State of JP considered at local forum


Gazette Photo by Lori DeSantis
JP resident Virginia Pratt asks local officials if they support stopping the war in Afghanistan as a way to balance the budget and solve deficit problems during the the State of JP forum on Feb. 15 at English High School.

Jamaica Plain showed its colors as a hyper-engaged community as residents gathered to discuss current events in the neighborhood and their hopes for the future at a State of JP Forum held in the cafeteria of English High School Feb. 15.

Change is inevitable, forum moderator—and recently retired Gazette editor and publisher—Sandee Storey told the crowd of close to 200 people. But, “Tonight is an example of taking control of some of that change…of how it transpires,” she said.

The three-hour forum was convened by the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation and the Jamaica Plain Forum. 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, public safety, the environment and gentrification.

The general tone of the event was one of concern about the challenges JP faces, and confidence continued that community engagement would help the neighborhood face those challenges.

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.

The city’s branch libraries will probably be safe for another year, at least, At-Large City Councilor Felix Arroyo, who lives in JP, told the audience.

But, he said, a successful, youth-led effort to get city funding for 1,000 youth jobs restored, after funding for 1,400 was cut last year, would likely have to be repeated this year.

“We are going to have to redo that fight at City Hall,” Arroyo said.

Arthur Thomas, from the locally based youth-led group the Beantown Society, said that group is gearing up for the fight. “Young people are coming together to tackle the issue of youth jobs because they are repeatedly messed with,” he said.

Arroyo also discussed a proposal he is pushing to change the city’s rating system for where it deposits city funds. Currently, financial institutions are selected based on safety, rate of return and whether they are able to provide the city immediate access to funds it has deposited, he said.

But, Arroyo said, he wants to expand the city’s list of rating criteria to include things like how much banks invest in small businesses, how willing they are to modify homeowners’ mortgage loans, and how much they lend to development projects.

His proposed legislation would “ask the questions and give the money to the banks that rank the highest,” he said.

Recently elected District 6 City Councilor Matt O’Malley, who represents JP, said the first City Council hearing he holds will be on the future of Boston Public Schools buildings slated for closure, including the Agassiz School on Child Street. That hearing has not yet been scheduled.

During his remarks at the forum, O’Malley noted that JP’s 02130 zip code is the only one in the state that can boast that all of the state reps., the state senator and city councilor who represent it all live there.

State Rep. Liz Malia said she and local state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz are working with the state Department of Transportation to set up a series of community meetings about the upcoming demolition of the Casey Overpass by the Forest Hills T Station. The overpass is slated for demolition in 2012. [See Related article.]

State Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez highlighted his upcoming leadership role, as chair of the House’s Public Health Committee, in a major push for health care cost containment this year. [See related article.]

He said that that cost-containment and budget cutting continue to be the “new normal for government, given the challenges the city, state and federal government are facing.”

Community conversation during the question-and-answer period and in the small groups also touched on immigrants rights issues; the potential future home of the Kelly Rink in Jackson Square; the push for state-level transgender rights legislation; and the Whole Foods Market’s plans to open a new store in Hyde Square.

Visions for the future of the neighborhood ranged widely as well. In one of the small groups Nancy Kohn, who recently lost her job in public health after 12 years, said “I would like to see Egypt in JP in the next five years,” referring to the recent popular uprising in that country.

Kohn told the Gazette she had recently gone through training to lead a Common Security Club. The Common Security Clubs initiative was developed by the JP branch of the Institute For Policy Studies (IPS) in 2009 in response to the national economic downturn. The idea is for groups of about 20 people to come together as mutual aid and economics study groups.

Others said they would like to see more community-based commercial development and property management, along the lines of the JPNDC-owned Brewery Complex on Amory Street.

Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council chair Andrea Howley told the Gazette that the best idea she heard all evening was for “a public compost pile” that residents could contribute food waste to and gardeners could freely collect from.

While the future remains murky, forum organizer Orion Kriegman described the Feb. 15 event as “The first annual State of JP Forum, and said he is fairly confident that it hold future State of JP forums.

“We are like a think tank, in a way,” said State Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez. “We come up with great ideas and we implement great ideas.”

Chang-Díaz also had high praise for the neighborhood. “I am just so taken, at this moment, at the incredible range of resources we have at our disposal in JP to be agents of change,” she said.

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