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^ sea rise / climate activists listening to a presentation at a recent Harborkeepers forum in East Boston

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Beyond the familiar opposition of “progressive” and “conservative” politics, I propose a new category : “innovationism.”

What do I mean by innovationism ? Simply this : a political arena in which ad  hoc, on site, unstaged suggestions can be made for resolving some of the challenges that face the city in which I live and which tactic I suspect will apply just as well to other cities.

In Boston I’ve seen it work. An emblematic example was a recent design forum sponsored by The Harborkeepers, an East Boston – South Boston citizens group that has, these past two years,. taken on the challenges posed by sea rise and big storm flooding. At said forum, many designs and principles were proposed for accommodating the water that all but surrounds both neighborhoods.

That forum’s discussion did not sound political at all. No “progressive” economics were advanced, no “conservative” customs argued for. There was a problem — water encroachment — and suggestions for curbing it, even making social utility of it. Much of what was proposed calls to mind what the Dutch have done, in their nation so much of it below sea level, to make high water work for them without destroying their communities. Holland has done it all : seawalls that retract and then close, houses on piles, houses that float, water that gets let in to make great harbors, water that is kept out when sea rise looms.

In Holland the task of taming the North Sea has no party identity. I call what the Dutch have done “innovationism,” I apply the same to what is being debated in East Boston and South Boston, and I suggest innovationism as a welcome remedy to the progressive-conservative trap that has stultified so much of our reform work and rendered it difficult if not impossible, when what is needed is reform of everything.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


patty schlachter

^ Wisconsin State Senator Patty Schlachter : ten point victor, flipping a legislative seat in what had been extremely “red” territory far from any Democratic city

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A major shift has taken place in the Democratic party’s locus of force. For at least 150 years, since the Civil War, big cites were the Democratic party’s foundation (also the South, a phenomenon that ended about 20 years ago.) Today, however, cities no longer control Democratic energy as they once did. It’s the suburbs’ turn, and a very specific kind of suburb at that. It’s in the suburbs that were until quite recently Republican that one finds the Democratic fires burning hottest.

Why is this so ? Let me explain.

The new Democrats — the “woke” constituency — is a fairly well to do, almost exclusively Caucasian constituency. Lunch bucket issues aren’t its thing. Those are city matters; and city voters have, mostly, been Democrats for 50 to 150 years. The longer a city has been Democratic, the less likely its Democratic voters are to be ‘woke.” To them, the Democratic party is the establishment, personal and ancestral, often paychecked. The Democratic primary works for these voters. In it they elect those who govern cities and represent cities in Congress.  Because the Democratic primary is where every elected office is decided, anyone who cares to pursue a political career or play a part in politics votes in that primary, no matter what his or her ideology might be. “Resist” is only one among many such Democratic options.

It was different for suburban voters. When voters first started moving to suburbs, after World War II, most of them became Republicans, because it was then assumed that the Republican party would hold the line on taxes, which was the primary issue for people now earning more and having larger savings accounts. Recently, however, the Republican party has become known for religious zealotry, anti immigrant bias, and attacks upon the social safety net. As older suburban voters enjoy social security and medicare, and as few suburban voters are wedded to religion or wish to interfere with women deciding what to do about a pregnancy — the suburbs are built upon everyone minding his or her own business, not upon community solidarity, which is the way of cities — the current Republican agenda violates the live and let live, entitlement lives that most suburbanites like.

Many such suburban voters have fled the Republican party, or refused it, and have turning instead to the Democrats. They have the zeal of converts. Like St. Paul on the road to Damascus, they have seen the light and ever since, have zealously gathered or joined a following.

To the suburban converts one adds the world of academia, which, like the suburbs,was almost exclusively Republican right up to the late 1960s. Opposition to the Viet Nam war converted them, too, as it did NOT change the voting allegiance of city voters, many of whom fought in the war, or had family in combat. It is no accident that, in Massachusetts, the most idealistic Democrats are concentrated, not in Boston — maybe the nation’s archetypal Democratic city — but in academia and the suburbs surrounding the academy : Cambridge, Lexington, Arlington, Medford, Somerville, Watertown, Belmont, Carlisle. Lincoln, Concord, Wayland, Melrose, Salem (and even Winchester, not so long ago a moderate Republican heartland): all of which have become the local Democratic party’s “base.”

All of the above is why we have recently seen Democratic candidates do so well in very Republican states — the more Republican the state, the better the Democratic candidates have done; and the more “resist” and suburban those Democrats, the better still. Perhaps the most extreme instance of this voter movement was the 10-point victory won by Democrat Patty Schlachter in a exurban Wisconsin State Senate seat that had been Republican for decades. A similar shift has moved four legislative seats from Republican to Democrat in Oklahoma, which had, during the past three decades,  become maybe the “reddest” state in the nation.

In Alabama’s US Senate race, though won by a centrist Democrat, the greatest voting shift occurred in suburban counties. The same proved true in last week’s 18th Pennsylvania Congress District: although the very centrist Democrat, Conor Lamb, did much better than recent Democrats in some fairly rural parts of his electorate, his biggest plus came in suburban Pittsburgh.

But yesterday, in the Illinois primary, one saw something quite different. Suburban, “resist” Democrats challenged not in a two party election but in the Democratic primary, which meant taking on Democratic opponents who were not convers but established; and in all three emblem cases, the established, non-convert, non-“resist” candidate won : incumbent, Chicago-based Congressman Dan Lipinski over suburban challenger Marie Newman (Illinois CD 3); Seth Casten, a mainstream executive, over five suburban women rivals, one of whom was backed by EMILY’s list; and in the Governor race, established Jay Pritzker over “resist” favorite Chris Kennedy and an equally left State Senator, Dan Biss. (In Chicago, Biss’s support came almost all from the high income “north Side,” Pritzker’s vote from everywhere else.) Converts are far, far less numerous in Cities like Chicago then are non-ideological, centrist Democrats.

As I see it, the “resistance”‘s converts number about the same in every state and city, but their share of the Democratic vote varies as I have said above : the “redder” the District, the more influential the “resist” vote. My axiom may prove too much, but electeds who stand in the way of convert voters better heed well the arrival of a generation of Saint Paul-style apostles.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere





^ Christine Poff answers activists’ questions at last night’s Community Preservation forum in East Boston

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Last night a substantial cross-section of East Boston activists attended a forum hosted by the City’s Community Preservation Commission and its chief, Christine Poff. As I understood the conversation, there’s about $ 20 million — funds designated by the Community Preservation Act and its one percent city tax surcharge, as adopted by voters in the 2016 election — available for the purpose. Thus the question is, what does East Boston need, by way of “community preservation,’ that can be enabled by suchy funds as get targeted to this neighborhood ?

I will answer that question below. But first, you should read the language of the Community Preservation Act (“CPA”) that governs this entire discussion. The City’s website offers the following shorthand of it : … and this is the entire text of the Act, which you might want to read :

The Act is part of MGL c. 44B and is thus a state matter. (Which is a specific reason why I, in my capacity as an outreach co-ordinator for the Governor, attended the meeting. The Act makes clear that “community preservation” is a very sweeping mission. It includes creation of affordable and moderate income housing as well as preservation of landmarks and structures of significant historic value. It calls for a real estate tax surcharge of as much as three (3) percent — an amount significant in high-value redale state communities.

The major limitation on how much sweeping can be done pursuant to the CPA is its funds. According to Poff, Boston’s nCPA has about $ 20 million in hand (in a fund expressly escrowed for the CPA mission). That isn’t much to a city whose annual budget tops $ 3 billion and whose real estate values have risen sky-high these past 40 years. Preservation just happens to be a function of that bull market in real estate. If values remained at 1977 levels, there’d be no new construction — there wans’t any then — and thus no threat to existing structures and land uses. There is, however, a daily impact upon existing communities. East Boston has of late found itself especially under the gun of development that has utterly rewritten the neighborhood’s waterfront, its piers and its vistas, its open spaces and peacefulness. Today the East Boston waterfront has succumbed to crappy, hulking residential fronts and overpriced underwater garages that clearly came to pass unaware of rising seas reality. Preservation has no place in what now stands on the Eastie waterfront.

Can there be any kind at all of meaningful preservation, now that Eastie’s waterfront has been so thoroughly defeated ? Maybe.

Eastie very much ants to remain an affordable neighborhood. It has served working class families since the late 19th century (including my Mother’s parents, who arrived in 1896) when the area’s status as a destination port for major passenger ship lines inundated it with immigrants from Ireland — JFK’s great grandfather Thomas Kennedy included — then Jews from all over, then Italians. It is home to working class families now as well, most of them from Latino countries but also the Maghreb in North Africa, Brazil, and Rumania. Somehow, Eastie’s working class families manage to endure enormously risen rents, prices that bar many young professionals who, too, would like to come to a neighborhood that offers less density (and lower rents) tan are available Downtown. I’m not sure how long they can adapt. The next level of price rise will surely be the curtain call as Eastie becomes entierly a neighborhood of technology workers, doctors, lawyers, finance workers, and top-level bureaucrats earning at least 4 150,000 a year.

Maybe that destiny need not happen. Community preservation certainly hopes so. To the CPA Board, which includes Jeffries Point activist Kannan Thiruvengadam, I offer the following suggestions :

( 1 ) very limited funds limit the Act’s effect to small victories : a pocket sized park — a dog park ? — here and there; maintenance money for the Greenway; tree plantings in the Gove Street neighborhood; funds for renovation of aging row houses, all over Jeffries Point, Eagle Hill, and the Maverick Square area.

( 2 ) a more ambitious step might be the purchase of a dilapidated, vacant building for renovation as workforce housing

( 3 ) a traffic study of the dangerous, over busy intersection of Bennington and Saratoga Streets hard b\y the Orient heights T stop. Recently Chris Marchi and I discussed this in a thread on the East Boston Open Discussion facebook page. Maybe it can happen.

( 4 ) creation of a plan for safeguarding local homes now seriously threatened by high tides upon rising seas. If we do n ot figure this out, and begin working on it damn soon, the entire generation will find many such homes unlivable.

Doubtless you have many other suggestions what the City’s scarce CPA dollars can work on. I welcome them all. The money is — taxpayer money — and the oversight to make decisions is in place.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere