or three.

I propose a more robust plan of action.

Declare war on Boston.

Because I believe all the reasons cited above are valid – but ultimately the result of Brahmin disdain for working class Southeastern Massachusetts through public policy and spending for many, many decades.

It’s not beyond belief that the Illuminati, the powers-that-be or whoever decides these things have helped fanned the flames of resentment between cities like New Bedford, Fall River, Taunton, Brockton and maybe even Attleboro, too, in order to keep the masses subdued to their “Hub of the Universe.”

Bound together, oh, perhaps by strong regional leadership, broad-minded municipal government and commuter rail or a real public transportation system, the region would easily challenge the supremacy of an elitist, some say racist, wanna-be world-class, city.

Or, maybe I just don’t follow high school football enough to know about these things.


Steven Froias