Editorial: A good choice for the BRA board

Last year, Mayor Walsh showed good judgment in selecting JP resident and respected architecture expert Ted Landsmark for service on the Boston Redevelopment Authority board.

The mayor is showing similar wisdom in nominating Carol Downs, the co-founder of the Bella Luna Restaurant and Milky Way Lounge. We urge the Boston City Council to confirm her nomination.

Walsh has demonstrated an admirable willingness to reform the troubled BRA and to not only acknowledge but tackle head-on Boston’s affordability crisis and lack of comprehensive planning.

Downs would be an important voice for the mayor, the BRA, developers and the community to hear.

The twin businesses of Bella Luna and the Milky Way constitute a JP institution, and something of a microcosm of modern Boston. Twenty years ago, the business spearheaded the revitalization of Hyde Square—and, quite frankly, its gentrification as well. Then the business was itself priced out by the skyrocketing market rates.

The business also adapted and found a way to remain in JP, where it remains a significant small-business employer and a major cultural contributor. Downs and her colleagues never lost their sense of social responsibility or their business’s soul.

For far too long, Boston has been far too hard on small businesses and far too quick to boot out anyone who can’t pay a king’s ransom for a corner of their neighborhood. Walsh has set a very different tone on those subjects, and Downs has the experience to both inform and execute his policy goals.

The BRA needs more than reform. It continues to have an inherent conflict of interest in combining planning and economic development (aka, sales-pitching) functions. It remains overpowered, which historically makes it too tempting for mayors to resist using as their personal magic wand to dictate development. Its board for years has been a laughable rubber stamp—though of course that has not been funny at all.

However, Walsh’s reforms and reorientation are real in the way that matters—results. Witness the long-requested Washington Street corridor plan that is finally coming to fruition. Or the scathing audits and self-reviews Walsh and BRA Director Brian Golden have commissioned and produced.

And this is increasingly a new board with a new mission and more reflective of neighborhood perspectives alongside traditional corporate ones.

It is important for strong voices to be in place to promote these positive changes—and to respond when some of the BRA’s weaknesses or flaws inevitably rear their heads.

Downs is a great choice to be one of those voices.

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