Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Do Right, Dudley!

Any day now (maybe any second) the Mayor should be making an announcement, as promised, about the development of the Ferdinand's building in Dudley Square.

The geographical and historical heart of the city, Dudley has languished in recent decades as the result of bank organized discrimination and neglect. The development of Ferdinand's is only one of several new projects crucial to the resurgence of Dudley as, not just a place to live and work in or near, as but a place to deliberately visit. What?! Visit Dudley, the outsiders gasp! Yup.

A rich national historical legacy is already here. We need the shops, restaurants, and more of the supper clubs and arts events that are also a part of the most alluring, vibrant destinations.

Yet, because we have gone for so long without services and amenities nearby, many local people are willing to settle for less. Why, they ask, can't we have a "insert bloated vapid corporate chain here"? Why, I respond, would you want that? Give me Union Square or Rozzie village, with their small, independently-owned, exceptional businesses not a stale, indistinguishable Copley Place or Galleria Mall.

How do we build Dudley and keep it unique and kinda gritty/cool but also make it cutting-edge and an exemplar of urban development? Two quick suggestions with more to follow later.

Take a hike. Remove the emphasis from cars as the primary means of getting around. As the center of a major transportation hub, Dudley is soo easily accessible by bus, easily walkable from the South End, Mission Hill, the Fenway and Jamaica Plain and very easily bikeable from further afield you don't need a car to get to it. There is a name for those places where you can drive your car to each errand and park it by the door: the suburbs. Dudley is not the suburbs. Besides, walking, biking and taking the bus is better for us and better for the environment.

Cut the chains. Develop and nurture small locally owned businesses. The big chains put their money where their corporate offices are. A locally owned business keeps money in the community, in part, because its corporate office is in the community. Maybe DSNI could help? Chain stores do not give back to the local economy the way local business does but even worse - they're deadly boring.

Easy to write, hard to do? Dudley has endured the hardest parts already. Transforming the area back into a vital, sustainable economic and cultural center is worth thoughtful, careful deliberation. Let's do it right, Dudley.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Boston Got Punchdrunk First

Now Punchdrunk is taking Sleep No More to NYC in March 2011. If you didn't get to experience it at the old Lincoln School in Brookline last fall, here's another chance. If you did get to experience it at the old Lincoln School in Brookline last fall, it'll be interesting to see how, new venue aside, it may be different.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Riding on the Radio

Someone from the Radio Boston team nabbed me on my commute late this morning to get my opinion on, um, I forget what the exact question was but it had to do the information generated by the Boston Cyclists Union Interactive Crash Map and how many of those crashes happened on Comm. Ave. I was so freaked about being late for a meeting at work that I blew my opportunity to articulate what really bothers me most about riding my bike in this town.

And that would be cell phones. Drivers (and cyclists) on cell phones - not just texting but talking on a cell phone while driving - really disturbs me, with just cause. Aggressive driving is also super annoying. As are pedestrians who ignore cyclists.  Incivility, really, is what bothers me with drivers, with cyclists, with pedestrians.  With people.

I didn't get to listen to the live stream but they just posted the podcast. That's me, "a young (ha!) woman named Michelle", with a partial rant at about 44:55 into the program.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

BPL's Historic Roxbury Flickr Photostream

The library has a  Flickr stream with wonderful old photos of Roxbury during the period 1860-1935.

Some of the better known are of still (barely) extant buildings, the Kittredge House

and soon to be HBI headquarters, Torrent Six on Eustis Street.

Here's furniture store Ferdinand's in an early iteration:

Lithographer Louis Prang's House on Centre Street with Mr. Prang himself in the front yard

The Old Guild Home on what was the corner of Bartlett and Washington

There are dozens of others. Dot and JP have their Boston Pictorial Archive Flickr streams too.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How to Ride a Bike in Boston

One of the best things about the college populations coming back into town (and 60 degree temperatures in November) is that there are more bikes on the road. And one of the worst things about college populations coming back into town (and 60 degree weather in November) is that there are more bikes on the road. And on the sidewalk. And plowing through crowded pedestrian crosswalks. And coming at me the wrong way down the street. And they do these things as if they were, as my racing buddy Eric Marro would say, "the Saxo Bank duo of Andy & Frank Schleck drilling it on an Alpine slope trying to drop Alberto "tainted meat" Contador". In other words, they do it as aggressively as they possibly can.

Many riders don't have the bike handling skills of professional riders like the Schleks and Contador and, worse, don't follow the basic rules of the road. I used to believe that more bikes on the road implied increased safety for all cyclists but my fears of being doored have been equaled by fears of my biking brethren. If there's one thing almost as annoying as the oblivious Mr. Magoo drivers in this city, it's the oblivious Mr Magoo cyclists. (And oblivious Mr. Magoo pedestrians, too, but that's a different post.) Though cyclists have enjoyed a relatively free, if dangerous, ride lo these many years (invisibility has its benefits - until the door hits you or the car hooks you), with acknowledgment as a "real" form of transportation, comes responsibility.

We've had a taste of what may become the norm in January 2010 when police will be enforcing road rules by stopping and citing cyclists who break the law.* In the interest of positive bike PR and self-preservation, on the physical as well as financial plane, here's a quick refresher, or primer, depending on where you're at, on the basics of how to ride your bike on city streets.

Follow the rules of the road. In general, keep to the right. Green means go. Red means stop. Yellow means "the traffic signal is changing from green to red. You must stop if it is safe." Be as predictable as possible.

A stop sign is a stop sign. A one-way street means all traffic moves down it in one direction only and that means you, too. If for some reason you must travel the wrong way down the one-way street, do so with deference to the people who have the right of way on their side.

Stay off the #@%*!# sidewalk. Legally, bikes are allowed to ride on the sidewalk outside of business districts unless there is a local ban. If you must, for reasons of safety, ride on the sidewalk, do so slowly and with deference to pedestrians - especially old people and children.

Pedestrians uber alles. That's another way of saying pedestrians have the right of way. Especially on sidewalks and in crosswalks.

Don't pass a vehicle on the right when it has its right-hand directional blinking. Legally, you have the right to do so. Common sense says something different. If I see someone with a right-hand signal flashing, I'll get behind that vehicle and pass it on its left as it turns. I'm not going to wrestle with a ton of composite and steel.

Remember that to many drivers you are either invisible or annoying. Ride defensively and courteously.

Make yourself large. No, put down that donut. And the beer, too. I didn't mean get large that way. Take up some space. Nothing obnoxious but something that says "we're here. stay clear. get used to it". You have the right to be in the road and when you squish yourself up against those parked cars or jersey barriers (BU bridge riders take note) on the right-hand side of the road, you're encouraging drivers to try to pass you when it may not be safe to do so.

Take advantage of signs that read "Bicycles may use full lane" by using the full lane. If doing so somehow makes you feel unsportsmanlike, you can always make it up with a blood sacrifice to the car gods by riding the length of Huntington Ave. or Mass. Ave. on the Boston side of the river. Neither of those avenues has "bicycles may use full lane" signs and both should as they are utterly grim places for cyclists.

When you do take up space, you are not necessarily holding up traffic. The fact is that vehicles are the traffic - it's their sheer volume which gluts roads so a bike taking up a little extra space when it is in the interest of safety to do so, isn't holding anybody up for any real length of time. If you have a hard time taking up space because you fear you're "getting in the way", think of it as cashing in your carbon credits. You're earning them every time you mount your bike and inhale fine particulates and all that other crap from the exhaust that vehicles emit.

Use your voice if you don't want to get a bell or a horn. That little old lady on the bike path has no idea you're about to bolt past her. Shout out "passing on your left". Sometimes, "look out!" is necessary. Do the same for other cyclists and runners - and #%^@!* 'em if they can't hear you cause they've got their blasted earbuds in. At least you made the effort.

Use hand signals when you can - before the turn is safest. Just pointing works well.

Oh, yeah - have fun, if possible.

*"Recent law changes have established a new curriculum for municipal police training programs in bicycle safety and traffic enforcement. As more police are trained, we expect to see more effective and widespread enforcement of laws relating to bicycle safety. Beginning January 1, 2011, a police officer who sees a traffic violation committed by a bicyclist can use the same citation procedure used for motorists. The violation will not affect the bicyclist’s driving record, but he/she may get a fine. A bicyclist who is stopped must provide his/her true name and address, if requested, and can be fined for failing to do so or for providing a false name and address. Refusing to do so can also result in an arrest without a warrant. Companies that rent bicycles must make safety-conforming helmets available to renters. The amended laws change some rules bicyclists were previously required to follow. More significantly, motorists must change certain behaviors in relation to bicyclists or be cited for a motor vehicle violation. This will encourage motorists to be more careful around bicyclists. For a bulleted list of laws relevant to bicyclists and laws relevant to motorists in the presence of bicyclists, please see page 102." (RMV Driver's Manual, page 76).

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Friday, October 1, 2010

Before the Deluge: Tapping into the Water Cycle

Elizabeth Theriault, who takes care of plants for Acorn Plantscapes, fashioned her own camel back this morning for her trip to work in anticipation of tropical storm Nicole.

She said, "I am hoping to bring a little of outside nature from the outside to the inside. I'm hoping to catch some water from the storm and bring plants inside a little drink and not get completely soaked".

Met on the BU bridge, she loves that she can ride her bike as part of work everyday, cycling to offices throughout the city, instead of having to wait until the end of the day to get on it. And she usually uses indoor taps as her water source.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ferdinand's in Dudley Square

Engaged citizens of Roxbury testified Monday night about the development of Ferdinand's Complex in Dudley Square at a public hearing called by Councilor Chuck Turner.

First, Kairos Shen, Director of Planning for the BRA, gave a brief presentation. It is the Mayor's goal, he said, in this term in office to tackle some of the most challenging projects left undone. The Mayor has tasked the BRA with coming up with a plan for Ferdinand's by the end of 2010.

The City had been looking at the project as something it would develop alone as a capital investment project, Shen said. The City and BRA would like to build something that is the best possible solution for the area and, due to the state of the economy has had to scale back earlier, larger plans to a smaller project of 80,000-125,000 square feet, he said. Even this smallest project would cost an estimated $110 million, which is what the City usually spends in an entire year on capital investment projects, he said. The BRA is currently engaged in exploring a palette of other options including partnering with developers or having developers lead the project.

Then, engaged Roxbury had its say and here are a few excerpts.

Donovan Walker, "a person who has been trying to develop Dudley and Roxbury for the last six years" said the site needs a mixed use 20 story hi-rise, with expensive condos on the upper levels, offices in the middle, and retail and restaurants on the ground. To develop the building into offices which close at 5 p.m. would be a big mistake, he said.

Karl Nurse, Chairman of the Massachusetts Black Business Alliance, used the development of Faneuil Hall as an analogy for developing Dudley. The "(Roxbury) community has always been investing and it can move in that direction," he said regarding the generation of capital for the project.

Kelley Chunn who runs a marketing business out of Hibernian Hall said that where there is a will there is a way and developing Ferdinand's is simply a matter of political will. She said it's "only fair that the wheel turn around and we get our moment", and that positive change be aggressively fostered in Dudley Square, as it has been in other parts of the city.

Fred Fairfield, who developed the old Roxbury Boy's Club, told of how as a child he would walk with his mother each week to Ferdinand's to make a layaway payment on the furniture she bought there. At 70 years of age, he hopes to be able to show a vibrant new Ferdinand's to his 6-year-old granddaughter before she becomes a grandmother.

Joyce Stanley, of Dudley Square Main Streets described herself as a preservationist and would consider it a loss to the city if the Ferdinand's building is lost. "We have the world in Dudley," she said, referring to the rich cultural diversity in the area, and the Ferdinand's development is an opportunity for the city to celebrate new immigrants as well as all the people who live and work in the city.

Barry Gaither of Williams Street called for a re-imagining of Ferdinand's that is creative and provocative. The development, he said, should be a dramatic, interesting and visually compelling building which creates some excitement in the Square.

Sarah Ann Shaw said she was having deja vu all over again. "We come to meetings, we are promised over and over again and nothing happens. If you say you'll do something, keep your word. Too many promises have been broken".

Jamarhl Crawford called on the BRA and the city councilors present (Linehan, Turner, Arroyo) to use their influence to get the police to push the drugs and prostitution out of Dudley so the district is attractive to new business.

Nadine Nelson, Dudley resident and small business owner said if you look at a map of Boston, Roxbury looks like a heart and it is the heart of the hub and the way that Dudley has been neglected is a "metaphor for the treatment of people of color". People don't want to come here, she said, and she can't understand how the South End and JP, both "sketchy" places at one time, have improved while Dudley "can't change". "I do feel safe here because there's no one here," she said. "I want to be able to spend my money here".

Councilor Chuck Turner said that rather than look to white developers to finance the project, black business leaders need to step forward with capital.

Councilor Felix Arroyo said that it's important that the project be finished so it can help to reconcile "the public perception of Dudley and the reality of Dudley, two different things".

The whole shebang was videotaped and information on viewing it may be found here.

Ferdinand's, established in 1869, was once "the oldest and largest furniture store in New England", according to its facade, and Dudley Square had a history as a bustling, vibrant cultural and economic center.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Storrow Drive As It Should Be...

Without cars, thanks to Hub on Wheels.

It began with great weather yesterday morning. Riding along the Neponset Riverway and the Harbor became windy and a little chilly. It's really fun riding on Storrow Drive and without have to suck in vehicle exhaust along the way. Two of the best days in Boston are Fourth of July and Hub on Wheels Day for that very reason.

Riders line up on State Street.
Riders gather at City Hall Plaza.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mission Church Grammar School Rehabbed for Harvard

Double shifts of workers are sandblasting the interior brick walls of the 122-year-old Mission Church Grammar School on Smith Street. According to a worker on site, who requested anonymity, rehab of the building is scheduled to be completed by February when the Harvard School of Public Health Operations Department will lease part of it.

The building has been vacant for about six or seven years, according to 84-year-old John Clifford, a lifelong Mission Hill resident, who attended the grammar school from 1931-1939.

According to Clifford, prior to the recent vacancy the school was home to a city of Boston grammar school for six or seven years and prior to that, was a temporary home to the Boston Latin School while it was being renovated.

The Grammar School is sandwiched between St. Alphonsius Hall, a former recreation center and auditorium, and what was at one time a convent, lodging 44 nuns for the school. Neither of those buildings is at this time being rehabbed.

Clifford remembers being part of a class of 56 children in the grammar school which enrolled up to 2000 students in its heyday.

"There were seven rows of eight sections," he said, "with boys on one side and girls on the other. I didn't mind. It was satisfaction. We got homework every night."

For Clifford and his classmates, school started each day with Mass at 7:30. They'd walk home at 8 for breakfast and come back to school from 9 -noon. At noon they walked home for lunch and then school continued from 1 -3 p.m. After school, they'd change clothes and go "up the hill" to the park to play football or kick the bar, a game involving kicking, not a bar, but a bicycle tire.

Asked if he'd miss the school and the history it represented Clifford said, "People who went to school there and graduated from there are the history, not the goddamned building, not the bricks and mortar, to my way of thinking."

Monday, September 20, 2010

One Opinion of Harvard in Allston

So I'm riding down Western Ave. in Allston on Saturday, which I don't often do, past the old WGBH studios and the site of the Harvard mega project that isn't and I notice that they've erected some really nice fencing and landscaping around the huge site.

And I'm thinking, "well, that's a good thing - they're at least taking care of the property". And I'm thinking, "ya know, just goes to show why I'm not in finance 'cause I understand that they lost 30 percent of their endowment but $28 billion, (billion!) still seems like an awful lot of money to me. Sheesh. What do I know."

And then I saw this opinion.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Wanted: Visionary Artist Homebuyer with Cash

Must be willing to live on the edge (in Roxbury) and eschew market forces. Desire to inhabit an innovative "delightful" new dwelling, the construction of which rankles the BRA, realtors, and banks, essential. To apply send a notice of interest to these people. But do it fast or the opportunity to be part of a truly cutting edge, sustainable housing development will be lost.

Highland Park based design/build company, Placetailor is committed to the ultimate sustainable development: small and very, very energy efficient.

The problem is that "market forces don't want you to build small and smart," said Simon Hare, Placetailor contractor. "They want you to build bigger and dumber".

In constructing a three-unit dwelling on the corner of Highland and Linwood Streets, Placetailor "naively thought we could raise the bar and pull things in the other direction but at this point we are overwhelmed by the market," Hare said.

Hare and his colleagues want to build to the most stringent existing energy efficiency guidelines, Passive House.

The architectural plan has gone through several iterations. It currently consists of one one-bedroom unit of 550 square feet inspired by the 100 year old Japanese silk maker's house in the Children's Museum, one two-bedroom unit of 880 square feet and one three-bedroom of 1200 square feet which, as the most traditional unit, is considered by Placetailor to be the Grand Dame of the project.

Because the units are smaller than what is typically built in this country, (current trends aside) banks are hesitant to make loans on the units, which cost more per square foot than ordinary construction. Likewise, realtors don't want to sell units that don't fit the "bigger and dumber" housing model they believe all Americans want. And the BRA, Hare said, "doesn't want to upset the neighborhood which is conservative but the least of our worries".

"The right thing to do for a sustainable project is efficiency, efficiency, efficiency," said Hare. But Placetailor is also "trying to make the units delightful, inspiring places to live in and grown old in," he said.

Shortly after purchasing the weed choked lot back in April, Placetailor began making it a better place by erecting a white picket fence, and planting flowers and shrubs. They later added a community bulletin board to the property to provide enhanced community communication.

This past weekend, Placetailor took a break from the project to determine how they will move forward with construction - as small and smart as they originally envisioned or something closer to the bigger and dumber model that the market seems to think is a good idea.

Without visionary, solvent buyers the market may win.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Eid Al-Fitr in Roxbury

Was awakened this morning by the sound of prayers being sung. Five blocks away about 3000-5000 people had assembled in Madison Park High Football field to celebrate the end of Ramadan.

It was a veritable salmagundi of nationalities and languages.
Happy Ramadan. Happy Rosh Hashanah.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Behind the Headline: "A Great Kid and Exceptional Human Being"

We become inured to the headlines: Roxbury man shot and killed. Man killed in Roxbury. Murder at a Roxbury park. Behind the headline is someone's son, someone's friend, someone's neighbor.

So it is with Kenneth Rackley. Dan Cruz, Vice President of the Highland Park based business Cruz Companies, is also a Highland Park resident and a self-professed "admirer" of Kenneth Rackley.

He writes:
"One of our residents, Kenny Rackley who lived in the Cox Building in John Eliot Square, was killed at Washington Park on Sunday. I have known Kenny for over 15 years and know him to be a "great" kid and an "exceptional" human being, who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The family does not have insurance nor the funds to pay for his funeral services. We will be giving the family a check today, but more money is needed. If you know of any folks who may want to contribute, I'd appreciate your passing this information on to them.

The Kenneth Rackley Memorial Fund has been established at Citizen's Bank in Dudley Square. You can contact either Ronia Stewart at Citizen's (617) 445-2330, or Faye Rackley (Kenny's Grandmother), (617) 571-4086 for more information".

Cruz Companies offices are on the ground floor of the Cox Building so people working for the company watched Kenny grow. Receptionist Laurie Snow said it broke her heart when she got the news he'd been shot. She'd known him since he was a baby and he was "an exceptional human being". "Ask him to do anything and he'd do it without question," she said. "And he had a smile to break your heart. If you were feeling down, he'd smile at you and you'd feel much better."

"He would just go out of his way to help the young girls in the neighborhood, see that they got home safe," she said.

Burial services for Kenneth Rackley will be held on Wednesday, August 4 at the United Baptist Church, 322 Centre Street, JP. The viewing is from 10 a.m. until noon with the funeral directly following.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

In Cambridge, A Different Kind of Weed For Sale

Spotted for sale at the Harvard Square/Charles Hotel farmer's market on Fridays and Sundays: purslane. That's right, purslane for four bucks a pound. Could this be another twist on the old story line of country rubes being taken in by erudite urbanites? In this version, clever farmers milk their lettered city customers eager to pay top dollar for locally grown, organic produce.

Purslane: one of the most common of weeds (which is what we call all plants for which we don't know the name and have lost track of the use), it flourishes everywhere here in the city. It flourishes everywhere. Gardeners pull it from their cultivated gardens as often as they weed. It pullulates in the cracks and crevices of streets from Dudley to Brattle and anywhere else there's a bit of soil.

Crunchy and high in omega-3 fatty acids, purslane is not only abundant, it is delicious and nutritious. It's also free. While foraging from places where there's lots of vehicular traffic is not a good idea, if the soil in your yard is relatively heavy metal free, give it a taste, at the very least. Thoreau, while at Walden, enjoyed his boiled and salted while others like it raw in salads.

Ultimately, as long as they have buyers, no one can begrudge farmers one penny of what they earn or charge for the fruits of their labors - even if that fruit is just a common plant readily available for the pickin'.

Friday, July 30, 2010

How (Not) to Get to the MFA

Let's start at the sign. This lonely little sign, at the corner of Park Drive and Brookline Ave., across from the Sears Center. This sign in the middle of nowhere, with no other signs pointing to it or away from it.

Turn right, it says, turn right here onto Park Drive to get to the MFA. After turning right, there's a sign for the Longwood area and the hospitals, a sign for the Gardner Museum, even a little sign for Fenway but no sign to the MFA. And there are three possible route options: 1. make a hairpin turn left back onto Park Drive (or is that the end of the Riverway? or both?) 2. go sorta in the middle onto the Riverway and into JP and beyond or 3. go straight past the Sears Center into Brookline toward Cambridge.

Which will it be? Door number one, door number two, or door number three? Two of the three options could get you to the MFA (one in a roundabout way) , but only if you already know how to get there. Or are ignoring that one little hopeful related to nothing sign and relying on your GPS, smart phone, or a good, old-fashioned map. Welcome to driving in Boston. Don't forget to pack your patience and sense of humor.

Or better, leave the car at home and to get to the MFA, (assuming you're sleeping in the metro Boston area) make your way to Copley Square and take the number 39 bus to the MFA. It's much less confusing than the Green Line and you can see a bit of the city en route.

Walkers can, again from Copley Square, get on Huntington Avenue and walk west for a little more than a mile to get to the MFA. That's probably the most hassle free way to do it and the nicest, weather permitting.

After you finally make it to and have had enough of the MFA, go for a stroll through The Fens and the gorgeous Victory Gardens on the west side of the museum and then grab lunch in one of the small eateries on the west side of The Fens. The area around Peterborough and Kilmarnock streets has Turkish, Thai, Japanese, Italian, and Brazilian food provided by small independently owned restaurants.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Nice Try, Dan. A Parking Warning to All Out-of-Towners

The former site of Crate and Barrel on Brattle Street in Cambridge has been buzzing with construction activity all summer. Everyday, work crews arrive to demolish the old interior and construct a different one for the new tenant, Anthropologie.

Guys on the site seem to have come mostly from the suburbs and so were unfamiliar with Cambridge parking meter rules. The first few days they'd leave their cars and trucks in the same spot and keep feeding the meter - a big no-no, which I too learned the hard way. After two hours, you've got to move the car to a different spot or you'll get a ticket - even if there's money in the meter.

Electrician Dan gave it a good shot but the meter reader (I see as many men as maids working the meters in the Peeps Republic) will always win.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Got rock?

Overheard in Dudley Square this sultry summer evening: "Got rock. Got weed". The sales pitch was tendered outside of the always bustling Giant Liquors on Washington Street. A six-pack of Natural Ice and your preferred illegal smoke all in one quick errand. Would you like cocaine or marijuana with that bottle of Heineken?

It reminded me a little of the Symphony Road area in the early '80's. In those days the Symphony Wholefoods was a Stop n Shop. You could drop in for a loaf of bread, some milk, a bag of weed, and a hooker. One-stop shopping at its finest.

Heading south from Dudley on foot, one must run the gauntlet of drunks, panhandlers, drug dealers and all other manner of societies cast-offs who throng the sidewalk in front of the store and it can be a little scary passing by when you're on your own.

Giant Liquors does everything they possibly can to deter loitering by posting a sign on 8x12 paper behind the cast iron grate that covers the windows. The sign, in bleached out 14 point type, reads: No loitering. No trespassing.

Business thrives.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Friday, July 9, 2010

Punchdrunk Slut

Scored six tickets to Punchdrunk's next show which will stage in London this month. The Duchess of Malfi is a co-production with ENO. Tickets went on sale Friday, 5 June online and sold out within hours.

Yes, I am gloating. Yes, I will follow them anywhere.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Lane Change

A woman in a car in JP yelled at me the other day for riding on the left hand side of the road where I was safer. She must not get to Back Bay very often where the bike lane on Comm Ave. shifts left.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Virtual Street Corners

Check out this crazy little virtual street corner news service grant funded "art" installation linking Dudley Square with Coolidge Corner. No, I mean come to Dudley Square and really check it out - participate in it!

Come to Dudley, go to A Nubian Notion, step up to the mic, look into the camera and shout out a "hey, how ya doin'" to your fellow citizens on the 66 bus route. Don't be shy or afraid of making a fool of yourself - that's part of the fun, though fun is not the intent of the project. Virtual Street Corners merges digital art with citizen journalism and is about sharing local news, according to the exhibit's website.

Virtual Street Corners creator, John Ewing in Dudley talks to people in Coolidge Corner.

The cutest part of the whole project? The ingenuousness with which the website states: "Coolidge Corner and Dudley Square are just 2.4 miles apart. A fifteen minute ride on the 66 bus yet few people from each neighborhood appear to visit the other. Why?"

That's sweet copy for big money grant funding but curious on two counts. First, it makes me wonder if whoever wrote the above has ever spent any time on the 66 bus. Yup, you sometimes can drive from Dudley to Coolidge in 15 minutes but even with the students out of town, you're not gonna do that kind of easy time on the 66 between Dudley and Coolidge - unless it's a no traffic/few passengers run.

Secondly, sadly, people from Roxbury don't like to come to Dudley. Why would anyone from Brookline? Coolidge Corner is a safe, clean, mixed use neighborhood with a stupendous independent movie theater, sex toy shop (they're not just for sleazy guys in trenchcoats anymore), locally owned shoe stores, and beautiful arcade. Other attractions include a plethora of good restaurants, a real wine shop or two, a dance studio, fitness studio, music school, and one of the best indie bookstores in the entire metro Boston area. Coolidge Corner is well-maintained and business owners in the area take a vested interest in the AREA and not just their own square footage.

Dudley's got soul. It's got history. It's got Brandy and Haley and Tropical Foods. It's got that crummy decent new garden shop where people are stoned and/or rude all the time helpful (and I'd been so excited about it). And at 6 p.m. on weekdays, it's got tumbleweeds and rolled up sidewalks.

Oh, wait! That's where the "art" comes in, right? By drawing attention to the incredible disparities in the two areas, people - civic and business leaders are shamed into doing the right thing and they pour resources into a neglected district. Or not. What do you think?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Chicken Story

A Friend of Mine is letting neighbors keep a chicken coop in her yard. Given these difficult economic times and the increasing emphasis on locally grown produce and sustainability, I figured chickens would be pecking their way into city yards on a grand scale. Here in Roxbury, aside from that Friend of Mine, Garden Girl too keeps chickens. Curious about the rules for urban roosts, I started calling around to see how Cambridge, Boston, and Brookline handle animal husbandry. It turns out Brookline is the most progressive and forward thinking on the issue of farm or back yard animals.

Mr. Maloney of the Brookline Health Department explained that residents need to go through a process for the “keeping of animals”. There are zoning and health hearings where the keeper of the animal demonstrates that there will be a one hundred foot buffer between the animal(s) and abutters, that there’s a game plan for sanitation and pest control and there will be no nuisances - specifically, no noise and no stench. Keep the rules and your permit will be renewed annually. Though I was enquiring specifically about chickens, bucolic Brookline has seen permit applications for bees, horses, pigs, goats, cows, and pigeons (the last was denied)

Until recently, Mr. Maloney said he’d only seen about 5 applications in 20 years for keeping animals but that number has shifted to at least one call a month and sometimes more. He said that the reason for the increase in interest in keeping animals on premises is twofold. Economy entered into the equation for those people who boarded their horses elsewhere but were looking to keep them at home to save money. “Green philosophy and sustainability” is the second reason, according to Mr. Maloney, with more people interested in growing food on their own premises; using the chicken droppings for compost and organic fertilizer; and eating eggs fresh from one’s own yard.

Cambridge Inspectional Services Department transferred me to the Zoning Department where Sean O’Grady answered the phone. When asked about keeping chickens in a coop in a backyard he stated simply, “Livestock is not allowed in the city”. Though one could apply for a zoning variance he said that the last chicken request was denied. Cambridge has had a handful of chicken coop requests, Mr. O’Grady said and, “The city council’s been talking about looking at an ordinance (to address the issue of chicken in the city) but I’m not sure where that’s going”.

Finally, I called Boston. Three times. And I am still none the wiser about chicken coops, though a farmer friend informs me firmly that they are not allowed by city ordinance.

Boston, Call 1

The Department of Public Health, which had all the answers in Brookline, transferred me to ISD. ISD transferred me back to Health and I got a recording.

Boston, Call 2

Starting with the ISD Code Enforcement Division, I asked about the rules for chicken coops.

“Oh. I’m not sure. Hang on one sec. Let me see.” A moment on hold and then, “That’s the Building Department." Transferred to the Building Department, I got the Inspector on Duty’s recorded voicemail cause all the Inspectors are out on the road after 8 or 9 a.m. I didn’t leave a voicemail.

Boston, Call 3

This call started with the Mayor’s Office which transferred me to ISD which transferred me to Building Permits who told me it was her first time ever query about chickens and transferred me to the ISD Inspector’s phone where I, again, did not leave voicemail message on the machine.

Whatever the Boston rules may be, the Friend of Mine and her neighbors will operate along the lines established by Brookline:  no nuisances - so no roosters and a clean up plan for poop so there's no smell.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bad Thing in Dudley

This past weekend, Mayor Menino waxed enthusiastic about all the amazing things happening in Dudley Square: a new police station and and an historic fire station renovation. Woo. Hoo. The current police station makes prisoner quarters in Guantanamo look like the Chateau les Crayeres. And that cute little historic fire station next to one of the oldest European burial grounds in the country was just begging for rehab. But as hizzoner ran down the list of amazing things happening in Dudley, two simple words erupted repeatedly in a whisper from my lips into the ear of my companion:

Gravel pit.

This is not a view from somewhere in Detroit (sorry, Detroit, I know things are tough). This is the view from Washington Street of the enormous gravel pit which begs to be turned into, not just the long ago promised municipal offices, but a central location for City Hall. That's right, Mayor. Never mind the corner office on the beach. All roads lead to Roxbury. Dudley’s rich in history and culture and is the geographic center of the city. It's a veritable transportation hub. And it needs not just your rhetoric but a real, viable, sustainable plan for regeneration as the vibrant, bustling urban center it once was and could easily again become. The best way to do that is with a little of your TLC and a lot of your attention. So take some of those big corporate tax credits away from the undeserving monoliths, toss them together with a desire to leave a meaningful, encomium-worthy legacy and sprinkle in a hefty dose of visionary thinking – (use someone else’s if you can’t muster up your own).
Develop the lot already.
And in the meantime, I’m working on a DIY project in my backyard. Could I have some of that gravel?

Good Things in Dudley

This past weekend was a big one for Dudley.

Historic Boston, Inc., nonprofit developer of historic buildings, hosted a neighborhood block party Saturday to celebrate the renovation of the Eustis Street Fire House. HBI will be renting their School Street building and moving their headquarters to Eustis Street sometime in 2011.

Matthew Kiefer (far left of this picture), President of HBI, said the organization is “joyful about moving to Dudley”. He characterized HBI as “innovative and not afraid to make positive change”. According to Keifer, HBI has a history of taking historic gems and demonstrating that old buildings can be redeveloped for different needs and this type of redevelopment strengthens communities. At 1500 square feet, the fire house is the smallest New Markets project ever.

HBI is responsible for renovating several historic buildings in Highland Park – the First Church and the Spooner-Lambert House (above) among them.

After the BBQ, the 7th Annual African American Military Heritage Day Program took place in the newly dedicated EO Gourdin Park.

A slight non-sequitur but I’m pretty excited about the new garden store, Boston Gardener:  Urban Gardening Supplies,  which just opened on Washington Street between the Haley House and Dark Wave tattoo parlor. Jonathan, the guy who also owns The Hempest on Newbury and in Harvard Square is selling gardening supplies and, eventually, juices from a juice bar at the back of the store.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Honor System Books

Books for sale at a sidewalk table in Harvard Square.

Only in The People's Republic?

Ok, so he had to lock the cash box to the table.  Still, it looks like it's working for him.

People browse all day long.