WE ARE A SOCIETY OF LAWS

 

Harvey

^ Harvey Weinstein. Until last week I had never heard of him, but in that short time he has become the icon of impulsive’s victory over due process in our once Constitutional democracy

—- —- —-

On two fronts, of late, I see people advocating stuff on social media that has no business in a Constitutional democracy. From the people now hounding one Harvey Weinstein, whoever he is, with judgment about what passed between him and women, to those who oppose gun regulation so that unauthorized citizens can go vigilante, I see explicit disregard for the basic laws that hold our society in peace. Not for them the Constitution that they are always  claiming to support. Not for them such essentials of due process as proof and trial, not accusation. They want their way and to hell with Constitutional precepts.

Constitutional obligations require effort. Outrage does not. Outrage is emotional pornography.

What Mr. Weinstein is accused of is hardly new to Hollywood. The “casting couch” has ruled, so it seems, since the 1920s, when leggy young women became a hot movie item. Generations of movie moguls have been accused of the stuff that Mr. Weinstein is suddenly beyond the pale for doing. So easy it is, now, in 2017, to become high and mighty about stuff that barely yesterday we shrugged our shoulders about. This is the same sort of historical revisionism that we find elsewhere. Francis Sco0tt Key, who penned our national anthem, is suddenly no good because he owned slaves 205 years ago.

So easy it is to blindside those who lived long ago, when different standards ruled. And so our stirring national poem, which became the marching song of the Union Army in our Civil War, now becomes a no-no. Little wonder that our nation’s civic discourse hs descended from principle to poltroonery.

One would think that basic principles of societal order, such as due process, regulation of dangerous instruments, and respect for the equal civil rights of all would be unassailable, and that anyone who suggested ignoring them would find himself outcast. Now anyone who makes that assumption is wrong.

We can’t get serious gun regulation because a very well placed, if very small, subset of voters intimidates legislators by appropriating Constitutional precept for themselves. We  can’t secure due process in sexual harassment cases, the society’s most toxic : which is precisely the locus of Constitutional oversight.

We can’t secure for women the basic right to control her on body and birth.

We can’t secure presumption of innocence, rules of evidence, or objective analysis for those accused of  crimes — such as sexual harassment — that heat up the populace

We can’t guarantee voting rights to citizens who radical governments work to keep from voting,.

At Here and Sphere we reject these willful un-Americanisms. The Second Amendment grants no person an absolute right to carry weapons wherever he wants to. It talks about militias. Today those militias have been taken into the various National Guards.

We reject the notion that accusation of sexual harassment means los of profession. Accusation is not trial. It is not proof. It is not verdict. We try cases because we understand that accusation can arise from vengeance, from ignorance, from bigotry, or all three; or from assumption.

We dismiss the mind blindness that seeks to deny women to terminate a pregnancy

It is no legal business of anyone what another person does with her own body.

Accusation, even of sexual harassment, a wrong potentially criminal, cannot prejudice the rest of the evidence: letters, prior history, a back story, alternative theories — not if we are to remain a society at peace rather than a kettle of vengeance, a field of Bacchae.

Widespread gun ownership — enabling vigilante justice — puts paid to our Constitutional democracy. It’s the last thing that a civilized people should want or tolerate.

All of the above seems so utterly elementary to me that it marvels me to find myself saying them. Yet that is what we have come to in 2017, the 228th year of our Constitution. Impulse has replaced policy, vitriol over calm examination, religion zealotry over the civil rights of women. Lord knows where this torrent of self-centered griping will mislead us.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

 

THE NEW ERA IN BOSTON IS ABOUT CANDIDATE EXCELLENCE — NOT SKIN COLOR

Lydia

^ “new leadership” in Boston : District One candidate Lydia Edwards (l) with her “cm” (campaign manager), Gabriela Coletta, a veteran of several successful local campaigns

—- —- —- —-

Upon seeing the September 26 vote, my former Boston Phoenix colleague David Bernstein wrote that “women of color are leading the new era” in Boston politics. He has a point; but their leadership is much less about skin and much more about candidates who really know their stuff. Yes, Chyna Tyler, Linda Dorcena Forry, Michelle Wu, Ayanna Pressley, Andrea Campbell, and now Lydia Edwards, a District One candidate, are all “women of color.” But voters are not stupid, nor, in Boston, do they vote for skin. They vote for whom they perceive to be the best candidate.

Long connection does make a difference. The reason why a broad spectrum of “women of color” have only begun to break through in the past five years or so is because they are not connected to the old connections of Irish and Italian-descended voters whose connectivity as formed an habitual electoral winning streak. It takes time for new connections of this profoundly long-term kind tr,o become a bond, and of course the large exodus from Boston of the vast majority of old-connected Irish and Italian-descended voters factors large in the change that Bernstein writes about. The voter list in District One, for example, is barely 20 percent comprised of Irish and Italian-descended people.

Still, many of these voters embraced Lydia Edwards’s candidacy on September 26, just as Councillor at Large Ayanna Pressley has won the votes of West Roxbury and State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry won many voters, in her 2013 campaign, who were not of color. District One has hardly any Black voters and not very many voters who are Latino nor Asian. Skin color clearly played very little part in her September 26 vote, a mere 77 short of the total amassed by the “traditional” candidate, Stephen Passacantilli.

The voters whose votes put Edwards within striking distance of a victory — she already won Charlestown, as “traditional” a neighborhood as any in Boston, and won it by carrying the “traditional” precincts; the new-Charlestown Precinct One, she lost — chose her f or her mastery of the issues, her embrace of several neighborhood wants, and her dogged hard work. She won votes from very conservative voters and from female civic activists, of which Charlestown has many more than a few. As she says, “it’s the coalition you build.”

Easier said than done — but one means of doing it is to be open to every sort of voter and to work hard and personally so those many sorts of voters see that (1) you are open t.o them and (2) willing to work hard to persuade them. This is what Dorcena Forry aimed to do, and did, and it is what Ayanna Pressley has worked for many years to do, and has done. Andrea Campbell’s and Chyna Tyler’s rises were somewhat different. Both ran, and won, in Districts where voters of color are a clear majority. Yet both won the majority of votes cast by Caucasian voters in their districts by being the better candidate, by effort committed and by mastery of the issues their voters care about.

If Lydia Edwards wins the final on November 7th — as right now she looks poised to do — it will not be because of her skin but because of her effort, mastery, and willingness to connect with all kinds of voters. Admittedly, the diminished numbers of long-connected Irish and Italian descended voters has given her that chance; but Stephen Passacantilli — whose family has been well respected in the District for 100 years —  did not fail to win a convincing primary vote because “traditional” voters have lost numbers. Edwards won plenty of such voters in what so far has been a much more broadly based, smarter primary campaign.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

TWELVE RULES OF POLITICAL CAMPAIGNING

FullSizeRender

^ how it’s done : door knocking on Saratoga Street in a precinct of strength, this was our second visit to this couple, and they became enthusiastic supporters. Voting like being paid attention to !

—- —- —- —-

Having recently concluded my latest campaign assignment, and it being almost my fiftieth year of doing this stuff, I intend in this column to set forth the guidelines that I apply to campaigning. These apply especially to local elections such as the one still going on in District One :

Rule No. 1 : the voters make the decision, and every voter has his or her one vote to give, a power which every voter takes very seriously. Voters know their own interests quite well, no matter what we out here may assume. Always respect the voter. And this : never try to fool the voter. Unless you are Donald Trump — and you aren’t — it doesn’t work.

Rule No. 2 : voters want to be asked for their vote. The best way to do this is b y the candidate, herself or himself , one on one with the voter at his or her door. There is no substitute for it. You MUST door-knock every voting door.

Rule No. 3 : there are no short cuts to campaign success, part one. Using a “super voter” list to focus only on those voters sure to vote does three things wrong : ( a ) it cuts out those voters who would surely vote except that no one campaigns to them ( b ) it consumes time. From one super-vote household to the next you probably walk by three or four other houses. Why not knock those doors to, since you’re already there ? ( c ) even if a voter might not vote, better that she know your name and maybe talk about you to her neighbors.

Rule No. 4 : every campaign operation other than door-knocking is a short cut and entails a loss of effectiveness. It is fine to do a district-wide mailing, yet even the best mailing — with an actual stamp, not a bulk permit, gets read by only a portion of those mailed to. “Lit drops” arouse even less attention. You can do these, and you probably should, in order to reach voters who won’t open the door when knocked or who are not home, but never think that they replace that one on one door visit. They don’t. “Stand outs” are just as worthless. Drivers pay attention to the road, not to sign holders, and most of the drivers don’t live in your district anyway.

Rule No. 5 : campaigning entails physical work. Door knocking, stuffing and licking envelopes (if anyone does this any more), hanging house or lawn signs — all involve physical effort. Physical is the surest way to prove to the voters that you really do want the job you’re seeking — want it badly enough to sweat and exhaust yourself.

Rule No. 6 : the candidate sets the campaign tone. If the candidate doesn’t work hard, his or her volunteers won’t work hard.

Rule No. 7 : run your own campaign and don’t worry about what the opponents are doing. Your campaign operations are hard enough to accomplish. Get them done, and you’re likely ahead of your opponents, because most campaigns can’t accomplish their plan.

Rule No. 8 : do two things well rather than eight things badly. Campaigns that try to do too much almost never succeed. If you can get your door-knocking done, and do effective mailings, and hols meet and greets where available, you’re likely way ahead of your opponent. Most campaigns can’t get even the simple stuff done. Your opposition may come up with a brilliant operation ? Most likely you will not be able successfully to do your own, because every operation takes planning, mostly with volunteer help, and it’s very distracting to shift your campaign on the move. Save that brilliant opponent’s idea for the next time.

Rule No. 9 : Repeat Rule No. 1 — the voters make the decision. Do not try to pressure the voter. Voters do not respond well to being “heavied.” Relax. Listen to the voter; allow him or her to convince him or herself. A propos, a door knocking tip : let the voter do most of the talking. She’ll think you a really great candidate, because after the door visit the voice she’ll remember is her own, and her own ideas, which she will then attribute to you.

Rule No. 10 : thank your volunteers and donors; thank them every day, every hour. You can never say thank you enough. To a volunteer who has busted ass in the hot sun or pelting rain for hours and hours, a thank you from the candidate is like a blessing by God. One’s whole soul lights up when a “thank you” is said. Also : send hand-written thank you notes to the voters who commit to vote for you.

Rule No. 11 : go to your strengths and opportunities. If your issues command the voters, do more issues advocacy. If you are drawing more support in one precinct than another, concentrate your follow-up efforts on that precinct. Build on strength. This is another way of doing that old campaign saying that you concentrate on your “saints” and on the “saveables,” while avoiding the “sinners.” It works. Applied to a precinct, if you can take full command of one precinct, the support you achieve therein will radiate into the entire district, because people in one precinct know many people throughout the District. That kind of solid precinct enthusiasm will also juice your fund-raising.

Rule 11 exampled : If you have 25 precincts in your District — as does Council District One — five really dominant precincts of support can overwhelm twenty precincts of mediocre result. Here’s how and why :

( 1 ) to maximize support in  a great precinct, go back to a house where a voter you’ve met likes you and meet the rest of the voters there. (To not annoy them, you must ask the voter you met first if it is OK for you to come back and meet the others in her household. When she says “sure,” you’re set.) Do this until you have met three out of four, or four out of five, and so non. Remember : every voter has a vote to give, and you cannot assume that the voter who likes you will go back and tell his family to voted for you. I have done this often, and it works. It isalmost impossible for your opponent to weaken this intensity of support.

( 2 ) If you can gain this level of support in two, maybe three, precincts next to one another, your strength area will border a great many other neighborhoods that will surely feel the effects of your strong areas. Word of mouth talk about you then  arises, and believe me, I’d rather have great word of mouth than all the color-printed, bulk-rate mailed eight by ten advertorials that too much money can buy.

Rule No. 12 : you cannot count a voter as committed to you unless he or she says “the magic words” : “I will vote for you” or “you have my vote.” Anything less definitive is NOT a commitment. Nor can you “bank” a commitment by that one meeting. The voter can change his mind, or forget that she committed. Stay in contact with committed voters. Shepherd them — from commitment day to election day.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

COUNCIL DISTRICT 1 : A PERSONAL VIEW

IMG_0918

^ East Boston, Precinct 8 — the heart of “Eagle Hill,” bellwether of the District. No contest.

—- — —-

Courtesy of a Frank Conte tweet, here’s the result on September 26th, by precinct : http://www.eastboston.com/Elections/YR2017/2017HowEastBostonVotedforDistrict1CityCouncilPreliminary2017-0926.pdf

Many of you know that I played a personal part in the campaign to elect a new Councillor from Boston’s District 1. I consulted to Margaret Farmer and also worked one of its 25 precincts at street level. In that vein, what I am about to write will be my personal assessment of the contest and what I think will happen in November.

I was thrilled when Margaret Farmer asked me to head up her campaign. Two thirds of one’s job as a campaign consultant is to pick the right candidate, and that’s what she was. Margaret knew the main issues well and in detail because as President of the Jeffries Point Neighborhood association for five years, she had faced them directly and constantly. A month of door knocking, and she acquired all the skills it takes to meet voters one at a time at the door and interact with them about the issues they care about.  At the door and in candidate forums Farmer proved to me again and again that she voices the concerns of District One voters with authority and conviction. Those who came out to the forums saw it too.

Unfortunately, the campaign’s mistakes made Farmer’s candidate excellence secondary : first, she began her campaign a month late, when many major activists had already committed to on or other of our two opponents; second,  that and the late entry set back our ability to fund-raise; third, Farmer the community activist had almost no acquaintance with the political community, and it took almost the entire campaign time for they and her to get to know each other.

Because she could not raise anywhere near sufficient funds, she could not do even one general mailing, much less the two or three done by Stephen Passacantilli and Lydia Edwards. Many voters went to the polls not having heard of Margaret despite our intense door-knocking and “lit drop” efforts. This was a shame. In the three voting precincts where Margaret was known — and became much better known by way of well focused and sustained precinct work — she won a respectable vote. Of her 522 votes District-wide, 223 came from those three precincts.

The voters of District One will now choose between Passacantilli and Edwards.

He won 3624 votes, she 3547. Clearly no decision was made. Yet I feel reasonably certain of the outcome. I think Lydia Edwards will win, maybe by a significant number.

Why do I say that ? Simple : Lydia drew votes from many different paths of voters whose votes expressed several different motives. Steve drew basically one sort of voter.

Lydia had run for State senator in the 2016 special election to choose Anthony Petrucelli’s successor. In that race she campaigned as the champion of progressive agendas. In this campaign she held most of that constituency — Farmer won some of it — and added to it two entirely different sorts of voters : one, opponents of the ubiquitous housing developments popping up all over East Boston; two, Charlestown residents who opposed Mayor Walsh in 2013 — he lost Charlestown badly — and still find the Mayor’s methods not to their liking. Many of these voters fall quite to the “right” on national issues; so why would they vote for a “progressive” ? My view is that their most fundamental political view is anti-establishment, and because Steve is the Mayor’s chosen candidate — and his campaign is visibly led by Walsh activists — he was the living embodiment of an establishment these anti-establishment voters oppose.

There is also a huge gender gap going on. Time and again I could see it : Steve is the candidate of guys, Lydia (and Margaret) the candidate of the women. As women are about 52 percent of the voters, men only 48 percent, a candidate supported by women has an advantage. But, say you, it wasn’t quite enough top overtop Steve’s vote. To which I respond: watch what happens next.

Steve needs to remake his campaign message and structure. He is badly boxed in by having raised almost $ 300,000 — way more than needed — and most of that from developers and developments people (attorneys, architects, brokers, investors and such) at a time when constant overreach by an avalanche of developments loom over almost every section of East Boston, the neighborhood in which Lydia lives and which is likely to turn out at least 50 percent of the November vote.

Steve also needs to achieve some kind of organizational independence from the Mayor. It sent a wrong message that many of his house sign location s became Walsh sign locations as well in the last week of the run-up. Though Walsh will win his own race easily, and by huge margins in District One, that result arises from the utter inadequacy of his opponent. Worse for Steve is that because voters cannot express opposition to Walsh’s agenda by voting against him, they sure can do so by voting against his Council candidate.

Meanwhile, Lydia will likely win a clear majority of Margaret’s 522 voters, many of whom are as opposed to unrestrained development in East Boston as Lydia’s “anti” voters.  That Lydia is a woman of color helps her too. What better way to scold a traditional kind of white-guy Mayor than by voting for his color and gender opposite ? Made all the easier by Lydia’s being quite knowledgeable about the major City issues and very likeable, where Steve has a tendency to avoid the issues (as, given his developer money, he almost has to) and to front his campaign with unsmiling faces. The menace that I felt in much of Steve’s campaign was almost perfectly summarized on election day at the polls, most of them, bullied by Steve billboards peppered with numerous smaller signs. Wouldn’t no billboards, and maybe two ordinary signs have been enough to remind people that you are asking for their vote ?

You can NOT bully the voters. You have to coax them.

In short, Lydia has a much easier path. All she has to do is continue the road she is on, continue being who she is; whereas Steve needs to change his campaign’s tone and image. The voters who did not vote on primary day but will vote in November will decide. A strong Steve person tells me that many Steve voters didn’t bother to vote because they thought him a shoo-in will now vote. I agree; but doesn’t the same rule apply to Lydia voters who may have thought she had no chance and so stayed home ? In any case, I think most of the new November voters — maybe as many as 4000 overall — are unlikely to be Walsh loyalists even if they cast a “default” vote for him. Thus the September 26 version of Steve will not cut it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UNDER-PERFORMANCE AND BOSTON’s PUBLIC SCHOOLS

BTU

^ Mayor Marty Walsh; new Boston Teachers Union President Jessica Tang; School Committee Chairman Mike O’Neill; Superintendent Tommy Chang : the challenge is on them

—- —- —- —-

As reported in Monday’s Boston Globe, Boston Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang’s study of his district;’s performance disclosed much failure. This is hardly a new story. Boston’s Public Schools do not uniformly perform well. Much of the system’s shortfall is found in schools serving primarily a minority population or students whose first language is not English. These are precisely the students to whom the Schools system should dedicate extra effort and its most capable pedagogues.

Why does the so-called “achievement gap” persist ? Despite decades of bewailing its persistence, its stubborn inability to betterment ? I have no simple answers, and the usual suggestions strike me mistaken. Yet answers there must be. No child, of whatever skin color or national origin, possesses any less learning capability than any other. (I put aside from this generality special needs students, whose abilities are impeded by one or another physical or mental factors.) As all children come to the learning years with roughly the same capabilities, achievement gaps between them must be the system’s doing.

Political conditions do not help. Before I list what I see as Boston’s schools’ learning issues, let’s take a look at the politics of a $ 1.061 BILLION school budget, about one-third of the City’s entire annual expenditure.

You would think that $ 1.061 billion would suffice to educate 54,000 students amazingly well. Evidently it is not enough. Some parents claim the schools budget falls about $ 50 million short of basic needs. Many cite lack of classroom equipment, of text books, of laptops; others point out the sorry condition (as reported in some media) of the school system’s meals program. There is scant time, in the Boston system’s six hour day for arts courses. Even those schools that have adopted a six hour and forty minute day fall short of the state’s eight hour school day standard.

As I see it, Boston’s school politics difficulties do not stop there. The budget includes about $ 16 million, paid to teachers who have no assignment because, given previous poor job evaluations, no principal will have them. Why must city taxpayers accept $ 16 million to no result at all ? In addition, why does the City maintain school buildings constructed for 91,000 students when only 54,000 attend ? Consolidating the present 126 under4-utilized school buildings down to about 70 would save at least $ 50 million in maintenance and utility costs.

So much for the budget, which is scheduled to increase again, in fiscal year 2019, by at least two percent, all of it slated to salary hikes negotiated in the new Teachers Union contract. A propos : in this year’s budget, 84 percent of the $ 1.061 billion ($ 835 million) goes to staff salaries. Another 17 percent ( $ 178 million) pays for “contractual services” — including the  transport of students to schools all over the city, pursuant to a Federal Judge’s desegregation order put in place 42 years ago ! Only $ 17.6 million — less than two percent of the budget —  is left for classroom, equipment, meals, and curriculum development.

Let that sink in.

All the more reason why the $ 66 million spent upon structural over capacity and unemployed teachers needs be re-purposed. Yet even this is not the whole answer. Just this week, metal detectors were installed at East Boston High School. What kind of message does that send to current students and their parents ? Or to parents of children not yet of school age and trying to decide whether to trust the Boston school system ? Maybe metal detectors are needed. If so, that’s a serious indictment of a school system that cannot be in the security business as well as accomplishing curricula.

Now back to the achievement gap and Superintendent Chang’s report of “under-performance.” Can it be believed, at least ? One wonders. parents of children attending the Mendell School on School Street in Jamaica Plain assert that its under-perform rating must be wrong, that many innovative practices and achievements are going on in a school whose work they praise highly. Maybe so. Nonetheless, I think the following reforms would help enormously to c lose the “achievement gap”:

( 1 ) institute a teacher home visit program, such as John Connolly’s pioneering 1647.com efforts, by which parents and students become fully engaged. All studies indicate that parent engagement is crucial to children’s school success.

( 2 ) shorten the travel distances for students to their assigned school, so that parent-teacher organizations (PTAs) can be revived. They worked well when they ruled school co-operation.

( 3 ) authorize every school principal to hire and fire every pedagogic person on his or her staff. Ensure that the Principal oversee all teacher performance evaluations.

( 4 ) allow principals to develop their own school’s curriculum, adapted to his or her actual student body and its needs.

( 5 ) encourage and even require parents to read to their pre-0school children and motivate such kids to read on their own, as early in life as feasible. Reading early assures mastery of basic comprehension skills.

( 6 ) require total immersion in English for students whose first language is not English. Conversely, require English language kids to study a foreign language. The comparison of two or more language thought systems enlightens the understanding mind to other ways of thinking about things.

( 7 ) establish a school breakfast program as well as a lunch, at no cost to the kids, consisting of healthy foods but also entertainingly tasty. Food should never be bland, or dusty, or stale, and never should depend on a student’s bank account. Many students come to school hungry; eat well, and they learn better !

( 8 ) for schools serving primarily a minority student body, encourage innovation and challenge. Never ask less of students of color or foreign origin. Ask more of t.hem, and give them teachers and a curriculum that require that “more.” Students will feel as proud to be treated like an elite body of troops, just as they would feel disrespected to be addressed as softer or denser than others.

Politicians like to say “every school in Boston must be a level one school.” Of course they should. But almost no politicians that I hear speak about it ever say why our schools fail or how they can be made better. This too must change. Platitude speeches gain us nothing but an excess of boredom.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

THIS IS A GOLDEN AGE FOR EAST BOSTON

FullSizeRender

^ East Boston today : watching fireworks on Boston harbor from the park on Brigham Street

—- —- —-

If you live in East Boston today, you may perhaps realize how lucky you are to be a part of my favorite Boston neighborhood.

Is this Eastie’s Golden Age ? I think it is. But let me reminisce a bit for those who think Eastie’s Golden Age lies in the past : when my Aunt Elizabeth came back to East Boston, for my Mother’s funeral, after living in Cleveland for 50 years, she and I drove around Eagle Hill, where the Mugglebee family had lived since moving up from Porter Street after the Tunnel construction took their cold water flat. Elizabeth recognized every street, every house, even every business — the Brooks Street drug store was still there ! That was hardly the whole story. Back then — the 1970s — Pat Moscaritolo’s Dad still had his liquor store on Bennington, Tony the Baker was still cutting customers’ ties at his spaghetti-and-meat balls eatery on Sumner Street; Mangini’s was THE restaurant in Orient Heights — Bill Bagley’s drug store the hot spot near Dom Savio — and Gus Serra had recently been elected a State Representative in one of the most intense campaigns I have ever been part of.

East Boston then was seen as an Italian city; but it was also Irish, French Canadian, even Scottish, German, and Jewish as well. It was a family place. People didn’t just vote, their entire families voted — five, six, seven, ten, even twelve as a bloc. There was division aplenty in that Serra campaign, yet soon after, there was amazing unity (on Eagle Hill, anyway) as Irish kid Dennis Kearney, running for a State Representative seat newly created, defeated all of Charlestown with a solid vote from just 20 percent of the entire district.

Today, hardly any of that East Boston remains. School Committeewoman Elvira “Pixie” Palladino, Anna DeFronzo, Louis Buttiglieri, Frank Ciampa, Filippa Pizzi, Tony Marmo, Mario Umana, Mike LoPresti Junior have all left the premises; and today the names one meets on the streets of Eastie are just as likely to be Hispanic, Arabic, Brazilian, or newcomer-young people as not.

Yet long-term East Boston activists remain, and they — we — are a major and respected part of a community that engages more languages and cultures, cuisines and work schedules than  I witness in any other part of the City. We are a City all by ourselves. We see innovation, noise, dog parks, the Greenway, sailing at Piers Park (!), a brewery (!!), modernist condominiums, ancient three-deckers, suburban ranch homes, hills as steep as those of Positano, and the awesome views from the dead end of Gladstone Street; the beautiful brick homes on Orient Avenue so high above the airport one actually looks down on planes landing there.(Up top of Orient Heights you’ll also find much of Eastie’s established leadership : John Nucci, Carlo Basile, Salvatore Lamattina, Paul Travaglini, Tom DePaulo, Nick Lanzilli, and Dom Amara (my friend of almost 50 years).

The East Boston that my Aunt returned to had hardly changed in those 50 years. No one cared to build in it, except for suburban-style homes in parts of Orient Heights, because no one was moving into Boston, they were moving out, away from a center city that had no vision of what a center city should or could be. There are many who like things that way : no change, only stability. But life is change, and change means noise and flux and new things replacing old things, the unfamiliar overtaking the familiar.

The trick is to like the unfamiliar, the noisy, the restless, and, in East Boston’s case, the many varieties of it all. This we now have.

We live with harbor fog, three yacht clubs, jet engine screams, criss-crossing traffic in Maverick Square, bumpy road surfaces, a speedway on upper Bennington Street, the Bremen Street dog park, Excel Academy; the impossibility of driving through Saratoga Street as it crosses Chelsea Street; banquets at Spinelli’s, block parties (Montmorenci Avenue, Zumix End of Summer !), festivals of all kinds; art exhibits at the Artists’ Collective on Border Street; events and meetings at Maverick Landing, many of them sponsored by the activists of NOAH (Neighborhood of Affordable Housing); and even some after-life : respects to the dead at Joe Ruggiero’s Funeral Home.

We also live with under-performing schools, neighborhood associations that face all sorts of development proposals, parking squeezes, and sometimes violent crime. I have a dear friend who was almost killed a few years ago by a mugger whose family I also know. Most of us have a crime story to tell, though few, I hope, have experienced the sort of shock I just told you of.

But every City neighborhood has its grave difficulties. For the most part, today’s East Boston is a story of dynamism and community. And great food.

What other Boston neighborhood has a Rino’s Place ? A restaurant so crowded, with foodies from all over, that I almost always have to settle for take out. Awesome food, authentic country Italian cooking, in huge huge portions, priced reasonably, in a smallish room on the first floor of a three decker (!) sited right in the middle of an entirely residential area ! (If one is really lucky, one can dine at Rino’s with house-music DJ Chris Puopolo, who owns a two-fam almost around the corner.)

Hispanic restaurants, you say ? Eastie has more than one can count. I’ve eaten at El Pinol, Angela’s Cafe, El Paisa, Bohemio’s, and Punto Rojo, and there’s at least five or six others that I intend to get to. Plus the Brazilian Olivieros steak houses (two locations). (We do lack a good seafood joint. D’Amelio’s Off the Boat, now moved to Revere Street in Revere, is much missed.) There’s also Hispanic cultural blow-outs at Veronica Robles’s digs at 175 McLellan Highway — everybody participates, even State Veterans Affairs Commissioner Francisco Urena, who, yes, lives among us.

What can I praise about Jeffries Point that you don’t already know ? Former City Councillor Diane Modica still lives on a narrow street in the ‘hood. Do does the legendary MaryEllen Welch. There’s three, maybe four, must-visit eateries (Cunard, Reel House at The Eddy, Marketplace Cafe, TacoMex); water-frontage if you live on the Marginal Street side of Webster Street; cute two-level row houses on Everett Street; Zumix and its musical magic; Senior events at the DeFronzo Center hosted by Pat D’Amore, Frances Piantedosi, Lulu Montanino, and Jean Rutledge; outdoor movies in Brophy Park, courtesy of Mary Cole; condos and more condos, some of them brokered by Ryan Persac or Andrew Pike; Chiarra’s auto repair shop on Maverick; friendship and food at the Italian Express on Sumner Street; several European-quality food and drink markets (have you visited the one on Everett at the Corner of Cottage ?); Renee Scalfani and her posse hanging out on middle Sumner Street; tiny row-house cul de sacs like Cheever Court and Webster Avenue; and the many delights that await you in Piers Park. (If you like sailing, Jeffries resident Alex DeFronzo is there to get you started, boat and all.)  And what about watching Boston Harbor Fireworks from the park next to Brigham Street ? Plus a yacht club with a playground right next door.

I say that these are great years for Eastie, and they are; savor them, because things are changing enormously. The Hispanic families that live six and seven to an apartment, whose adults work crazy hours, are in many cases saving money so they can buy a home elsewhere, away from MS 13 and its dangers and from poorly performing public schools. The Boston building boom inundates Eastie with young, well paid professionals who will surely continue to buy up homes that come onto the Eagle Hill market (even more thoroughly than in Jeffries Point). The old Italian, Irish, and French Canadian-name families get older and older. In much of Eastie’s central part one finds them — children long since moved away — on the voter lists, age 75, 80, 85, 90, even 95 and 100. Soon they will not be with us.

There are plenty of younger people from similar families still living in East Boston, but for those not lucky enough to have inherited home ownership of a single on middle Bennington or on Monmouth, a two on Moore or Homer Street, or a three on Lexington or Princeton Streets, skyrocketing rents have pressured them to the uttermost. How long can families earning the Boston median income — $ 58,000 — continue to support rents upward of $ 2,000 per apartment ?

No one knows the future; yet the East Boston that I see in year 2037 will surely feature more five-story, poorly built tenement-like “units” than formerly, less parking than needed, almost no new single family homes with a driveway. Can the current bustle and jumble of Maverick Square, including a bar like Eddie C’s, survive the tech world’s love of spread sheet order ? I wonder.

Will the young, single people of Jeffries Point stay in Boston as they marry and have children ? Past trends say “no.” About the only feature of 2037 East Boston that I will faithfully replay our neighborhood’s tradition is our immigrant presence. East Boston long ago became the City’s major port of entry for immigrants, and it still is that. Newcomers from the Middle East, Central America, Albania, Romania, and Brazil make their presence known. Where will 2037’s immigrants come from ? Probably from everywhere, as usual and as it should be in a neighborhood — and a nation — made by immigrants, of immigrants, and for immigrants.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

ZONING PARADOXES

San Gimigiano

^ where there are cities, there are likely to be towers, the higher the better. Thus San Gimignano and thus today;’s Boston

—- —- —-

Twice in the last 125 years of Massachusetts building issues the legislature has enacted laws to govern the consequences of urban dwelling density.

First, in 1898, we adopted the Torrens system of registration of land titles, administered by the Land Court, by which titles to land are surveyed to the fractions of an inch and, thus surveyed guaranteed by the state. This was done because in the North End, buildings were built smack up against one another and behind as well, making accurate delineation of title a nightmare. Almost every title in the North End is now registered.

Second, in 1954, we adopted the current zoning law, as you can read here : http://www.mass.gov/hed/docs/dhcd/cd/zoning/zoningact.pdf

The impetus for establishing zoning regulations was clearest in our old-settled cities, where uses of all kinds existed side by side, and where dwellings and garages, for example, were often built behind one another and on small plots of land. City managements in the 1950s had had enough of this anarchy of structures and wanted to assure residents, especially, that they would be living and sleeping in neighborhoods dedicated to residence only.

In both cases, law resulted from over-crowding aggravated by an individualism that city dwellers found intolerable. The same situation now portends today, despite all. In Boston, residential and mixed-use proposals arise cheek by jowl and in a few cases, almost overlapping. The set-back rules and square foot lot requirements of the city’s zoning ordinance give way to “variances” approved by the Zoning Board of Appeal, which has the power under City ordinance and MGL c. 40A and 40B, to allow these in the case of “hardship.”  Of course “hardship” is what the Zoning Board of Appeals says it is.

Such variances — exceptions to zoning requirements — are commonplace now, as Boston works overtime to meet Mayor Walsh’s goal of constructing 53,000 units of residential space by year 2030. The result is neighborhoods ever more dense with structures — if not as sardined as in the North End, or as back door built-up as Charlestown, then much, much more dense than any suburb; and denser every year.

None of this is new. Old cities in Europe endure, even enjoy, a residential density at least as squeezed as the North End , along streets hardly wider than two bicycles, and the people who live therein seem happy to have neighbors living almost on top of them — and legions of tourists who pay big bucks to tour said ancient cities, hill towns, and seaside agglomerations of homes and restaurants. Nor are the towers that currently loom over downtown Boston anything news. The cities of 13th Century Italy bristles with towers, the taller the better and more prestigious. Sound familiar ?

Thus we come to the Millenium Tower proposal for the lot now occupied by the old Winthrop Square garage. Its height actually violates yet another building law, that which restricts the length and timing of shadows cast by a tall building upon its shorter neighbors. The “shadow issue” first arose last year, when an opponent of the Tower cited it; today that shadow issue has also aroused opposition in East Boston, not because of the shadow itself of course but because the Millenium proposal’s height impacts the flight path of planes taking off from Logan Airport.

Ancient European cities didn’t have to contend with airplanes. Our 1954 zoning law didn’t think of it either. Yet Boston has to think of it, because our airport sits almost in the middle of downtown. Thus the present accumulation of structural density involves the sky as well as the land. I’m not sure of any simple answer to our three-dimensional density challenge. It is easy, I suppose, to say “no” to the Millenium proposal’s planned height; but how do we build those 53,000 units of housing, and all the amenity buildings 53,000 new families will want, without bumping up against the sky’s rights to accommodate aircraft ?

We can, of course, build inward rather than up, and create a city as densely bricked and windowed as Barcelona’s Ciutat Vella or Italy’s San Gimignano and Amalfi, or as any number of German, French, and Austrian hill towns. Those places were built dense as dense could be in order to maximize defense against predators. Today, we face no predators. Will we settle for living inside a fortress ? Probably not. Yet dense our future City will be– and ever more expensive —  as long as its economic boom proceeds to draw ambitious thousands of people into its beehive.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere