Editorial: Where’s the debate?

JP erupted in a frenzy about Whole Foods Market last year, a debate widely decried as a vicious civil war, though it was also a long-overdue soul-searching about potential gentrification.

Yet now that gentrification is here in the form of self-advertised “luxury” housing on a grand scale coming to S. Huntington Avenue—and now possibly to the former Blessed Sacrament Church site as well—there is virtually no discussion of the social impacts. Where are the critics of bloated prices? Where are the supporters of higher property values?

Maybe everyone burned out in the Whole Foods heat. Maybe everyone is too ashamed of the vitriol to stir it up again.

Or maybe it’s just a lot easier to wave a corporate brand name as a symbolic battle flag than it is to dig into real choices about what our neighborhood is going to look like.

Major real estate changes are indeed choices. JP changed dramatically in the condo conversion wave in the early 2000s. The City of Boston regularly approved and praised condo developments here for providing the “stability” of homeownership to the neighborhood. Many of those places actually saw a rotating cast of young professionals moving in from the suburbs and back out again in a few years.

In the past decade, property values went up while the population went down. JP’s child population plunged and its number of senior citizens shrank. JP also gained many new residents who have become big community assets in the arts, business and political scenes. Many of them were involved in the Whole Foods debate.

Unlike symbolic debates, the outcomes of actual real estate decisions are rarely purely good or bad. But it is important to see which way they are trending and give input on the neighborhood we are creating.

The one S. Huntington proposal formally filed features apartments that are too small for families. They are aimed at a population of wealthy (or fully loan-burdened) transients. Many of them would be nice folks. That doesn’t absolve those of us already living here from giving this more thought than it is getting.

A year ago, you couldn’t stick your head out a window in this neighborhood without getting asked your opinion about a grocery store. We should do at least as much about several hundred housing units.

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