OUR BEST DAYS DO NOT LIE AHEAD

CHUCK BERRY

^^ Chuck Berry gave us “Promised Land” 60 years ago.

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Ronald Reagan, forty years ago, as President, told Americans that our best days lie ahead. I heard him say it. I was inspired. We all were. We believed him when he told us that it was “morning in America.”

We were wrong. It should have occurred to us — or to me, at least — that if the sentiment needed saying, that it wasn’t something assumed — that there was no assurance at all; that perhaps our best days did NOT lie ahead; indeed, that they were very likely behind us,

America the world’s great democracy, the unique experiment in self-government, has lost its mojo. The nation that conquered the Depression, won the World War, was the “arsenal of democracy,” won the heroic civil rights struggle, defeated the Soviet Union and ended the Cold War — that America, the hope and savior of all humankind, has used up its energy and is today a kind of collapsing, crumbling colloseum.

Stay with me awhile as I demonstrate…

Let us start with the January 6th, 2021 terrorist attack by Trump hordes on the US capitol. A nation is not in its best days when a mob of its citizens violently attack it.

We’ve all seen the videos, heard the shouting, listened to the police officers who were assaulted on that horrible day. It was NOT our best day, and best days are not coming soon because the violence of January 6, 2021 is out there being touted and praised by the supporters thereof.

It is not morning in a nation where roaming mobs of miseducated brats deface statues of our heroes, as happened last summer. Below is a photograph of an ignoramus attacking the statue of Mathhias Baldwin, a Philadelphia Quaker and Abolitionist who paid from his own money to set up a school for Black children 30 years ahead of its time.

Baldwin

So much for what Chuck Berry in 1961 called the “Promised Land,” his song and ours, done back when we all understood that America was the new Canaan, the land of our hopes and struggles to which we all, and our ancestors all, had risked everything to get to.

Destroyed by our own hands, attacked by our own neighbors, insulted and broken by those who hate the nation that not so long ago all had loved.

The music, too, has turned on itself. The music of 1961 — as that, of 1951, 1941, 1931, and also that of 1971 — was enthusiasm, exuberant,  straight-ahead beat, a fast-forward rhythm, a voice of confidence, triumph, joy. It was the sound of victory. It was a battle hymn of the Greatest Generation. Think Count Basie, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, James Brown, the Kingsmen, Little Richard, Wilson Pickett, Gary U.S. Bonds. But now ? The hit music of today — hip hop and its variants — has a chunk beat, a square rhythm that encloses the self within it. It’s the sound of a locked door to a very small quarters within which one hides from the world and shrinks from challenge. It is pent-up and sometimes murderous (for real) and always it is sad; its sex is a lot of talk, no action. Even when dancing, it is “dancing in the dark,” as Bruce Springsteen wrote in 1985 and as house music and techno do it.

The America of 1962 to 1969 sent men to the moon. Today we send house prices sky high.

Civil rights activists of 60 years ago dressed in their Sunday best, protested in the daytime., steeled their courage to nonviolence no matter what. Result ? They won the support of almost the entire nation. Today ? Don’t get me started….

The Civil Rights heroes of 1950-65 believed in the dream of America. What do protestors of today believe in ? 

Wage workers in 1961 America had strong unions and got ahead. They could buy a house. What can wage workers do today ? Even when they have a union, house prices have long since lifted way beyond. In 1968 I paid $ 35 a month to rent a two bedroom apartment in Roxbury. Today a two bedroom apartment in East Boston costs $ 2100 to $ 3200 per month. Has my salary increased 80-fold to accommodate this price surge ? Hardly. Has yours ? 

So no; it is NOT “morning in America.” as for our days that lie ahead, they are not our best, not even average. They are sick and getting sicker. I’m not talking the pandemic. We can still conquer viruses, at least those in nature. Computer viruses, it seems — cyber attacks — are beyond us.

We used to be the victor in war. Then came Viet Nam and failure. Ever since, except for the first Gulf War (1190-1991), it has been failure, extended failure followed by ignominious withdrawal, abandonment of allies. We have “the greatest military in  the world'” but no will to use it greatly.

Our democracy — our Constitution and the ideals vowed in the Declaration  — used to be our treasure, our lodestar to which we would all rush. Today we are told — by our educators, and enforced by the corporate elite — that our Constitution is nothing but racism and our Declaration an hypocrisy. is it anyt wonder that 30 percent of the nation feels betrayed and wants nothing but to stab us dead and set up a crooked noisy fascism, or that another large percent want to wipe out our history and equal protection of the laws and all that it implies in favor of “diversity,” “inclusion,” and “equity” ?

As for the Ogre, he is still out there, honking his immodest horn. He has his wanna-be’s as well, screeching to seduce our attention like the selfie whores they are.

I fear that I am tempting your patience, dedar reader. Fear not. What more can I add to examples from music, money, the law, the nation, and our courage at home and in war ? We all have our own anecdotes to add here. They add up, however,m to the same thikng : our best days DO NOT lie ahead. Far from it.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

Americans in 1961 had strong labor unions, could earn fair wages and fight for more. Today ? Unis stNo, it is NOT ‘morning in America.”
No, it is NOT “morning in America.”

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BOSTON WILL NO LONGER BE THE BOSTON WE GREW UP IN

East

Boston is changing drastically. The Boston we came to be in, back 40, 50, 60, 70 years ago, is all but gone. It is becoming a city of highly educated, skills-minded incomers from elsewhere in America. No longer is it the destination of immigrants impoverished and abused, escaping lives barely livable in search of the opportunity and freedom that America offers. That Boston has had its time, served its purpose, just as America, from its beginning served its purpose to immigrants from everywhere.

America is immigrant nation : but as we have seen these past ten years or so, immigrants are no longer the ideal, no longer welcome in the nation their predecessors built.

It isn’t just Boston; it is everywhere in the United States. We see it in assaults against Asian-Americans. We feel it in travel bans. We hear it in the rants of fascist politicians.

The consensus among us, sadly, is that we are full up; that immigration has become a burden, not an opportunity. I happen to disagree completely with this view — to me, immigration is and always will be America — but I recognize that my view is losing custom.

So it is with Boston.

I take you back now to Rome.

Come with me to the ancient city as it changed from the capital of a vast imperial bureaucracy, economy, and learning to the headquarters of an ascendant Christianity. The Rome of 700 A.D. was an entirely different city from Rome in 400 A.D.: different population, different ideals, different elites. Gone were the Senatorial families; gone the libraries; gone the palaces, the marketplaces, the baths, the city prefects. In their place, immigrants from, Greece, pilgrims from the north, refugees from German invaders. Rome in 700 AD was hardly a city at all. it was a last retreat, a Helm’s Deep (to recall The Lord of the Rings movie). It had almost no economy other than what pilgrims visiting Saints’ shrines left as a devotion. The Papal bureaucracy — staffed almost entirely by newcomer families from Greece and beyond — was its only link to a literate, sophisticated past.

It wasn’t really Rome at all.

So it is now with Boston. A city becoming as unlike the Boston we knew as Rome in 700 wasn’t the Rome of 400. Yes, THAT big a change.

What we call the “traditional Bostonian” –working class voters of Irish, Italian, Polish and Jewish origins; many of them city workers; families whose sons became policemen, politicians, and priests — has shrunk in number to less than 20 percent of all voters. For the first time since the 1860s, there is no candidate for Mayor of Irish descent. This should not surprise. The people most confident of tomorrow’s Boston are its recent arrivals : Black citizens, mostly of Caribbean origin; Hispanic voters, the sons and grandsons of immigrants and refugees; highly educated transplants from elsewhere in America, lured here by our educational masterworks, our finance firms, and our hospital employments.

All over Boston these three streams of people have taken command of homes, apartments, turf, shopping tastes, the arts and talk. And of our politics. The politics of the Boston I grew up in were personal and factional. Ideology had very little to do with what we campaigned for. City jobs were a big deal. When I first worked at the School Committee in 15 Beacon Street, the City had 30,000 employees; elections for City of Boston Credit Union board were major campaign efforts. City employees and their extended families made up a good 30 percent of all voters in most city elections. The tradition was that strong. City firemen handed down their jobs to their sons and grandsons; same with the police force. Fire and police were like medieval European guilds.

The descendants of Irish, Italian, Jewish and Polish immigrants dominated every neighborhood except Beacon Hill, Back Bay and the South End and Lower Roxbury, which were the home of Boston’s then smallish African-American citizens. Today, that is all changed. Descendants of Irish immigrants dominate only seaside Dorchester, Charlestown, part of South Boston, and a few portions of West Roxbury and Brighton. The Brahmins who dominated Beacon Hill and Back Bay are almost all gone now. Boston’s African-Americans have mostly moved to the suburbs.

With them have gone the Kennedys. In 2020 a Kennedy lost a Democratic primary race — in Massachusetts !! — for US Senator — lost it by ten points. Unthinkable. I still can’t believe it happened. Well, it di happen. So there’s that.

With the immigrants and the Kennedys have gone incredibly affordable house prices. it is hard to accept that merely 50 years ago, homes in Boston could be bought for $ 20,000 if not less — a whole lot less, in many cases. I was talking to a voter in Roslindale yesterday who recalled 65 years ago paying $ 14,000 for his Garrison-style home, now worth $ 700,000.

With those long-gone house prices has vanished any pretense to a world-class public school system. In 1960, a Boston school teacher earned about $ 5000 a year or less. They were mostly young women pre-marriage or older women after motherhood years. Many were unmarried for life; school kids were their children. Yet these women, underpaid, taught vigorously. They brooked no misbehavior in class; and in this they were firmly backed by their school principal and by the superintendent.

Their students were almost all the children or grandchildren of immigrants. M y Mother and her six siblings — born to an immigrant couple from Ireland and Eastern Europe — were among them. They and their teachers were “the greatest generation.” We should, I hope, remember, as we go about the new Boston, what that greatness was like, even as we tear all of it down to serve the vastly different new.

Today, and probably far into the future, Boston will be something utterly else. it will be a City of transplants from elsewhere in America — and a few from overseas — the highly prosperous and workaholic motivated, skilled to the uttermost, and of managers managing managers who manage the managers of vast pools of money and medical research, of technology labs and glittery retail shops. Supporting this economic meritocracy will be the schools and the politics, the media and the restaurants, the health clinics and the bike repair shops, the sports activists and the arborists, all of whom seek to recreate the environmental idylls they grew up with out there in America’s fly-over country even as they replace my immigrant city with a surfeit of feel good requirements which, if you don’t share them, will cast you as out as the elites of 1950 cast out their black sheep.

TellI hope you, dear reader, are ready for the next Boston. Maybe you will tell us, we who by then will be partying in heaven or getting wasted in hell, what the city of influencer pronouns and climate-justice bicycle veggies is like. Tell us of its music, its movies, its art, if these still exist in a form we can recognize (which I doubt). Myself, I look forward to earing about it even as I worry about my grandkids having to actually live in it.

Please be kind to my grandkids. They were brought up the old ways and will have to undergo loads of mentoring to adjust to your expensively buttered, liberally pronoun’d, smokeless, artificially intelligent version of “Boston.”

Of course it is true that life belongs to the living. Its their environ, not ours. They have to live in it, endure it, spurn it, escape from it, profit in it. I am hoping they will profit and not be profited on. But that we will have to see about.

—- Mi Freedberg / Here and Sphere

ARE VOTERS PERSUADABLE ?

Mayor

^^^ the five faces of Mayor : can you be persuaded or is it all about the default spin ?

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Another way of stating the headline is to ask “do candidates matter ?” Maybe yes, maybe no.

We are living in an age of ideology, where for a critical bloc of voters, the issue is the important thing and never mind, these voters seem to say, the character or qualifications of he or she who advocates that issue. Mr. Trump epitomized this sort of voter mindset. “Yes,” said his supporters, “he’s a bastard, but he is a bastard for us.” Meanwhile, Mr. Biden, for all that nearly everyone recognizes his impeccable character, earns no points thereby among those who backed Mr. Trump.

Myself, I said last year, and still say it : “I’d rather spend four years disagreeing with President Biden than tolerate ten more minutes of Trump.” For me, character matters A LOT.

That’s because as I see it, issues come and go, but the quality of a man is what it is; and quality deals finer with every issue than lack of character with any. A politician sets an example for the nation by who he is, not by what he thinks on this or that issue.

Thus for me, character matters a lot, and whatever I may think on this or that issue, I can be persuaded to change my position by a candidate who makes herself a solid case for a position I did not hold until we discussed.

In other words, I am a persuadable voter. Am I the only one ? I doubt it. I think there are a lot of persuadable voters. The problem is that it takes time to persuade a voter, and most campaigns find themselves unwilling to invest time in doing so. In a Citywide Boston election, there’s likely to be up to 152,000 voters voting. It’s far easier to find the 77,000 (hopefully) who agree with a candidate’s position than the 15,200 or so — rule of thumb says that ten percent of voters can be persuaded — who can be persuaded.

Lesson : Few candidates really care about you or me or our neighbors. They care about majority mathematics.

Ideally, a candidate will work to win a vote one vote at a time — because that is how votes are actually cast : one at a time — but rare indeed is the local campaign in which a candidate actually makes the effort to do that. It’s so much easier, and more efficient, to find out what a polling majority thinks on an issue and go around voicing the majority position in such language as her spin doctors decide the majority will trust. I s it any wonder that voters feel that politicians don’t listen to us ? They don’t.

The individual voter for the most part doesn’t exist and is never campaigned to. That’s especially the case for voters who aren’t selected by a “voter file’ company which selects out voters who aren’t ‘super voters’ or such like. If you’re not a “super voter,” you might as well be deported or dead; the campaign will never mail to you, never phone bank you, never knock on your door.

It’s a vicious circle. You don’t get campaigned to if you aren’t a “super voter,” and not being campaigned to, you are likely to not vote and so become even less “super’ than you were before.

One would like to think that those who run for office actually LIKE people. After all, you’re going to represent people and to work for the betterment of people. Doesn’t it make sense that you should then LIKE people ? Sadly, I have known plenty of candidates who either did NOT like people or did not like campaigning to them. (Worse still are the candidates I have known who didn’t like SOME people, but they are a different case altogether. Let’s leave them aside, which is where they should be.)

Yesterday i chatted with a neighbor, very politically active, who told me of how a candidate he supported was at his house all the time during the campaign, but after the candidate won ? Not a word, not even recognition — a “hi, how are you ?” — when he and the now elected person met at events.

I’d like to think that this is rare, but it isn’t.

Endorsements can be just as worthless. Two days ago an elected in Boston endorsed a Council candidate in language so obviously boiler-plated to him by that candidate’s spin doctors that I belly-laughed — “hey there, ______, you CAN’T be serious !”

Word : if you are going to endorse a candidate, do it in words YOUR OWN, words that can be believed rather than guffawed at.

But of course such default endorsements aren’t intended to persuade. they’re intended to pat the endorser on the back for being “with it.”

This year, the “pat myself on the back” endorsement spin is “equity and inclusion justice.” Or some combination of those trending words. Equity, inclusion, justice. As far as I’m concerned,. when you default to these words you debase them to the level of predictable sand salad. These words used to mean something. Not any more. All they mean now is “hey look at me ! I’m your guy ! See ? I got the lingo, don’t primary me, I’m on your side !”

As for persuasion, you know what gets persuaded by these sorts of campaigns ? That the politicians don’t give two shits about you and don’t even try to pretend that they do.

Guess what a voter who realizes these truths is gonna do ?

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

AN AGENDA FOR BOSTON’s NEXT MAYOR

Mayor

It’s not easy to discern who will be Boston’s next Mayor — at least four appear poised to get there — but whoever wins out should strongly consider the agenda I am about to set forth.

There is, first of all, a great deal of bad policy consequences to undo, mistakes that have festered for as long as 50 years and compounded to the point of absurdity. I address these in my list.

There is also a serious call to change direction. The City has, for the past 28 years, since the election of Tom Menino, opened the floodgates of land speculation and luxury housing and has also done away with an elected school committee. Both these decisions must terminate NOW.

And now to my agenda :

Housing — the most mal-administered factor in all of current City government — ( a ) there must be an end to zoning variances except in case of true hardship. Apply the law. No other exceptions. ( b ) prioritize and subsidize the construction of single-family and two-family houses, especially along waterfronts ( c ) admit three-family dwellings where feasible ( d ) plant trees on all residential streets and encourage trees and foliage generally in as much open space as is available and isn’t a ball field or marsh ( e ) no more huge-box apartment blocks (f ) rigorously enforce building codes so that builders cannot cut corners on quality of materials. (Note : These reforms would render moot all of the so-called “affordability” ordinances and regulations that have rendered Boston houses LESS affordable ! )

Public Safety — the very foundation of our having a City at all — : ( 1 ) clear the “methadone mile” and keep it cleared ( 2 ) expand the police force’s gang unit ( 3 ) increase police presence in Downtown, especially late night ( 4 ) appoint Nora Baston the next Commissioner ( 5 ) accept the State’s $ 850,000 crime-fighting grant ( 6 ) expand the youth worker force ( 7 ) support neighborhood crime watch groups ( 8 ) curb the use of so-called “dirt bikes” on City streets by enforcing laws against public nuisance and disturbing the peace; create a specific task force to police these regulations. ( 9 ) support our police men and women — and show it !

Schools : which are crucial to the City retaining families who now move to the suburbs because they have no coinfidence in the school system — ( 1 ) eliminate busing, thereby saving $ 100,000,000 annually ( 2 ) re-establish neighborhood schools and set up parent-teacher associations, which before 1974 were so important to school morale and quality ( 3 ) change the City charter to give us a school committee elected in part — 13 members plus two appointed by the Mayor ( 4 ) toughen the examinations required for students to gain admission to the “exam schools” and allow no dilution thereof [yes, neighborhood the student lives in can be a discretionary factor in admission, as it is for most boarding schools] ( 5 ) do a comprehensive, on-site appraisal of all facility maintenance and upgrade need, including air conditioning an d heating systems, some of which has been undone for 40 years, and allocate the monies to repair all such over a budget cycle of no ore than four years, with deadlines written into the order ( 6 ) consolidate school facilities to account for reduction in student numbers from 92,000 [present capacity ! ] to 54,000, which is the current enrollment; sell off excess buildings and apply the proceeds to the Capital Fund ( 7 ) allow principals to hire (and fire) their entire pedagogic staff ( 8 ) appoint a Superintendent from within the system only

Roads : are for cars and buses. Any other vehicles use the City’s public roadways at their own risk.

City hiring : bring back ;patronage to a degree. A mayor must be able to have her own close people in house to assist her work and to promote her politically.; merit is essential, of course, to technically skilled positions, but much City work isn’t that hard to master. There should never be any stigma attached to one’s acquiring a City job because one worked on a Mayor’s election campaign. If anything, work on the campaign teaches the campaigner a lot about City government that can’t be readily learned any other way. Lastly, patronage hires relieve the present concentration upon ideology, which, since the elimination of patronage, has all but monopolized the political sphere and not in a healthy way.

Fifty years ago Boston had over 30,000 public employees. They and their families, living almost all in one, two and three family houses, constituted a permanent community of interest and neighborhood connection that made the City stable and vibrant. Today much of the Boston voter list is singles living in apartment or condo blocks and high rises barely knowing each other, working in 10,000 different jobs and having no community except the social media-generated ideology of the moment. It is of course their free choice, but I don’t think the current custom is in any way preferable to what was our City.

This is hardly a complete list, but it will do for a start.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

AN UNPRECEDENTED ELECTION

bikers

A bicycle election ??

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Boston voters will go to the polls this September and November with a very different slate, compared to what we’re used to, of candidates to choose from.

In the Mayor contest, there is, for the first time since the 1860s, not one candidate of Irish or Italian heritage. Family and generations of connection determined much of what happened in Mayor elections as far back as i can remember. This year those factors aren’t there.

Even neighborhood isn’t crucial. There is a candidate from Dorchester, but Annissa Essaibi George, who that is, isn’t primarily a Dorchester candidate, as in 2013 Marty Walsh was. George’s following is ideological : she is the candidate — the sole candidate — of the City’s “traditional” voters and of those for whom public safety (i.e., policing) is a prime concern.

The other candidates — City Councillor Michelle Wu, acting mayor Kim Janey, State Representative John Santiago, City Councillor Andrea Campbell, City business development director John Barros — all draw their support from voter groups which either did not exist 20 years ago or hadn’t yet fully embraced campaigns to victory.

20 years ago, the City’s Black neighborhoods were voters to be campaigned to but not places whence major campaigns arose. Today they are. Not only has Black Boston given us major candidates for Mayor, it is also now a major source of large campaign donations. As money is the fuel of important campaigns, so Black Boston is now ponying up major campaign money. This is new.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad to see major Bkack candidates raising major campaign dough from within the community. I just wish it had happened 40 years ago.

In the Council races, the big fight in District Six tells us a lot. When created forty years ago, District Six was one of the City’s then two bastions of Irish-heritage voters and was drafted as such. Consequently, Maura Hennigan., John Tobin, and Matt O’Malley represented the District. This year, with O’Malley deciding not to seek re-election, there are four candidates : not one is of Irish heritage, this despite the area’s continuing large contingent of Irish-name voters.

In District Six, and in several other Council Districts, the old (“traditional”) Catholic and ethnic working class voters — policemen, firefighters, BPS teachers, building trades workers — who comprised as much as 90 percent of voters in many neighborhoods, has been largely succeeded by high-earners, who in 1990 would have lived in Brookline, Newton, or Lexington but now live in the City : doctors, attorneys, high-tech executives, bankers, educators. This isn’t to say that the old working-class voters have disappeared. far from it. Yet they dominate in far fewer precincts than was the case in 1990.

In 1990 Black upper class and upper middle class families moved to Milton, Brookline, Newton, and Weston. These days, many such families have stayed in the City, in West Roxbury, Moss Hill, Roslindale. Why not ? West Roxbury, Moss Hill, and Roslindale feel much more suburban than they did in 1990. The suburbs were far from racism-free, but they were less turf crazy than the City, in which neighborhoods vied with one another even without, factoring in race differences. Toady, West Roxbury, Moss Hill, and Roslindale express local pride quite differently from the customs of 1990.

Gone, too, are the taverns where working-class guys met and often rousted. (Taverns then often didn’t admit women, and even if they did, few women entered.) Today, in West Roxbury and Roslindale social life, you find fine dining of many ethnicities, craft beer bistros, and women.

And bicycles, today’s statement transportation.

Ah yes, the politics of dangerous, flimsy two-wheelers ridden with helmet on and open to the weather. What the (you know what word, right) ? Geezus.

I’m not sure that today’s politics of ideology, often expressed with condescension and preachy in tone, are any wiser than the family versus family, faction fights of 40 and 50 years ago, but whether they’re better or not,. they sure are different. Today, who wins and who doesn’t portends major differences in City policy. Forty years ago, the big difference was who got a city job and who didn’t. Forty years ago, you worked a campaign, you got a City job if you wanted one. today, work a campaign is almost a liability for City employment, lest some wise-ass reporter (probably not a Boston native either) for a goody-goody newspaper accuse the hirer of “being a patronage hack.”

Myself, I prefer “patronage hacks” to ideologues every single day. But there aren’t many “hacks” left. Today, city government is mostly staffed by “nationwide searches,’ merit resumes, and “diversity and inclusion.” (the term meaning “people you don’t know and never would meet, definitely not family.”) Is it a better-managed City ? Not that I can see.

But it Is new and lived by people brand-shiny new, with pronouns and bicycles, red hair and instagram accounts.. And “new” is all good, in a nation (and City) that now counts its once-cherished history as very evil indeed.

I’m just hoping that whichever “he/him” or “she/her” person is elected Mayor doesn’t arrive at the Swearing-in by bicycle and sporting red or green hair.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

THE MORE HOUSING THAT’s BUILT, THE HIGHER THAT RENTS GO. HOW CAN THAT BE ?

junk

The laws of supply and demand say that the more supply, the lower the price, assuming that demand remains the same. Yet here, in Boston, the more housing that gets built, the more demand is created — much more demand — and so the price goes UP. Way up.

The building creates the demand !!

But how can that be ?

Let’s take a look :

The decision by Mayor Walsh, eight years ago, to call for 53,000 new units of housing — later raised to 69,000 units — jerked the housing market upward — radically upward — in two ways : first, it caused the price of land acquisition to double overnight. (It has since doubled again.) Second, the soon to be available 53,000 units generated a rush of people to come into the City and inhabit those units.

People who had no notion of moving into Boston — because there was nowhere for them to live — now decided “hey ! It’s Boston for me, dude !”

First neighborhood to feel the rush was the South End, already expensive after 20 years of incomers into a once seedy region of boarded-ups, wino squats, and rooming houses. Then came South Boston, where rents quadrupled from their 1998 levels. Charlestown saw its own rents boom as well, as the old Navy Yard was converted into luxury condominiums.

East Boston was at first left out of the rush because it lies on the far side of the Harbor and is overwhelmingly an immigrant neighborhood, hardly a destination for $ 250,000 earners with their very high-end expectations. But by 2015, any such exemption rapidly faded, as Eastie’s relatively inexpensive rents drew incomers earning far less than $ 250,000. For a while it worked. As recently as 2018 you could find a two bedroom apartment in East Boston with a monthly as low as $ 1400, in a few spots cheaper still. No longer.

Since 2015 at least 250 development applications for variances (I am guessing the number; it may be far higher)– 40 percent of all of Boston’s Zoning Board of Appeal appeals — and BPDA approval have come before East Boston neighborhood groups, in accordance with BPDA’s public comment hearing regulation. Even though most have been voted down at those neighborhood hearings, the Zoning Board of Appeal almost always approves the many variances requested nonetheless.

As a result, thousands of housing units have been put onto the streets of East Boston . So : have rents gone down ? Just the opposite. They have soared.

How can that be ? Doesn’t increased supply cheapen demand ?

You would think so. But with Boston’s crazy housing policy, you would be wrong.

Given the costs of construction, and the wages paid to construction guys, the developer who builds cannot afford to charge el cheapo rents. just the opposite. Developers offer their new units at sharply higher rents than the prior going rates. that’s because the folks likely to rent those units want all sorts of amenities : granite-top kitchens, steel refrigerators, central air conditioning, an underwater garage, roof deck amenities, etc.

Developers cannot rent to Eastie residents because if you already live here, you don’t need a place to live. Thus the new units are marketed to higher income singles, from elsewhere, by brokers and realtors who have a commission to earn. (I do not object to their earning it. They aren’t creating the problem, just trying to make a living.)

Eastie residents have also watched these buildings being built. They see the junk materials, the cheapo construction, the sea-rise vulnerabilities, the ugly architecture, the impersonality of it all — the opposite of community. Why would our community people ever want to rent in such buildings, even if the rents were less ? Thus the marketing to people from elsewhere, rushing to move into the City because there’s “all this new housing” !

There’s much talk these days about building ‘affordable” housing. The only way that that can be done is for somebody to take an economic loss. Who’s up for that ? Not very many !

One method that electeds have put in place is the so-called “affordability covenant,” by which a developer who builds more than nine units must offer 13 percent of his units at an “affordable” price. (In some cases, electeds have jacked this percentage up to 20 percent.) Sounds good — but it only makes the situation worse: because if a developer has to offer 13 percent of his units at a loss, he has to raise the prices of his other 87 percent of units !

City Life/Vida Urbana and other “progressive” activists talk about building “affordable” housing as a general practice — no more luxury condos, say they. I support their ideal; but how is it to be done ? Perhaps withy Federal funds ? I’m not sure that that works. In the 1940s we built loads of Federally-funded housing developments. They were ugly buildings, prison-block in appearance and pretty quickly devolved into projects for the most dysfunctional tenants, often crime-ridden and administered irregularly by the Boston Housing Authority. We do NOT want to repeat that mistake.

I have n o good answers for the anomalies of housing in Boston. I DO know, however, that the current policies aren’t working. They’re doing the opposite of what works.

Eastie residents, see this. They’ve have finally risen up and said “enough !”

We’ll see how that goes.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

CAN BOSTON’S SCHOOL COMMITTEE BE MADE TO WORK ?

distraction

This week, Boston’s School Committee made the news again — and not in a good way. Two members of the all-appointed Committee were caught out exchanging racially charged messages: complaining about “West Roxbury white-ies.”

Condemnation came swiftly, from every quarter, as it had to be. Why is a schools person, of all perps, engaging in racial invective ? One expects educated people to be smarter than that, more worldly, more accustomed to politicking among all sorts of folks in all kinds of neighborhoods. So much for expectations !

As I see it, however, the problem here isn’t just personal ignorance where awareness ought to be. It’s that an all-appointed School Committee just doesn’t do the job.

We all know this is so. I have written a couple of times before on this issue, favoring an elected school committee because the voting public should be choosing who sits on the committee that proposes and operates a budget taking up one full third of Boston’s entire City expenditures.

Yes, the appointee answer to the Mayor, who is elected by Boston’s voters. But no, it isn’t really feasible to hold the Mayor accountable separately for his or her school decisions. We elect Mayors upon many issues. Too often the schools matters het lost in the pack or are overlooked altogether when we choose a Mayor. An elected School Committee is the right device for submitting schools accountability to the voters.

Mayor candidate Annissa Essaibi George suggests a hybrid committee : some elected, some appointed by the Mayor. I’m not sure that’ll work as well as an entirely elected committee, but as long as the voters elect a majority of committee members, the accountability level is high enough.

We’ve had an elected school committee before. Five at large until 1981, nine by District from 1981 until 1993. Why not again ? My own proposal is that elected school committee members be elected from the present school seating assignment districts : four from the largest district, three from the middle sized district, and two from the small district. Add two members appointed by the Mayor, and you have an eleven-member committee that voters can judge on school issues alone.

I would doubt that elected members would ever be caught blurting dumb racial slurs. Responsibility to the voters entails some degree of self-awareness and a high degree of self-discipline. You can think all the ugliness you like, but if ops, keep it to yourself is a wise axiom. One would like to think, that committee members who have to face the voters every two years would live up to this minimum of public good manners.

Boston’s public schools have enough to do without having its board of directors nicked by unnecessary controversy. There’s a ton of spending waste (the “transportation” account in particular), unsupportable allocations,. long neglected maintenance and facility upgrades, anomalies in the teachers’ contract, poor school lunch administration, lax financial oversight, and a ton of happy talk about “every child, not only those in the exam schools, deserves an excellent education” with no measure of happy follow-up. Can we ever get to administering and upgrading the schools serving 54,000 kids, or can’t we ? CAN WE AT LEAST TRY ?

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

64 HAYNES STREET : BATTLES OVER EVERY ISSUE

64 haynes

A proposal has been offered, to abutters and the Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association, to construct, on an empty lot, the building pictured above.

Crystal Mills, the proponent, makes the following statement and asks people to sign it, as a letter to the Zoning Board of Appeal, endorsing the project :

I support the project at 64 Haynes Street for the following reasons:

1. The building will be the primary residence of the sponsor, who has been a long-term resident of Jeffries Point, and not an investment project.

2. The building will be 100% compliant with Group 1 accessibility requirements for the physically impaired.

3. Is a three-family dwelling, which is conforming use per the zoning code, and matches the great majority of abutting buildings.

4. It proposes three off street parking, one for each unit, helping with the neighborhood existing street parking shortage. All this while reducing the size of the existing curb cut already present on the property.

5. The building is designed with climate resiliency in mind, avoiding any living space on the ground level. This is in line with the BPDA Coastal Flood Resilience Design Guidelines – http://realestate.boston.com/…/boston-zoning-climate…/ / http://www.bostonplans.org/…/d1114318-1b95-487c-bc36…

6. The project would bring three additional dwellings to the city of Boston. Idle land in a densely populated urban setting further deepens the affordability crisis by reducing supply...”

Sounds simple, right ? Just one of over 100 such proposals being made all over East Boston these days, and this by far not the most outlandish. The building would be four stories high ? Some East Boston proposals request SIX stories.

It will be three units ? Many East Boston projects want nine units. (Propose more than nine, and you are subject to the City’s unworkable “affordability covenant,” under which a builder must offer an ‘affordable” unit, at least one such per every ten units he wants to build.). Several neighborhood proposals seek 20, 40, 60, even 100, 200 nd 300 units. Entire cities crammed into a neighborhood already dense with traffic and cheek-by-jowl housing.

So, no ; the 64 Haynes Street request is far from the most frightful imposition seeking to impact East Boston at this time.

Nonetheless, this proposal has put into play all the issues that housing development has agitated on the north shore side of Boston harbor. Follow me :

Crystal Mills does not tell us that she is, in fact, the proponent. it is to be HER building. Into one of the units her Dad will move; into another, guests from Italy. Great : but as several commenters on the Jeffries Point facebook page note, there is no guarantee that her Dad will stay living in one unit, or that he will even move in; while the unit given over to “guests from Italy’ almost certainly will end up an air bnb.

And what if those two units get put up for sale, at huge prices current these days in East Boston ? Prices which further roll away the immigrant, working class character that East Boston has had since the 1850s ?

One commenter, an abutter, objects to the proposal as follows :

Crystal, could you also please post the square footage per dwelling? At the latest meeting I attended, there were two units of about 500 Square feet taking up one floor between them – one for your father and then one for guests visiting from Italy and then an additional unit spread over two floors upwards of 2000 sqf with a roof deck for your private residence. Is that still correct? Because that, in fact, is not matching the great majority of abutting buildings, where you usually see one unit per floor -equaling 3 dwellings of approximately equal size and it explains why you require a 4-floor building which is out of scale with the neighboring buildings. I want people to have full information when you talk about 3 dwellings. More importantly, this building will stand a story higher than the neighboring buildings setting a new precedent for the entire street.

Here’s all of the basic arguments being made by people who have lived in East Boston for many years and do not cotton to seeing it become something entirely else.

I could post dozens of comments, about other not-so-outrageous proposals, that mirror every part of this person’s objection to one particular project.

Another commenter, who happens to be a real estate broker active in East Boston and owns their own single family home in it, offers the following :

The design would be great with one less floor. While I appreciate the family story, and your small businesses, I also don’t trust that these won’t be sold after permitting, used for market rate versus family etc. which is your right but again asking for variances should be for hardship, and this isn’t hardship.. we’ve had the community sacrifice tear downs and variances with owner “stories” only for it to change. Maybe a convenant could be used ensuring you won’t rent or sell once approved for a certain period of time?

This very argument gets made by residents all over East Boston, people who do not object to all development but want to restrain its impact by persuading builders — hopefully — to conform their buildings to what East Boston houses already are.

Does such a request work ? Sometimes it does. But it is, as Otto von Bismarck once said, generally not wise to rely upon gratitude.

Another commenter notes :

“Also a question to all who know more- as someone who lives in this neighborhood with a family, do families promising to live in the house get preference? Should they? Does it matter in the variance process? If so, how is this regulated? I know another neighborhood where a developer rezones/ renovates, lives as a primary residence for 2 years for tax reasons, and then moves on. Where does that fit in the scheme of things?

—- —-

If all the above issues draw you farther into the matter of one proposed building than you’d like to go, hey– I am with you and so is everybody else. We don’t want these disputes. Don’t want them at all. Yet what are we of East Boston to do ? Almost every development proposal for this side of Boston Harbor, no matter how gross or disruptive, gets approval by the BPDA no matter the degree of opposition voted by the neighborhood associations whose vote the BPDA approval process requires.

Evidently the neighborhood vote is advisory only — has no legal force and not much political clout either.

Equally dismissive is the Zoning Board of Appeal’s hearings upon variance requests.

For those who don’t know, a variance is an exception to the zoning law classification governing a certain area. These classifications are set by the City according to State zoning law. Variances — exceptions — are allowed in case of “hardship” — as zoning is of general force, particular buildings, especially ones that existed before zoning laws came into being, may violate the general class as they are; or a property owner may want to extend a bedroom, or erect a deck, and such like; the addition may well violate the zoning, but it would be a hardship to deny the owner such addition or extension. The owner appeals the building department’s denial of a building permit, and the Zoning Appeal Board (“ZBA”) grants the exception.

Every variance thus granted is supposed to enhance the zoning regulation’s purposes, not undermine it. Yet these days the ZBA grants almost every variance request. Many people well before me have objected — loudly and often — to what amounts to ditching the zoning law altogether. The objections are disregarded.

64 Haynes Street asks for six separate variances. this isn’t unusual. Almost every developer proposal seeks as many variances as the developer needs to build what he likes. Developers do sometimes agree to scale back their proposals, hoping for a positive vote by the neighborhood association. Maybe that will happen here. Maybe it won’t.

What is battling at 64 Haynes Street is the same sort of fight occurring all over East Boston and in many other parts of Boston. Nor is 64 Haynes the worst offender — as I have written above. It is, however, emblematic of the direction that Boston is going in pursuant to vast sums of money insisting on treating Boston real estate solely as a huge profit opportunity.

Every housing move made by Boston City Hall these past thirty years has aggravated the situation. Worst, probably, was Mayor Walsh’s declaration, back in the 2013 Mayor campaign, that he wanted 53,000 new housing units built. Overnight the acquisition cost of land doubled. it has since doubled again, even tripled, as the building rush Walsh’ s declaration generated has fed upon itself.

Almost as aggravating was Walsh’s “affordability covenant” rule, as pronounced by his BPODA, whereby a developer who builds ten units or more must offer one per every ten at an “affordable” price. At first the “
affordability” ratio is to be 13 percent of units built. Lately, the huge Suffolk Downs project, offering 10,000 units, was forced to agree to sell 20 percent at an “affordable” price., What this “:affordability: rule does, as simple math shows, is to jack up the price of the market rate units: because if a developer has to take a loss on 13 or even 20 percent of his units, he has to raise the price of the other units accordingly so that he can make the level of profit his investors have contracted for.

This is what politicians do. (and by the way, it has been “progressive” politicians chiefly, who have revved up the trend.) Unhappily, the math doesn’t care about your progressivism or your politics…..

At this point, the politics and the profit wave have mutually assured the destruction, within Boston, of low-price, immigrant and working class housing.

The fate of East Boston, 160 years an immigrant destination, seems irreversible. Into it are moving an entirely newcomer class of high-earning participants in the money economy our City is hub for : finance, insurance, medicine, hi-tech, biotech, higher education (this last one of the most grossly overpaid groups anywhere) — and who as often as not live in vast crap-itecture structures, porch-less and with no back or front yards, where no one knows anybody else or cares to.

They are of course fully entitled to live their lives as they see fit. Far be it for me to criticize anyone thereby. Yet as the lives of many East Boston newcomers are lived, community is not a part thereof. And even for those who do find time to make friends and be activist neighbors, the matters that draw their activism rarely have anything to do with the activities that immigrant East Boston organized ; kids’ sports, park-league sports, school charity events, celebration days and parades.

Lastly, the very status of immigrant hasn’t the patriotic devotion that it had 40, 60, 100, 150 years ago. Our nation restricts immigration generally, even denigrates it. Those few immigrants who are allowed come are rarely penniless, as were our forbears, and do not settle in immigrant havens. Thus the people flows that once fed East Boston have been cut off even as South beach prices and jet-set lifestyles become the norm for a generation that parties on instagram and aspires to million-dollar condos.

64 Haynes Street might as well have a Miami Beach zipcode. Because that’s where we are now. Private islands, celebrity mansions and all. Or if not exactly that — yet — at least houses that say “I am an influencer.”

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

TRANSPORTATION : MAKING SOME SENSE OF BOSTON ON THE MOVE

airport

Last week, canvassing in East Boston for a City Council candidate, I had a lengthy informative conversation with Chris Marchi, as well-knowing a transportation activist as any I know of. From that discussion, which focused on MassPort traffic, but soon expanded to the impact of major housing creation on our local transporting systems, I drew conclusions whence arises the column I am now writing.

The problem : Logan Airport’s location directly abutting East Boston has brought an ever-increasing surge of vehicle traffic onto all the access roads that surround and pass directly through a neighborhood which is home to at least 45,000 people. Although the Covid pandemic shut down most of this traffic for over a year, it is sure to return now that the local State of Emergency is set to end on June 15th. Marchi predicts that post-Covid traffic to and from Logan will increase well beyond the highest pre-Covid numbers. Add to that the traffic consequences of the 10,000 housing-unit Suffolk Downs project,, and there is simply no place for so much vehicle traffic to traverse.

Discussion : Perhaps Logan airport should not have expanded as much as it has. Perhaps a second Boston airport should have been constructed, elsewhere. Other big cities are served by two airports or more; why not Boston ? It was oft5en discussed some decades ag but nothing transpired. Instead, Logan Airport took over the entire Wood Island section of East Boston and encroached upon Jeffries Point right up to its ocean side. There is, however, no more land that Logan can take. Its danger to East Boston no longer arises from land seizures but from traffic overwhelming every neighborhood street.

The Logan plan : Logan has put together an expansion proposal which, so argues Marchi, vehicle trips to and from the airport will total maybe 100 million per year. If that number is reached — the highest figure pre-Covid was 75 million, says Marchi — streets to and from Logan, all access roads, and many neighborhood roads, will be jammed up all day long and well into the night hours.

An advisory committee, many of whose members I know, all of them dedicated East Boston activists, has met with Logan planners and, according to a member of the advisory group, had all of its concerns satisfied. Marchi, however, argues that the expansion plan will enable traffic volumes well beyond what the advisory committee has considered.

If Marchi is correct, what now can be done ? He says that it’s a matter for State government, that local mitigation efforts no longer suffice; that the State’s Transportation administration (MassDOT) must tackle the matter fundamentally. This includes increasing traffic capacity on access roads; limiting the number of one-occupant vehicle trips to and from Logan; and making use of auxiliary airports such as T F Green in Rhode Island to handle the anticipated air flight surges.

Of these suggestions, all of which ought be approved in order for any of them to work, I would advise the following :

( 1 ) divert short-trip flights to T F Green and to Manchester Airport, via shuttle service, if need be, reserving Logan for long distance flights (greater than 500 miles)

( 2 ) connect Logan access roads directly to Route One north and even to Interstate 93 in order to relieve the traffic pressure oi Burbank and McLellan Highways.

( 3 ) limit one-occupant vehicle trips to and from Logan to persons intending top park on site at Logan. Pick-ups and drop-offs to be done at one central location on the main Logan access road hard by the Airport MBTA terminal, those being dropped off or picked up using a shuttle to go to or from an airport terminal.

The second item on my list is going to happen anyway once the 10,000 Suffolk Downs housing units are fully occupied some ten years from now. Suffolk’s planners have already discussed with MassDOT improvements it intends to make to McLellan and Burbank Highways, including moving and reshaping the lanes. Might as well ad just these renovations to my airport traffic proposal.

Conclusion : some have suggested State action top discourage the use of private vehicles for its own sake. I oppose this move., The private vehicle is a significant advantage to personal freedom. Being able to move where one likes, when one likes, is crucial to the liberty we idealize as Americans. Better by far to be held up in traffic as a free man than to speed one’s way somewhere under the control thumb of public transport. That said, my suggestion uses only private vehicles as far as they can rationally go : to the gateway of an airport, even if not, in most cases, into it. The airport gateway is all that a free person need destine himself to. Inside that gate, you’re the airport’s guest and can freely accommodate yourself to being hosted.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

TRANSGENDER IS NOW A POLITICAL ISSUE. IT SHOULDN’T BE

Caitlyn Jenner

FILE – In this Jan. 18, 2020, file photo Caitlyn Jenner, a well-known transgender person, speaks at the 4th Women’s March in Los Angeles.  (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

Our political parties have made the transgender condition a political issue. This is wrong. No private attribute of any person should ever be a political matter. Every person is the owner of his or her condition. It is nobody’s business except that person’s.

The condition of transgender has also become a social issue. This is understandable. As with almost every condition arising from human nature, it is a mystery; and mysteries intrigue us all and set us pondering. I say ‘a mystery” because no one really knows what the human condition is or is supposed to be. We may think we know, but we don’t.

Nonetheless, some observations about transgender seem to make sense.

First, it exists in every human community and is therefore not a cultural construct.

Second, it seems linked only tangentially, if at all, to sexual biology. People who have the transgender condition find their biology at odds with who they are. Nor is one’s biology any indication of sexual attraction. People of all conditions may be attracted to those of the same biology, or opposite, or both. Transgender people are no different in that regard.

If we have learned anything about sex and gender conditions these past 50 years — and I think we have learned much — it is that how these three attributes play out is a mystery and entirely personal and thus not to be interfered with by any other person.

Now comes the politics. Let me dispose of them forthwith:

Some on the political right want to deny that the transgender condition is anything other than a delusion or a quirk of the mind. My own experience belies this view. One realizes that one is transgender long before any thought about it arises. it is simply something that one knows. The doubter may say, “but that knowing is an illusion,” yet is it ? Perception is a physical attribute; transgender is of the whole being. the concept of “soul” enters here. We do not know what the soul is, but we do know that human life is more than mere biology or cellular physics. What that may be, we do not know, yet we know it is there. A mystery ? No less so than the precepts of any religion are a mystery — as they have always been.

The dispute here is simply a difference of opinion about what life’s mystery is. If we respect one person’s idea of life mystery, we should respect another’s.

Some on the political left want to force the transgender condition into legal clothes. This too is a mistake. No more than the mythical Procrustes could force his guests into one bed by stretching them or shrinking them, can we jam the legs of transgender into a legal bed.

One such bed is the matter of pronouns. Transgender people have become accustomed to adopting their gender pronoun rather than their biology pronoun. That is ok; I see no reason why gender should not replace biology as a seedbed of one’s pronoun. Difficulty begins when people start substituting neutral terms for gender nouns. Of late some on the far left have come up with “birthing person” in place of “woman” in order to include transgender women as women. There is no basis at all for doing this. there are plenty of biological women who cannot give birth. The noun “woman” suffices for all.

I also se no reason why transgender people have any right to force everyone else to accept a transgender person’s definition of the condition. First, there are too many views, among transgenders, of what this condition is. How else do we see some people calling themselves “they” — a plural pronoun — or “genderfluid” ? These are clearly attempts to search — for what probably cannot be found.

Second, as it is a mystery, it should be enough for the society at large to view transgender as a mystery : a question with no good answer. Or, as Queen Elizabeth I once told an inquiring parliament, I give you an “answer answerless.”

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere