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

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