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

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