State Representative Adrian Madaro moderates a neighbors’ meeting to protest the City of Boston’s proposed changes to traffic and development zoning.

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Can I ask you a dumb question ?”

That’s what I asked of Jay Ruggiero last night, the City of Boston’s outreach co-ordinator for its “Boston Planning and Development” department.

Jay lives in East Boston, a lifelong resident and a son of our respected funeral director Joe Ruggiero, Sr. Jay knows exactly what I was getting at and why. Yet there wasn’t much he could say, and I can’t fault him. During the past two years he has tried to engage community activists in the ambitious re-thinkings the City intends for its chief neighborhood of newcomer immigrants.

Last night, however, those rethinkings met up with a large group of Meridian Street residents (and many from adjacent streets) who do not want to be re-thought, or re-planned; who want really to leave well enough alone. Led by Karen Osarenkhoe and moderated by State Representative Adrian Madaro — who lives nearby — about 40 people., few of them known activists, said “no mas !” to plans that would eliminate car parking on one entire side of Meridian Street and Border Street and make Border Street one way.

The 40 had plenty to say, none of it congratulatory. Nor did the neighbors present — at 7.30 pm on a sweltering summer night when many folks are on vacation or want to be — cotton to the idea of allowing four story development on Meridian Street and five story (!!!) buildings on Border Street.

One could well ask the question, “why does the City want to do any of this ?” Instead, i asked a more basic question ; ‘why can’t the City just leave well enough alone ?”

East Boston works as a community. It is Boston’s primary receptor of newly landing immigrants., My grandparents were among those. They arrived — penniless — in 1896. They were no different from immigrants who came in 1920, 1960, 1970, 1990, or now. They arrived in a neighborhood of very inexpensive housing, near to all sorts of grunt work that new immigrants will do, close to many churches, several schools, corner stores, ethnic eateries, ball fields, and piers off which immigrant kids (like my Mom and her siblings) can dive to escape hot summer days. Even now, when immigrants have become somehow an unpopular cause, newcomers continue to come to East Boston; because Boston has jobs and it has opportunity, and those are what immigrants risk everything to get to. Which is why East Boston is what it is.

Why, then, would the City want to screw around with a community set up that works ? Shouldn’t a City government SUPPORT a community that works and look for changes elsewhere, where they are useful ? I mean, Boston’s City government has enough to do, trying to make our schools work — having a $ 1.25 billion budget to work our schools with — and also boost its police department, now short some 500 officers, including several retiring right here in Eastie’s District Seven.

I mean, why should an immigrant community become the new South beach ? A new Marina bay ? Condominiums at $ 600,000 and homes for $ 1.2,00,000, all of them snapped up by the new highly paid elite who like the idea of living near a harbor view ? The highly paid can buy or rent anywhere. Immigrants working for scant wages don ‘t have that luxury. As for Eastie residents who earn better money, or are retired, why should they be forced to move or to watch 75 percent of their neighbors move out ?

And why does Meridian Street, a street that works — that has long accommodated to its traffic flows and parking woes — now be forced to remake all of its long-settled adjustments because somebody has decided that buses, which have traveled Meridian Street for generations, now need a special travel lane ?

You would think that a rational politician would realize that it doesn’t pay to remake a community of 40,000 into something it isn’t, thereby maybe pissing off 10,000 voters. Or to remake streets and traffic just for the hell of it ? But no ; our City electeds, somehow, decided maybe a decade ago that East Boston should become the new Klondike for a generation of gold rush developers who could reap huge profits everywhere between Waldemar Avenue and Border Street and thereby fill the campaign coffers of candidates needing upwards of $ 250,000 to fund their campaigns. Take a look at the “OCPF” website; it’s all there — the vast funds thrown at candidates by developers and , indeed, the entire development-process coterie.

Yet if it’s developers and their aides who provide the bucks, it’s neighbors who do the voting; and the voters of East Boston, at least, have had enough and are gathering in ever-increasing numbers to say so loudly and publicly. Forty people may not sound like much, but the meridian Street neighborhood has not been the scene of mass activism. I fully expect to see many more people at a next meeting, and the same is happening elsewhere in East Boston, a community which has finally decided to yell a collective yell at a City bureaucracy that doesn’t seem to care.


— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



Afghan families walk by the aircrafts at the Kabul airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan’s 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city’s airport trying to flee the group’s feared hardline brand of Islamist rule. (Photo by Wakil Kohsar / AFP)

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Much criticism is heading President Biden’s way concerning what we, the USA, did or did not do correctly leading up to the fall of Kabul to the Taliban insurgents. I find most of that criticism unfounded.

Such criticism as may be made ought go to the humiliating deal that our former President made. Almost al the evil consequences we have witnessed derive from that sellout of our Afghan friends.

As for the only option left — complete evacuation — it is maybe the hardest military operation. Plenty of momentum for “fubar.”

Yet There is always much “fubar” in war. The crux isn’t avoiding fubar but what one does to counter it. Our military leaders misjudged how quickly Kabul would be taken; they have moved strongly to get the evacuation phase in order. Of course it’s not pretty — evacuations and retreats rarely look trim. But consider where we are right now :

5200 troops on the ground controlling HKAI airport.

More consular officers on the ground to help process people seeking a flight out.

More entry gates to the airport being opened and manned by our soldiers.

US Navy jets flying constant sorties over Kabul city to protect people seeking to leave.

Special ops teams exfiltrating at-risk individuals and families by night.

More troops coming, and there’s the possibility of “widening” the perimeter of the airport under our control.

Will everything go smoothly ? Doubtless not. This is a seat-of-the-pants, ad hoc operation, correcting itself on the run. Yet if the Taliban have any doubts about our resolve to get this evacuation done in full, they’ll soon find out. I especially like that President Biden has taken full responsibility, publicly, upon himself. He has, of course, done so for all his administration’s major initiatives. Is there anyone who would rather see the former guy in charge of this stuff ?

Speaking of the former guy, did you se where Stephen Miller, his chief persecutor of immigrants, spurns our welcoming the Afghan refugees, saying “they won’t fit into our way of life” ? Immediately he said that he was swatted back by an immigrants’ advocate noting that Miller’s “way of life” included separating 5000 migrant-refugee children from their parents.

Several Governors, of both political parties, have offered welcome to such Afghan refugees as are coming here./ I could not be prouder of them for offering this. we are a nation of immigrants and refugees. Welcoming the Afghans who want to join us is as American a thing as it gets.

I’m good with President Biden’s “way of life.” And with his management of the Kabul evacuation.

So far.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



Shall controlled transportation now be the criterion for “housing” ? If policy makers get their way, yup! (Here, An outbound MBTA train oln the beloved Blue Line cranks its way to Orient Heights Station in East Boston. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

It is evidently not bad enough that our policy makers have imposed junk “units” on communities that used to work as such but are rapidly being remade into glorified college dorms. Now these same policy makers want to impose “transit’ on us — to link the construction of crap-itecture boxes to renovation and expansion of the horror we call “public transportation.” What could possibly go wrong ?

We are toild, by these highly-paid experts, that the future of our economy requiires that people live in “transit-oriented” housing — by which I suppose they mean, housing that is walkably close to a bus stop or subway station. When one asks, as I now do, why living close to a bus stop is vital to economic growth, they have no good answer. Instead, they tell me that the more people who live close to a bus stop, say, the fewer will need cars and thus the less impact upon our climate, which, say the policy makers, is nearing irreversible doom state.

Obviously a doom climate would be hella bad for our economy. Thus, say the experts, we must subject both housing and personal mobility to a third criterion. I’m not au fait with this, and I doubt that you are happy with it either. As for climate,. planting millions of trees — as smart metropolises are now doing — will do more for climate health than any mobility control. The same is true of electric vehicles, which will be enormously enabled by the electric charging stations being funded by the infrastructure bill soon to pass Congress.

So much for requiring more public transportation and housing tied to its presence.

To continue : why do we need “transit oriented housing’ when, as a result of Covid, many people will continue to work from home ? The old regime of commuting from home to the office or factory is not coming back. Moreover, people working from home don’t need to live in an overly dense, sardine-like city. They can live in the suburbs, or the exurbs, or even farther away and do just fine. As for those who cannot work from home — maintenance people, grocery workers, health care people and such like — their housing need is for apartments or owned homes that they can afford, which is none at all of what is being built now or contemplated as “transit oriented.” Need I tell you AGAIN that what is being built in Boston today is enormously expensive and likely to become more so ? Because it is not service workers, etc., who move into it, because the costs are way, way beyond what such workers earn.

The “units” now being built are priced for the well-paid or for the city’s thousands of college students (often these “units’ are advertised as such !); but even if these crap boxes were priced to working-class incomes, they would be unacceptable because of the utter lack of community therein. East Boston’s housing stock was built as singles, two-families, and threes, a mall-scale architecture which enabled humble community. You knew your neighbors. Doors were not locked, no one was shut out by security systems, you were not parceled out one by one along lengthy corridors as in a hotel or an army barracks. Said housing was also dirt cheap, because land acquisition costs were cheap, and consttruction — even with high quality woods and crafted woodwork — wasn’t expensive either. More significant, almost all potential buyers lor renters were very low income. You either made your construction cheap enough, or you didn’t build at all.

Many workers in today’s Boston are just as poorly paid, relative to the entire eceonomy, as were the residenbtrs of 1900, but construction today faces so many costly and bureaucratic obstacles that its price points have to be high, and why not, when there exists a vast market for very expensive housing that a developer would be a fool not to build for ? Nor does this very well-paid horde of buiyers or renters have much time for community. If you work 70 hours a week drafting legal briefs or managing hedge funds, you’re sort of unlikely to be kayaking, hiking, or attending a little legaue football game. Not to mention that you probably don’t have kids or are even married. The market which builders aspire to is a young singles market — which is also why bistros like The Quiet Few, Cunard, and the Reel House prosper where family restaurants often don’t.

So much for community. Welcome to dormitory city.

As for the wage earners who supposedly “transit oriented” housing is to serve, all they see right now is that ( 1 ) “transit oriented” means “priced way above me” (and affordability regulations don’t help), and ( 2 ) such affordable housing as does exist is rapidly being bought by devlopers and either demolished to make room for $ 3200 – $ 3800 a month customers or being sold for $ 1,350,000 — to condo converters, because what ordinary working family can afford such a price ?

That any such housing requires an expansion of public transportation is a sick joke. Firstly, many of the buttered young folks moving into $ 600,000 condos or $ 3200 apartments move by bicycle; and our public policy folks have decided that bicycles have a right to the roads thnat were built for cars and paid for by car owners. Second, public transportation is a means of social control. Do we really want more of that ? My grandparents — and yours — came here for liberty; control, they had plenty of back in Europe. Third, the workers whose incomes make it hard for them to own and register a car — given the plethora of fees, fines, taxes, and closts imposed on car owners by our laws — can’t afford much l;onger to live in a $ 3800 a month City. So who, exactly, is this proposed expansion of control transportation going to serve ?

As always, those who do not have much money get nothing but sympathy, plans, and promises when what\’s needed is the basics of life that you or I have grown up assuming would always be there.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere