TAKING THE PRESSURE OFF EAST BOSTON

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^ artist’s view of proposed 107-109 Porter Street 28 unit building (rear and to the right). A ell designed building, to be sure; but maybe too dense of a good thing ?

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As downtown Boston becomes ever more the hub of the new era’s business, enterprise, shopping, social life, and residence, it is not clear what, if anything, will remain, much longer, of neighborhood life as we know it. By no means is the new Boston undesirable. Economic boom is very desirable. Try the opposite, and you’ll soon see why. That said, much that is beneficial to the soul is being lost. Can this tide be turned ?

Nowhere has the new Boston tide flooded more deeply than East Boston. For 70 years, from the Depression years to just recently,  East Boston saw almost no change at all. When my Aunt Elizabeth came back for my Mother’s funeral, in 1969, after living kin Cleveland since 1928, she and I drove around her old neighborhood (Eagle Hill); she recognized every building, and every business. Three generations of East Bostonians grew up in an environ dependably the same. Once Irish and Jewish, Eastie from Day Square to Border Street had become largely Italian, as politicians like Jim Coffey and Manasseh Bradley gave way to Mike LoPresti, Senior, Mario Umana, and George DiLorenzo; but as the names changed, the setting did not; and the setting provided the solid rock upon which ethnic change could proceed without undue conflict.

That profound physical stability, reliant on development plans that took shape in the 1840s and were carried out all the way to 1970 without much alteration, has indelibly marked East Boston people. All the more is it culture shock — personal unease — for “Eastie” residents now to see a century of physical certainty erased by enormous surprises difficult to adjust to. Rooftop assumptions at 35 feet give way to overtopping that interrupts vistas; three decker neighborliness finds itself shouted out by nine to fifteen family, even 25 family, complexity.

Can you blame Eastie people for disliking these immensities that undermine ? I can’t.

One principle worth stating : residential development can NOT sim,ply do as it likes. It MUST enhance a neighborhood, not cancel it. A development that ousts neighborhood character is residential only in the most bald headed sense. Yet much of the central part of East Boston has already seen its character erased by oversize, gargantuan, 100-unit complexes of cheap design, a brutal efficiency, and utter disregard for physical facts. I hope that we’re seeing the last of that phase, but I am not sure better is coming.

On Saturday i attended an abutters’ meeting — according to a procedure required by the Boston Planning and Development Agency — concerning a 28-unit building proposed to occupy 107-109 Porter Street. The site is now a large parking area adjacent to the new Craft Restaurant (where Ecco used to be). Embarc proposes to erect a three story building, with parking underneath, of mostly market-rate rentals, in an area where parking is scarce and residential density is deep.

About 15 people of the Gove Street Citizens Association attended. They were not happy.

Almost all of the Gove Street area — Frankfort, Lubec, Cottage Streets, Gove itsels, Porter Street and upper Orleans, as well as lower Chelsea Street and a few very narrow alleys and courts — was first built up 100 years ago, either of wooden three-deckers or brick, or of four story, direct street-front tenement buildings typical of New York City more than of Boston. parking is scarce, open space even more so, street trees not to be found much. Several multi-story factory buildings, one of them enormously large (156 Porter Street) add even more density. I can’t blame the Gove Street neighbors for not wanting more of this. If the Gove neighborhood (in which my grandparents started their life in America back in 1896) needs any structural change, it needs to be opened up, it needs breathing space, it needs its own greenway.

To sum up : residential neighborhoods of Boston need to be able to continue their character, hopefully even top improve their quality of life.

Everywhere I go In East Boston, people cite over-development as their big issue. I think that what they mean by “over development” is “crap development.” I think East Boston would welcome enhancive developments.

The City needs to get this message.

One way in which the Stater can help is to enable economic development all along the corridor from Needham and Newton to Framingham, and Natick and out to Worcester City. Framingham is now a city, no longer a town, which means a much simpler government for developers to navigate. Governor Baker has instituted non-stop train service from Boston to Worcester; and downtown Worcester is radically re-purposing as an innovation district. Expanding the Boston economic boom westward along the Framingham to Worcester axis might relieve some of the pressure incommoding residential life in the most populous Boston neighborhoods.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere