ROSLINDALE’s LESSONS FOR CITY PLANNING

 

Met Hill

^ from Metropolitan Hill, all of Roslindale lies at hand and downtown looks so far away…

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Boston is a very lucky city. In addition to its downtown, it contains many of its own suburbs. Roslindale is one such. I know it well. I lived in Roslindale for 12 years and am still importantly connected to it — a linkage intensified this year as I canvass much of it on behalf of a City Council candidate. What I see in Roslindale this year has taught me a lot about smart city shaping. I say “shaping” rather than “planning” because Roslindale’s benefits to Boston weren’t anticipated by any generation of city creators. They exist nonetheless.

What are Roslindale’s lessons for the City ? Let’s try these :

( 1 ) it’s a family neighborhood, not merely a kind of dormitory for young singles. This means that Roslindale has stability. Those who live in it plan to stay, if possible, and every street has many residents who’ve lived in Roslindale their whole lives. Stability begets community, and community makes everyone in it feel safer and more at peace.

( 2 ) whence we are confronted by the singular importance of getting the school system right. People move out of Roslindale every week, almost always because they insist on the best school system for their kids, and they lack confidence that Boston’s school system offers that. Downtown’s neighborhoods of mostly young singles — regions of skyscrapers, night clubs, and trendy bistros that define “the city” for most — don’t depend upon successful public schools; but family neighborhoods do. Roslindale’s housing ranges from picket-fence single homes and huge Victorians to spacious “two-fam’s” to equally spacious three-deckers. Every bit of it is family housing, and Roslindale’s two playing fields, Healy and Fallon, bustle with kids’ activities. It’s suburban soccer mom living.

( 3 ) everyone who I meet at the door wants the same thing, regardless of their origins, skin color, native language, sexual orientation : good schools, well maintained streets, snow to be plowed, stop lights working, the trash picked up on time. Many who I meet say, when I ask them what are their concerns for a candidate to know about, that they can’t think of any; that they are satisfied. Given the quiet that I find almost everywhere in Roslindale, and the stability, I’m not surprised at all to hear this. Nor do the responses differ according to any of the identity issues raised by some politicians. Everybody wants the same thing.

( 4 ) over-development, as we see going on in the neighborhoods immediately adjacent to Downtown, isn’t immediate. There is some, in Roslindale Square, which on its own has characteristics of a City’s Downtown , and here and there one finds McMansions under construction on residential streets where their size jars the character; but for the most part Roslindale today looks not very unlike how it looked in 1983 hen I moved to it from Jamaica Plain.

( 5 ) what IS different is what we used to call “the melting pot.” 40 years ago Roslindale was almost uniformly Irish and Italian and Catholic. Today its’ Greek, it’s Albanian, it’s Haitian and Hispanic; it’s doctors, lawyers and chemists, it’s mental health workers and bankers and City employees and educators as well as advocacy people, of varied faiths and differing lifestyles. Customs differ, and tastes; but so it is in today’s suburbia, which is no longer the utterly milk-white, commuter universal that we grew up picturing.

( 6 ) Roslindale is a homeowner community, as is true of most suburbs, and its house prices track the median price of Boston suburban housing. Home ownership is itself a stabilizing fact, as is having sufficient income to buy and to afford. Between work, the kids, walking the dog, and neighborhood activities, people are far too busy — and too positively motivated — to bring public trouble.

Roslindale is proof that housing built for stability — for family — on streets wide enough for cars to park, and hilly enough to impose variety on the scenery has more power to shape people’s behavior than any other day by day factor. You move into Roslindale, and you soon become what Roslindale is, regardless of where you moved from. Safety also plays its part, a comfort arising from the stability that Roslindale houses impose on those who live in them. It’s not all roses, because nowhere that human beings are present is roses. But the devilries that make downtown Boston a nerve-wracking place to live or work — enormous traffic, noise, odors, parking costs, no parking at all, tall buildings blocking light, air, and views — have no claim on life in Roslindale, a suburb in a city that includes many suburbs within its expansive borders.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON CITY COUNCIL AT-LARGE : OUR ENDORSEMENTS

annissa mike Wu

^^ our endorsees : Annissa Essaibi George; Micahel Flaherty; Michelle Wu

This year we at Here and Sphere decided to adopt another method of arriving at endorsement. Instead of just us, the founders of this blog, choosing, we asked a very diverse, City-wide group of political types, 29 in all, to give us their recommendations. Six of the 29 decided not to disclose their choices, but 23 others did so, and another person chimed in, and so we do have a result.

Our threshold for endorsement was nine votes. Only three candidates made that cut. We endorse them : Annissa Essaibi George, who had 18 votes; Michael Flaherty, who had 15; and Michelle Wu, who received the support of nine. Allo are incumbents.

Because there was no fourth endorsement, and because three candidates – all challengers– received seven votes each, we decided to “recommend” all three. They are : W E David Halbert; Alejandra St. Guillen; and Erin Murphy.

Several other candidates received votes. Martin Keogh had the support of 6; Althea Garrison, an incumbent, won 4 votes; Jeff Ross had two votes, and William King had one. I have stated that I was surprised by the result. I fully expected Julia Mejia to receive some support. What happened ? Julia is a very likeable candidate. She ought to have been in the mix, but the results are what they are.

About our endorsees

It was no surprise that the three elected incumbents received the most votes from our panel. They’re the best known. They have a record. If there’s a surprise here, it’s that Michelle Wu, who is the Council’s President, just barely made the cut. I also think that Annissa Essaibi George’s 18 votes — fully three-quarters of our voting respondents — may surprise many. She hasn’t received anywhere near the amount of publicity that Wu has: but perhaps that’s to her benefit. Wu certainly gained no friends with her suggestion that residents should pay a  $ 25 fee for a resident parking sticker, and her suggestion that the T should be free, while popular with some. could not have been welcomed by taxpayers. Meanwhile Annissa Essaibi George has quietly done her job, with flexibility and discretion : her focus on improving Boston’s schools performance, on many levels, surely helped her support, because Boston’s school shortcomings are by far the issue on most voters’ minds. She also sends staffers to community meetings all across the city,a s does the Mayor. It has been duly noticed, and clearly it is appreciated. As for Wu, we endorse her for re-election, despite the criticisms made above, because it’s good to have a Councillor who is willing, in good faith, to make suggestions which, being controversial, evoke discussion

Some will be surprised that Michael Flaherty won the support of 15 of our 24 respondents. They shouldn’t be. Flaherty knows the City budget as well as any Councillor in recent memory, and during a term in which several Councillors – not only Wu — proposed stuff that either doesn’t match what the voters want, or which won’t work, or which can’t be done without legislative approval that will never happen, Flaherty steered clear. He epitomizes long-term Boston and exemplifies the wisdom and caution that serve the City far better than impulse purchasing; and his support for Governor baker, in 2014 and in 2018, has certainly been noticed by the 49 percent of Boston voters who chose Baker — also a man of caution and thoughtfulness — for a second term.

About our Recommended candidates

Halbert  Erin st guillen

^ David Halbert, Erin Murphy, Alejandra St. Guillen

Rather than being disappointed at not receiving endorsement, I think that David Halbert, Alejandra St. Guillen, and Erin Murphy should be pleased at coming very close. All three received much more support than incumbent Althea Garrison — who, to be fair, was not elected to the Council seat that she occupies because of Ayanna Pressley’s election to Congress; Garrison was the fifth place finisher in the 2017 election; almost certain ly one of these candidates will win the Council’s fourth at-Large seat. I know Halbert and St. Guillen well and like them. They’re earnest, experienced in government, and are campaigning city-wide and effectively. I am skeptical of the “progressive” agendas that they seek to represent — and in some cases I oppose it strongly; but the “progressive” wish list has sufficient support in the city to merit representation on a Council in which diversity of opinion is a must. Erin Murphy, I know less well; but her campaign emphasizes support for unions, a view which I consider crucial to the City’s economic health. We aren’t going to alleviate the housing ‘affordability:” riddle if we can’t get much higher wages for average workers. Every other method I have heard either doesn’t work, or can’t, or actually makes the problem worse. Erin Murphy definitely deserves your consideration.

A few words about the other candidates who received votes

Martin Keogh, 6 votes : Keogh has chosen this year to campaign as the voice of the traditional Bostonian, many of whom object to the Council’s “progressive” proposals, and of everyone else who objects. There’s plenty of room for such a campaign this year. Much of what the City has put in place imposes unnecessary hardships on car owners, for example, and the law enforcement disconnect between the Boston Police and the Courts, on the one hand, and the newly elected Suffolk District attorney, on the other, also creates the need for serious discussion of where do we go from here in matters of public safety. There’s probably no issue in which the City’s “progressives” differ more radically from the views of average Boston voters. I would prefer to see the opposition candidate be a person of color, because the “progressives” have made policing and prosecution a skin color issue, and Keogh is white and, heaven forbid, an Irish-American — a heritage which some “progressives” consider particularly heinous. But Keogh is the public safety candidate we’ve got. Can he garner enough support to win ? Maybe, but it won;t, be easy for him to move past all three of Halbert, Murphy, and St. Guillen.

Althea Garrison, 4 votes : she’s an incumbent, even if not by election, and she has received notice and some support, on many fronts. Some of it arises from her very conservative views on many issues. Some comes from her personal life story as a transgender.. Some comes from her refusal to raise big bucks, some from her advocacy of rent control, and some from her unflinching candor. It is highly unlikely she can win. There just isn’t enough support out there for her unusual politics. Yet she is far from being a quirk. She’ll get her vote.

It’s hard to know what to make of Jeff Ross. I know him well. He was an at-large Council candidate in 2013. His views are progressive enough, and he has plenty of campaign money and has manged to canvass much of the city. Yet the organized “progressives’ don’t seem to have embraced him. Is that because he is a white male in an era in which  the politics of skin color and gender seem gateway matters to so many on the left ? Or is it that Ross is a gentle soul, with a more or less academic, ruffled look far from the Instagram glamour that seems as much a part of the Left’s politics as skin color and gender ? The Instagram Generation is fond of calling its idols “queen” and “king.” no one will ever call the modest, soft-spoken Ross a “king.” I am, of course, here speculating. I could well be wrong about why Ross is in the position he is in. Frankly, he deserves better than he seems to be getting.

William King, 1 vote : the one respondent who recommended King said this about him :  The other guy I recommended, William King, has ideas for improving community-based policing, and education.  I have never met William King, though I see many of his lawn signs in some parts of the City. I’m not sure what community-based policing means, but it’s never a bad thing for the city’s police department to involve the community in its work.

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So there you have it. You can follow our endorsements and recommendations, or you can differ from them, it’s your right. The one thing that I do urge you, however, is to vote. To me, it’s an obligation. Americans fought and died to assure that you have the right to vote. Honor them by going to your polling placer on September 24th and casting your vote for up to four  at-large City Council candidates.

—- Mike Freedberg / for the edditors, Here and Sphere