Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What I Learned from My Foster Daughter

I learned that love really is not enough.  I learned that race is not about skin color, it is about culture.  And I re-learned that same old lesson that's been bangin' me on the noggin since consciousness arrived:  each person alive must take responsibility for herself and do the work to deal with her own demons. All anyone else can do is support her.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Food Grows on Trees - Even in the City

All of the below is lifted from a recycling listserv that I'm on.

"Watch your step!

All around the Boston area, food is falling on the ground, rolling around on the sidewalks and streets -- and generally being treated with disdain...(who would expect food to grow on trees?)

Our native Black Walnut trees and Shagbark Hickory trees are well into dropping their fruit. They look like small green tennis balls; they turn dark as they mature and get easier to open -- a source of food for Native Americans, and said to be quite tasty, although that may vary from tree to tree.

There are also apple trees of all sorts in our yards bearing fruit; some are already finishing up. And peaches!

So, look around. Do you know of any organized efforts to harvest this bounty and keep it from going to waste?

(We've already collected over 20 pounds of apples and peaches just from what is laying around on the ground -- will have to start earlier next year!)

Black Walnut husks are also a traditional dye for hair, handicrafts etc --
the plentiful juice from the green husks certainly does a good job staining skin!


Fruit for the People:
Moss Hill Orchard
by Susan Koechner

Edible Boston, Summer 2008, p.55

On a crisp, late spring day in Jamaica Plain, a small group of neighbors gather around a young man as his rough hands tenderly pack straw around the base of a freshly planted cherry tree.The spindly young plant is small, but the neighbors’ appetites are not: “I’m putting in my order for a cherry pie right now!” one man declares with a twinkle in his eye.

These residents of Jamaica Plain’s Moss Hill neighbor- hood have reason to be licking their lips in anticipation of a delicious fruit harvest.They are participants in an innovative grassroots project, led by resident Margaret Connors, to establish a communal orchard in their neighborhood. Unlike a conventional orchard with a dedicated plot of land, this one will consist of fruit-bearing trees planted on the homeowners’ private lots as well as in nearby public spaces such as the Manning Elementary School.

As co-director of the Neighborhood Pesticide Action Committee (, Margaret is no stranger to communal environmental efforts. “We have to consider our communities as much more than the sum of their dwellings,” she says. “Neighborhoods are resource-rich and can be mobilized to initiate solutions to many urgent environmental challenges, including global warming. Planting a neighborhood orchard is making the best use of the collective good earth in a community. A communal orchard, a neighborhood bee keeping project,backyard city chickens—such efforts are only the beginning.”

Debbie Side, the owner of a new cherry tree planted in her front yard, expresses the spirit of the project. “I can’t use more than a basketful of cherries,” she says, gesturing to the tree with her hands covered in fresh dirt. “I’ll be happy if my neighbors come by to pick them; otherwise, the fruit would just rot. This way, anybody walking by can access it.” With the cherry and two raspberry bushes
that will be planted in her side lot, Debbie’s yardlots are bound to be popular at harvest time.

On this day, more than 30 new trees and shrubs will sink their roots into fertile nooks and crannies around the neighborhood. They include conventional fruiting trees
such as apples, cherries and peaches, as well as berries such as blueberry, raspberry and juneberry. In addition, fallowland along a public footpath will be planted with berries, hickory trees and other New England forest natives to
revive the diversity and beauty that was threatened by development.

A host of fruit, nut and berry plants that are uniquely suited to our variable New England climate can turn almost any small lot into a cornucopia of fresh, sun-ripened
foods.This is exactly what Margaret Connors envisioned when she started laying out the plan for her neighborhood’s orchard. “The idea just sort of came to me,” she
said of the project, which has few precedents. “I’d heard of Earthworks’ Setback Tree program and imagined our neighborhood with fruiting trees accessible to all the
neighbors. Earthworks reclaims neglected urban spaces for sustainable use through hands-on projects, education, and advocacy. I figured that with people out picking fruit for six months of the year, there would be a lots of activity
in the neighborhood, and we would be more likely to watch out for each other.”

Historically, the area in and around Moss Hill was home to a number of prominent wool merchants and ambassadors who built large estates, each of which included sizable orchards. Longtime resident Dorothy Meyer remembers, “Back in the ’30s and ’40s, the kids of the neighborhood used to play on those hills and we’d come down with apples in our pockets. It was very rural back then.” Some Moss Hill residents suspect that their homes sit on land that was once part of an orchard owned by Jabez and Lucretia Lewis-Dawson; their homestead, the Lewis-Dawson Farmhouse, dates back to the early 1800s and was recently granted landmark status by the Boston Landmark Commission.

Once Margaret had gauged the neighbors’ interest in the orchard project, (“They wanted to be a part of it, no questions asked.”) she got to work. She secured the help of two local organizations: the previously mentioned Earthworks and JPTrees, which works to renew the urban canopy in Jamaica Plain through stewardship and advo-
cacy for community trees.

First, the participants needed to perform site evaluations with the help of Earthworks. Most important, they had to consider how many hours of sunlight a plant
would receive. While berry bushes can produce in shady spots, fruiting trees require a minimum of six hours of sunlight per day to flourish. Next, they conducted simple
soil tests through University of Massachusetts’ Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Laboratory to determine the soil quality including acidity, texture, drainage, fertility and presence of toxic metals. This information helped Earthworks recommend plants which would thrive in the available spaces.

Then came the fun part: plant selection. Steve Larson was one of many who decided on an apple tree. “I like apples,” he said. “Also, because I’m new in the neighbor-
hood, I thought that this would be a good way to meet people.” Because multiple species can be grafted onto a single rootstock, those who choose apples will enjoy harvesting different kinds of apples from a single tree. Other recommended fruit and nut-bearing plants included cherries, pears, plums, peaches, apricots, persimmon, pawpaw, mulberries, blueberries, raspberries, currants, gooseberries, juneberries, hazelnuts, walnuts, hickories and chestnuts.

At long last, the day of planting, May 17th, arrived. On hand to help plant and provide education were Ben Crouch, Urban Forestry Program Director of Earthworks,
and Melissa Moore, an Earthworks-trained volunteer of JP Trees. After a brief introduction, a group of about 15 neighbors, young and old, picked up their tools and
marched energetically off to the first planting site.

Ben held onto the small bare cherry tree, just six feet tall, as he demonstrated the complete planting process. “Most fruit trees will grow in almost anything except
highly disturbed soil,” he noted while turning over the turf with a tock, a garden tool that resembles a pick. He dug a hole for the tree’s bare roots and explained that while the tree would not grow much in the first year, they could expect growth of two to three feet per year until maturity. Amazingly, fruit would become available in only two or three years from planting..."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Discover Roxbury

When Back Bay was still a back water, Roxbury was the place to be. With apologies to local First Nations, cause I don't know which may have lived here, though I'd guess Wampanoag (actually it's the Massachusett), Roxbury is where it all began - for Boston, anyway.

Roxbury is the place to be now, as well. It's just that most people, thank goddess, don't know it. Shh. Don't tell.

But don't take my word for it. Discover Roxbury has lots of information on tours, history, and notable locals. Don't be a sheep. Come visit.

Highland Park Transportation Presentation

Last week Howard/Stein Hudson presented the findings of their Transportation Study of the area.

We all agree that cars need to slow down, that intersections are dangerous, and that pedestrians are at risk everytime they take to the sidewalk. To permit park, or not to permit park - that is the question which will raise the most ire. In the presentation, the biggest reason given to oppose permit parking was that residents' dinner guests would have a hard time parking.

There are reasons to oppose resident permit parking in Highland Park other than dinner guests not being able to park - which makes an objection to permit parking sound almost frivolous. Having family and friends visit becomes a real production - even hardship- in the case of some of elderly relatives - when parking is restricted. A reform of Boston 's ridiculous permit system would be one worthwhile solution. Even Somerville has a better system.

More importantly, though, as the HSH survey noted, 27% of Highland Park residents don't own cars. Doing without the expense and hassle of a car is one of the biggest benefits of city living. Though we choose not to buy cars, they are sometimes a necessity in our car-centric culture and fortunately rentals and Zipcar are available. If Highland Park embraces permit parking , those of us who have chosen to live in an economical and environmentally beneficial way by eschewing the automobile as a "normal" part of life, will be penalized. Given the huge and very real threat of global warming, the American obesity epidemic,  and the almost daily and commonplace incidence of road rage, it's not the folks without cars who should take the hit.

Art is not a pretty picture

Fall in Boston is the time when Jane and Joe Office (or Jane and Jane Desk, or Joe and Joe Suit or Jane or Joe, alone - is everyone covered?) take to the neighborhoods to observe homo artifex in her natural habitat, a phenomenon known as Open Studios. You don't need to wait for Roxbury Open Studios to see some of the best these streets have to offer.

If only I'd had a camera in 2003, when the person who I assume is the same artist who created the above catchy visual comment, dotted the streets of Mission Hill with an image of the US flag in the shape of a sheep. Brilliant. Thank you, Anonymous. (Are you a woman)?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Overheard on Cedar Street

“you’ve got to be born in the ‘hood to be from the ‘hood”.

My thoughts? Miscegenation will save us. And no matter where you’re born, we all come from Lucy.

We, Nathan

They live in the park across from the Symphony Wholefoods supermarket, pitching a tarp and toughing it out. Last December, they said, was a tough month because of all the snow. The snow would melt and leak through the seams of the tarp and get the blankets wet. This past summer was wet, too, if warmer.

What do they need when they live on the streets? They like hats that cover their ears and protect them from the sun. Suncreen, too is helpful. Even at shelters where clothes are distributed, men's belts are hard to come by. Food isn’t as much of a problem. “We get food stamps and can eat well at Wholefoods,” says Nathan.

After a stint at the Pine Street Inn they moved back outside because Pine Street is just too dangerous – that whole area of town is too dangerous, says Nathan.

“Who else is with you, Nathan?”

“We’d rather not say,” he answers.

Roxbury Heritage at Dudley Square

At the Oscar-Parker community garden in Mission Hill, Joe the Dahlia Man gives away to the public after he's given away to family, friends, and other community gardeners.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center Arrives in Roxbury

Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center

The first thing I saw when I walked into the open house on August 30 at what I like to call The Mosque, though it is also a community center and will someday house a school, were the nuns from St. Margaret's all lined up like the girls in the Madeline books. The neighborhood was invited and maybe 30 -40 showed – Byron Rushing and Chuck Turner among them.

Our hosts were quite gracious and while we noshed on pastry, yogurt, oj and coffee (“what do they eat”, one of my family members asked – Food! And it was all from Stop and Shop), we heard the ISB’s story of the history of the building. The details of all the political intrigue landed like so many much wah, wah , wah , wah on my ears. I’d wrested myself from my garden, which is my church, out of curiosity about the building, its owners, and their religion. Though I do know a little about Policastro’s lawsuit against the Center, the BRA, and RCC what is more interesting is that ISB, in exchange for a reduced sale price, is required to sponsor and provide “a variety of educational and cultural programs and services to the local community in Roxbury.”

We were repeatedly told that the building will be open to the community and that we are welcome to join in prayers and other services – something that I’ll be taking them up on. Would I have to wear a head scarf and perform ablutions – as a Muslim would – if I did attend prayers? No on both counts – it’s a come-as-you-are-kind of place. Inclusive cultural events and comparative religion study groups were also suggested.

Ramadan began this month and we may be invited to the Eid celebration – well, we are technically invited to everything. And it helps that, at least rhetorically, the Center so far seems to be devoted to inclusion and not exclusivity.

The building itself isn’t bad. An original plan for stairs leading from the sidewalks to the building was canned once they realized that students heading from Roxbury Crossing T stop to Madison Park would take the short cut and use the stairs to cross through. On the amazing side, only once in the 2 years construction was delayed did the building get tagged. Impressive, given that a neighbor keeping track of tags in the neighborhood and has counyed 52 overall in a much shorter span of time.

The building provides only 58 parking spaces, another 58 to be built when the school is constructed. Sure hope they’re all riding their bikes and taking the T to services. We didn’t climb into the minaret this tour but hopefully will on another one.

There’s a jut-out on the northeast side of the building to make the direction of Mecca obvious – due East leads to Ireland, we were told.

In the mosque itself, men pray on the first floor, women above them on the mezzanine and there’s a separate and private room for women with small children and babies.

Entering the building for prayers, men and women repair to separate washrooms to remove their shoes and wash up. All genders purportedly being equal in the USA, men and women can enter through the same door. Or not, if they prefer, in the spirit of more traditional mosques which have separate entrances for each gender.

Salam alaykem.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

FREE Green Your Home and Life Workshops

FREE is good and green is too. Free and green are best. Check out these FREE workshops being offered by NEXUS,

“Boston's Full-Immersion Green Building Resource Center.

Green your home, green your life. Second Saturdays.

• 10 am Gain tools to green your home and life,
• 11 am Attend a class on greening your home,
• 12 pm Ask a green expert about greening your home, and
• 1 pm Tour our green office at NEXUS.

When Second Saturday of every month, 10 am–2 pm
Where NEXUS, 38 Chauncy St., 7th Floor, Boston, MA 02111
How RSVP at”

If you go, let me know what you thought.

NEXUS is a project of The Green Roundtable, Inc the folks who consulted green on the Project Hope Building in Dudley Square, featured on the front page of the Green Roundtable web site.
How good can it get? A green building in a neighborhood besieged by public health issues (crappy air quality and high rates of asthma among them) for an organization devoted to improving the lives of the poor and homeless in Boston.

Heads Up Roxbury Artists

Roxbury open studios are being planned here. Get involved now or visit during Roxbury Open Studios on October 4 and 5.

More Haitian Crafts

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

More than one percent of the U.S. population in the Big House.

From boingboing, more than one percent of the U.S. population is in prison.

What a terrible waste of human resources. What a terrible waste of humanity. What a boon for those in the business of incarceration. Who knew poverty could be so lucrative?

Unique Haitian Crafts

The following is an unpaid promotion for what looks like is a good cause.
One of a kind, handmade items imported from Haiti
are available at:

St. Margaret’s Convent
17 Highland Park Street
Roxbury MA 02119-1436
617-445-8961 x230

Call Sr. Claire Marie for information.
Proceeds from the sale are for the benefit of
Holy Trinity School , Port-au-Prince , Haiti

Friday, August 1, 2008

The more things change, the more people don’t.

Looking for new tenants. Ugh. It’s not much fun though I sometimes can delude myself into thinking it is. Think of all the new people you meet, the different lifestyles you’re exposed to. True in one way – even more so when looking for roommates- but these days the one lifestyle which keeps smacking me upside the head is rudeness.

So listen up all you craigslisters: you make an appointment, you keep it and if you can’t keep it, you call.

You’re probably the same person who’s on the phone while in the check-out line at the grocery store or at the coffee shop so I know you got a phone. And if you didn’t know it was rude to be on the phone while participating in a transaction with another human being, let me tell you something: it is!

But back to our appointment. I took time out of my day, adjusted my schedule to meet you. Sometimes I canceled or rearranged other plans. I’m happy – no, I look forward to meeting you so I don’t at all mind taking the time. But I do mind when the agreed upon time arrives and you haven’t. I’m not sure whether or not you’re just running late or if you’ve been hit by a bus. So use that cell phone.

You’re probably the same person who’s on the phone while sitting in the stall in the ladies room so I know you’ve got a phone. And if you didn’t know it was rude to be talking on a phone while sitting in a public restroom, it is!

I know things come up. Maybe you did get hit by a bus. Or maybe you had to stay late at work, or your kid got sick, or that really tempting girl finally asked you out. I’m sorry/thrilled for you. But use that dadblasted phone.

You couldn’t be the person dialing your cell while negotiating that corner in your car, could you? I have my doubts that you’re a decent driver with both hands on the wheel so you scare me when I see you gazing at your lap. If you didn’t realize that cell phone use impairs your driving ability , it does! So hang up and drive! And if you have the decency to call to let me know you’re not coming, pull over to dial.

In that past 2 weeks at least 6 people have scheduled to meet me and then not shown and not called. May the apartments they rent have callous, absentee landlords and lots of bedbugs.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Choose Chocolate. And the darker, the better.

Luscious (and pricey) chocolate shop L. A. Burdick in Harvard Square has been keeping a running tally since Father’s Day of who’s more popular: McCain or Obama. Is it any surprise that in the People’s Republic Obama has been the consistent leader? The only other place in greater Boston where he might do better is Roxbury – if people there voted.

The tally board was the brainchild of owner Larry and chief chocolatier Mike, according to shop girl Jamie, who posts the numbers when they change significantly. There was a surge in the Obama assortments popularity when he toured Europe thanks to a boost in online sales. Online sales account for most of the numbers on the board since online demand for the assortments is bigger than that locally.

And according to Jamie, McCain wouldn’t post such robust numbers in Cambridge.

“Stupid McCain,” chimed in a local chocolate shopper.

For weeks I’d been thinking the McCain numbers weren’t that outrageous. After all, Republican Governor Bill Weld lived just a few blocks down Brattle during his tenure. The ‘stupid McCain’ comment made me see just how moderate I can be. All chocolate is good chocolate - at Burdick anyway.

Politics aside, which assortment is more authentic, daring, and progressive? I mean, dark, spicy, and alluring... Except for the Peanut Butter in his goodie box, I prefer the McCain assortment: Arizona Citrus and Hot Pepper Tequila make my mouth water more than Kansas Corn Crunch or Kenyan coffee – though I can’t say I’d pass over those either. Though my preference may be for the chocolates in the McCain box, I couldn’t actually purchase it.

That, Jamie says, is a dilemma for many in-store customers who like the McCain assortment. “I can’t really buy it,” they say.

Let’s hope it’s that way in November.

Online popularity counts for the two assortments can be found here.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Overheard in Dudley Square while Running into the Bank

"...don't have a motherfuckin' CORI like you, nigga. You got homicide. I don't have anything that bad".

Not a conversation one typically hears, or overhears. At least I don't and most of the people I know don't. But there must be circles where that's a big topic of conversation: who's got a worse charge. Prison would be one of those places. I don't listen to it but I'd guess that rap music would have a lot of I've got a badder, better CORI type posturing - and if it doesn't, I'm disappointed.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Bay State Bike Week

When you'd rather not do something meaningful, like , oh, I dunno, build bike lanes, institute a gas tax, or properly train 'professional' drivers, why not substitute a cute one week event once a year?

And call it Bay State Bike Week. Ok, I am being snarky. It is better than nothing at all. Gotta love the free breakfasts.

Highland Park/Fort Hill Community Meetings

Monday, January 28, 2008

Commuting by Bike in Boston and Staying Alive

So we've established that you're invisible. One solution, and a good rule of the road, is to make yourself large. No, no skippy boy, I don't mean that way. Put those donuts down. The beer, too. Put it down.

Take up some space

Friday, January 18, 2008

Have you heard the one about...?

A man walks into a neighborhood. He wants to build some condos. The neighborhood says no so he goes to the City. The City says no. He goes to the State and the State says sure, go ahead, build your condos.

So the man builds his condos, oh, just around the time the housing bubble is on the verge of popping. He's only able to sell 4 or 5 of the units. To avoid losing his shirt, he converts the parking garages and basements into bedrooms and opens a Sober Home. Vulnerable recovering drug addicts and alcoholics are crammed into two and three bedroom condos without any support services. Units intended for 4-6 people squeeze in 4-6 people per bedroom, garage space, and basement, each person paying up to $120.00 a week. With garages converted to bedrooms, there’s no room for parking and small neighborhood streets become choked with cars.
Within a year at least three people in these Safe Haven Sober Homes are dead of overdoses.

Still waiting for the punch-line? So are we.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Parking permitted

A petition is circulating Fort Hill to institute Resident Parking Permits in the neighborhood.

How can an objection be phrased delicately? The city is no place for cars. As global warming and the obesity epidemic increase, it may be the planet is no place for cars.

That said, there is nothing like driving in a convertible, top down, on an American road at twilight in the Autumn. Red, orange, and pink smears trail the setting sun. The air glows with a nearly supernatural golden light, the breeze unfurls dulcet. It’s not the same experience on a bicycle – you’re too engaged in the activity and it’s not the same sitting on your front porch. Gliding through that golden air, the sky wide open above you in an automobile can be a taste of heaven.

There’s also nothing like a car when you’ve got a 10 pound bag of potatoes or free, seven foot tall bookcase from Craigslist to schlep home. Even better to schlep home that bookcase is a pick-up truck, my latest vehicular love. The last car I owned was a truck and I can’t wait to do it again. But home ownership beckoned and it was either home or vehicle, both were not an option. Home won.

Though there’ll be housing market downturns, housing, especially in Boston, is a good long-term investment. A vehicle begins depreciating the moment you drive it off the lot. Everyone needs a place to live.

Parking in many areas of Boston, even with a resident parking permit, isn’t easy. On Symphony Road, near Symphony Hall, it often meant circling the block several times or, more often, parking several blocks from the house. After unloading the potatoes, of course. Dinner parties were infrequent as were family gatherings because how do you invite your elderly aunt to your house and then tell her the only place she can park is in the garage 2 blocks away for $25.00?

Not currently owning a car, I rent or Zipcar. Generous friends lend me their cars when they’re out of town. I commute self-propelled, walking or biking, or riding the T when the snow’s too high or the rain’s too thick. After years on Symphony Road and in Mission Hill and JP, I appreciate how difficult finding a parking spot in dense urban areas can be. It’s currently really difficult on Juniper Street for a variety of reasons, not to be addressed here. Depending on the time of day and who’s got what guests, parking in front of my house is only sometimes an option. Walking around the corner if that’s the closest place I can park is ok. I can still park. If the street becomes resident permit only, where will I park my Zipcar or my rental? Where will my dinner guests from the ‘burbs and my elderly aunt park?

The push for Resident Parking Permits in Fort Hill stems, in part, from the congestion created by Roxbury Community College students who park on Elmwood, Gardner, Roxbury and Centre Streets rather than in the RCC lot. Most of that lot remains empty while students park to avoid a longer walk to classrooms. (Has anyone mentioned the obesity epidemic?) Has RCC been pressed to take measures to enforce student parking in the lot? That is one place to begin to address parking issues in this neighborhood.

Beyond that, Resident Permit Parking isn’t a bad idea but the Boston system is so antisocial. Residents get permits, their visitors vie for the impossible to find two hour Visitor Parking spots. Somerville residents are at least allowed 2 visitor passes from City Hall so guests can park anywhere on the street. Two passes makes for a small dinner party but it’s better than eating alone while your guests circle the neighborhood.

(Added 27 Jan 10: I stand corrected. A big part of the parking problem is commuters driving in to the neighborhood, parking, and walking the short distance to the Roxbury Crossing T stop. Still not sure about a solution. Permit parking only from 9 - 5? That doesn't curb the RCC overflow which I still maintain is part of the problem, though maybe more so at night. Two years have passed with no resolution. It can't be that bad or residents would be howling.)

Monday, January 14, 2008

How to commute by bike in Boston without getting creamed. (By someone who’s been doing it for 25 years and has only been creamed twice. Knock wood).

First rule: you are invisible. Be proactive.

They do not see you. Do not assume that they see you. Even before the days of personal portable technology, they didn’t see you. They may pass you 3 or 4 or 10 times but still they do not see you. It used to be they’d be watching for a parking space or reading a map or applying makeup and eating or just eager to get to that appointment on time. Now they’re looking at the Garmin and texting and dialing and eating. Their eyes are rarely on the road, why would they notice you on a bike? Given that you are invisible, act accordingly.

That Corolla, which you’ve passed 4 times, and is about to take a right turn at that corner a few feet ahead of you? Doesn’t see you so don’t assume that he’s going give way and let you pass him on his right. If he’s got his blinker on (a miracle in itself in this town) to take a right turn, go around and pass him on his left. Sometimes, if he’s in a real hurry, even if he does see you, he’ll hook you – cut you off to take the right hand turn. Better to get in the lane behind him if there’s a chance he’ll be making a turn.

For the above example, I’m thinking Mass. Ave. bridge heading from Boston to Cambridge and the intersection of Mass. Ave. and Mem. Drive. – or any of the other right-hand turn-offs of Mass. Ave.

That Taurus - creeping along Mass. Ave., slowing and speeding up, with her blinker on, weaving left and then right? She may be drunk, but more probably, she’s looking for an address or landmark. If she were texting or talking on her phone, she wouldn't have bothered with the directional. Either stay directly behind her or, when it’s safe to do so, get directly in front of her, so she can't help but see you.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Get Lost!

Franklin Park, while a wonderful relief from the urban environment that surrounds it, can scarcely be characterized a 'wilderness'. One is always within earshot of a road so getting seriously lost would take some effort.
According to the history page of the Franklin Park Coalition’s website: “Olmsted wanted Franklin Park to soothe city residents who were stressed by modern life.”
We come to the park to rest and revive, to breathe and to escape the stress and sensory overload of the city. A big part of that overload is the signs, signs we tune out the same way a teenager tunes out her scolding parents.The rest of the city is increasingly (if you can believe it’s possible to have more signs!) marred by signs - many, but not all of them useful. I'm not a fan of those advertising behemoths in public spaces. Yes, yes, the revenue is useful but keep them out of Dudley, please.
Public space needs to remain public space and that means not leasing it permanently to private concerns. Though signs in Franklin Park would serve a different purpose – one of direction – maybe we also come to the Park to get lost a little – in our thoughts, in the moment, in our connectedness to Nature. Even “useful” or directional signs could prove a distraction from that path to relaxation, a path more easily trod without the distraction of signs. Meandering through the Park won’t get us anywhere fast or faster but didn’t we come to slow down a bit?
Though they might be somewhat useful, leave the signs where they belong - in the streets with the traffic lights and the asphalt and the honking horns. Save the Park for all that other less useful stuff: sunlight streaking through tree limbs, the crunch of leaves or crisp, new snow underfoot and vistas uncorrupted by someone telling us where to go.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

This is my neighborhood

Roxbury, Massachusetts gets a lot of bad press. As a matter of fact, the only press it gets is bad. But there is more to this predominantly African-American neighborhood of Boston than the gun-slinging youth gangs portrayed in local mainstream media. Here is a different view of one part of the neighborhood, a neighborhood which the people who live there consider an oasis of tranquility (yes, tranquility!) right in the heart of Boston.

(The slideshow that should be here is being recalcitrant. Stay tuned.)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Remembering the fallen: NOT soldiers, children.

One memorial had barely disappeared and another was raised. A cross made of sticks tied with some strapping is all that’s left of a memorial to a young man shot nearby the KittredgePark. When asked how long ago the murder occurred, a neighbor sitting in the park replied that it had been about two years. When told that two years seemed like a long time for an outdoor memorial to last, the neighbor said, “we love our children”. And that's all they are really - children. Children with guns.

This is the newest shrine, on Bartlett Street, wrapped in plastic to survive the winter elements. Alongside the "why" plea are gang tags.

Rest in peace, David Jones, 1990-2007. Though even those who never met you wish it could be the case, you obviously will not be the last.


Community Again

One view of community implies togetherness, shared values, and common goals. Attend a community meeting and these attributes can be evident depending on subject.

A session on the development of Bartlett Yard, an 8.5 acre parcel, formerly the garage and service site for MBTA buses, brought out another dimension of community: self-interest.

There is the local, minority contractor who calls for no mandate of union labor in construction bids so he can grow his business. There are the underemployed who want permanent jobs. Local realtors yearn for fresh sources of capital to create mixed use development and enhance real estate prices. Finally, the fabric of the neighborhood people who have lived in here forever – 20, 30, 50 years - and the people who have just arrived, all seeking, in individual ways to make the neighborhood a better place.

Monday, January 7, 2008

This is who we are: the wide shot.

According to, these are the people who live in Roxbury:

"1. Foreign-born Urbanites - Foreign-born individuals who live in city.
2. Immigrant Blues - Low-income, foreign-language-speaking urbanites.
3. College Life - Students in higher education. These individuals are enrolled in college or graduate school."

And this is why they’re unique:

"• They tend to have high rent compared to income.
• There's a larger concentration of wealthy retirees.
• They walk to work."

A similar search on the site for Jamaica Plain, an adjacent neighborhood yielded these results for type and uniqueness:

"1. Non-native Newbies - Foreign-born individuals who just moved to U.S.
2. Power Singles - High-income urban singles.
3. Immigrant Blues - Low-income, foreign-language-speaking urbanites."

Boston residents are unique because:

"• A larger number have earned bachelor's degrees.
• They get to work by bus.
• They tend to have high rent compared to income."

Zillow curiously listed JP as Boston when it, like Roxbury, is a neighborhood of Boston.

The College Life category can undoubtedly be attributed to the student population of the Mission Hill section of Roxbury. There aren’t many college kids in Fort Hill although that seems to be shifting slightly. And unfortunately. This is a neighborhood in transition and neighborhood transition in Boston tends towards transitioning the working people who have lived in the neighborhood elsewhere as developments and rents go up. Gentrification is the cleaner word for it.
Back to zillow: Why Immigrant Blues? Isn’t it an adventurous and even joyful, if difficult, thing to be an immigrant because you’re escaping whatever it is you’ve fled and you’ve got a whole new life in front of you? And if that characterization is slightly too Pollyanna-ish, Immigrant Blues has unclear negative connotations but it’s a good guess that the blues is related to being low-income. Or maybe zillow subscribes to the idea that poor and happy couldn't possibly go together.
No one who lives here can dispute that Boston residents are unique because of their high rent to income ratio but do we get carbon credits for all that walking and riding the bus to work?

Zillow derived their categories this way:
For who lives here
"About These Groups
The information in this section was derived from analysis of data (such as age, occupation, and income) from the 2000 U.S. Census. Using segmentation methods, our analysts created groupings based on the demographic and socioeconomic composition of each city and neighborhood."
And for what distinguishes them from surrounding areas:
"Based on census data, a larger number of this area's residents have these characteristics when compared to the people in surrounding areas. In other words, the characteristics listed in this section are what make the people who live here unique."

A great site for perusing real estate listings anywhere in the country (if anyone has the fortitude to do that these days) , zillow offers a slightly antiseptic view of Roxbury but that, too, has its merit.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

How to Build Community, One Shovel at a Time

Urban dwellers habiting northern climes are familiar with the phenomenon of snow piles that are built between cars as the cars are dug out during or after a storm. In really congested areas where on street parking is some of the most valuable real estate, the cumulative effect of these piles is the disappearance of several parking spaces, depending on the size of the piles and how long they take to melt. The erosion of spaces contributes to that petty and anti-social practice of
parking piggery.

The dense mountains of snow remain days and days after the streets themselves have cleared. So how surprising is it to find neighbors digging not a space but the abutting pile of filthy, space hogging ice? Pretty surprising, yet it did happen. I was stunned to watch a mother/son neighbor team hack away at a big pile of snow that could become a space for a small car, if removed. They already had parking spaces. Digging out that particular pile of snow would serve them no immediate personal benefit (cardiovascular improvements aside) but it was of benefit to the entire car-parking street. More space was cleared which meant more people could park. And once they cleared the space did they install a chair or cone or trash barrel as a marker of ownership? No! They left the space free for anyone on the street to use! Did I ever love those two at that moment. And now.

Could it be they learned their lesson of community caring and social responsibility in Cambridge, where they used to live? Maybe. Maybe they’re just decent people who had a little time to kill on a snowy weekend morning.
How do I bottle that and distribute it to all the other shit-for-brains in this town who believe cause they've dug a space, they own it?

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Roxbury's safe, isn't it?

Clara decided she needed a roommate, or as her London friends called it a lodger to help defray expenses. It's a big ol' house with lots of room and the repairs it needs won't come cheap. She advertised on craigslist and her first, and only, respondent was a gentle man who meditates and teaches and heals. Good energy things, the type of energy this big ol' house needs, she thought.
They chatted on the telephone, a conversation as much about this is who I am, who are you as how much the rent would be and whether or not utilities would be included.
And finally, it arrived, the Big Question.
"I'm familiar with that area from work I've done and driving through," he said. "Is it safe?"
Is Beirut safe, she thought. But she said, "I'm a middle aged woman who lives alone. I don't own a car so I'm walking to and from the T at all times of the day and night and I feel safe."
He again questioned the safety of the neighborhood.
He believes everything he reads in the newspaper, she thought. Poor man. "It is Roxbury," she said. "I feel safe but I'm not other people. And it is Roxbury.
Statistically, and sadly, she has a better chance of being killed by a husband or lover, if she had one at the moment. Statistically, and sadly, a big part of the reason she feels safe is because she is not an African-American male between the ages of 15 and 34.
But as far as she's concerned, Roxbury is safe. It's those damn automobiles that'll kill ya.