Jamaica Plain showed its colors as a hyper-engaged community as residents gathered to discuss politics affecting the neighborhood and their hopes for the future at the second annual “State of Our Neighborhood” Forum held in the auditorium of English High School Feb. 9.
“We’re here to ask ourselves where we want JP to be in five years, in 10 years,” said organizer Orion Kriegman.
The three-hour forum was convened by the Jamaica Plain New Economy Transition (NET) and attended by about 250 people.
The first part was devoted to brief presentations from city and state elected officials who represent and live in JP, and to audience questions for elected officials. Later, participants broke into small groups to discuss specific issues like youth issues, urban agriculture, affordable housing and local businesses.
While the format was such that many more issues were touched on than discussed in depth, the evening’s conversation drove home that there is much afoot in JP.
Elected officials were asked to speak on prompted topics chosen for them by the organizers.
City Councilor Matt O’Malley spoke about infrastructure, which included the JP Branch Library renovation and the controversial Arborway bus yard.
“We need to fight for a complete renovation” of the JP Branch library, he said. A nearly finished renovation plan has been shelved by the Boston Public Library since 2006 due to lack of funds.
The Arborway Yard has been in development for 13 years and is also waiting on funds, in this case, from the MBTA, to begin construction.
“Let’s work together to make sure these projects are funded this year,” he concluded.
At-Large City Councilor Felix Arroyo, who lives in JP, took the chance to note the $3,000 he helped to restore to youth summer jobs programming.
This follows last year’s successful, youth-led effort to get city funding for 1,000 youth jobs restored.
Arroyo also requested support for his Invest in Boston Ordinance, which would add requirements for investing and lending locally to banks the City of Boston does business with.
“The City is a billionaire and it should invest in a bank that serves our interests,” he said.
He also asked small businesses to “give youths a chance” and hire local teenagers.
State Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, chair of the House’s Public Health Committee, spoke about healthcare in Massachusetts, calling it the “greatest challenge” the Commonwealth is currently facing.
According to Sánchez, by 2020, 50 percent of Massachusetts’s budget could be devoted to healthcare costs.
State Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz talked about her work on lowering the rate of high school drop-outs with a bill she’s currently sponsoring.
State Rep. Liz Malia covered the area of Egleston Square and the challenges and initiatives that impact that area of JP.
“One of the major reasons Egleston Square has flowered has been because of community organizing,” she said. “Egleston Square is where I learned a lot about a sense of community.”
Malia, Sánchez and Chang-Díaz all touched on the fact that they would be willing to talk new taxes to cover budget shortfalls statewide, but noted that they are in the extreme minority.
“Liz and I are a part of handful of legislators that are willing to talk revenue,” Sánchez said.
O’Malley also spoke in favor of urban agriculture initiatives, including small-scale chicken-keeping, currently under zoning review by the city. Chang-Díaz and Sánchez also noted their support.
The breakout groups in the second part of the evening covered much-discussed topics like MBTA fare hikes, the Casey Overpass, youth jobs, how to engage in community activism and increasing a household’s self-sufficiency.