‘Hijacked’? Forest Hills process benefits from full community participation

June 27, 2008
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We are writing to comment on the recent Gazette article (“T has a plan,” June 13) about the planning process around public land in Forest Hills. In the article, two residents complain that the process had been “hijacked” by affordable housing advocates because of the high number of comments about the issue received by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA).

If the “hijacked” comment refers to our efforts to include tenants, youth and families for whom English is not their first language, then we plead guilty as charged. We believe that the outreach efforts of the BRA, which consisted of e-mails and newspaper ads, were not sufficient. The JP Neighborhood Council and other groups play a vital role in ensuring that everyone has a voice, and we are proud of our efforts to include more neighbors in the Forest Hills process.

As part of our recent door-to-door outreach efforts, we spoke with more than 50 tenants in apartment buildings near the lots in question. Very few of them knew anything about the planning process and were appreciative of the information. Given the continued high rents and home prices in JP, it’s no surprise that affordable housing remains a top concern for those who don’t have it—as well as for many homeowners who are concerned that JP is losing the diversity that helps make it such a great neighborhood.

JP also has great pride in the power of community engagement, from stopping the highway 34 years ago to creating great arts and youth programs. Every form of input counts when you are talking about a development project that will have such a big impact on the neighborhood. This includes comments made at public meetings, e-mails and letters that follow a suggested format. All are valid forms of exercising your right to participate in the democratic process, and we are confident that the BRA will take all of them into account.

Most of the letters that were submitted to the BRA came from Forest Hills residents. But the fact that other comments came from people elsewhere in JP is understandable given the far-reaching impact of Forest Hills development. This was true in the Jackson Square planning process, for instance, where many people from outside Jackson Square weighed in, with no complaints from the BRA or anyone else.

BRA planner John Dalzell got it right when he said that housing affordability is “tricky.” Attracting and supporting independent businesses is tricky, too, as is creating attractive and well-used open space, integrating community spaces for youth and families, and coordinating transportation and traffic issues. All community planning on a major scale is tricky, and that’s why as many community residents should be as involved as possible. We will continue to work with the BRA and MBTA to make sure that the voices of all Forest Hills neighbors are heard.

Kathy Brown,
Boston Tenant Coalition
Jesús Gerena, Chair, Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council
Roxan McKinnon,
City Life/Vida Urbana
Claudio Martinez,
Hyde Square Task Force
Richard Thal, Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation