Can This be America?
My great grandfather worked on the transcontinental railroad when the west was still untamed. My grandfather worked on JFK’s and later, Ted Kennedy’s campaign in Massachusetts. And I, an Asian American, have lived and worked in this country for over fifty years. And yet, the other day when my leashed dog curiously sniffed near a biker’s backpack, I was told to get the away and that I should return to my “home country.” But I am home, and this is my country.
This happened on Tuesday on the crest above the sandy beach at Jamaica Pond. I was later told that at that same spot, another South Asian man was similarly verbally assaulted. I don’t know if the incident involved the same aggressor. The agressor looked like a young professional, and very self-important in talking on his cellphone and leaning against his bike. I was surprised and saddened by this encounter. And I worry that, given the current climate, more people who may harbor prejudices now feel entitled to lash out.
I have lived in JP longer than this aggressor has been alive. And I am a seasoned professional – a faculty member and an associate dean at one of Boston’s numerous respected universities. Based on status and age, I didn’t think this would happen to me. But it did, and predictably, will again in the foreseeable future. And so, what jumped to mind were the words of Martin Niemoeller, a Lutheran minister, words that are now inscribed at the Holocaust Museum in D.C., and relevant for all of us because none of us are immune. It can happen in JP. And it can happen to you.
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.
Take the Long View of Centre Street Corridor
Before the city approves expansion at Brigham & Women’s Faulkner Hospital complex, it should step back and engage residents to consider the future of the Centre Street corridor from a wider perspective – starting from the Arborway in Jamaica Plain to Weld Street in West Roxbury/Roslindale.
With institutional expansion creeping here and there, pretty soon this stretch of Centre Street will become the next Longwood Medical Area, without adequate transportation to support it. Look at the congested Seaport District to see how quickly that can happen when the city greenlights too many buildings without an adequate transportation plan to serve them.
Or just look at Centre Street at the multi-story Sophia Snow complex, which the city permitted a few years ago without any requirement to correct the hazardous, free-for-all intersection out front, where Walter Street meets Centre Street. Frequent (and preventable) accidents at this poorly configured roadway drive up insurance rates for every policyholder in the 02131 zip code, even when the drivers at fault live far away. I’ve seen vehicles leave Sophia Snow’s parking lot going the wrong way up Centre Street to cross the intersection illegally. The intersection fails state safety standards. City officials should wait for state agencies to rebuild the intersection before inviting any additional traffic to another large parking garage at the Faulkner.
In the time that I have lived nearby, the complex has expanded at least twice: a multi-story addition in front, facing Centre Street, in 1996, and another parking garage added eight years later, in 2004. The institution is expanding about every 15 years on average. The Faulkner also owns real estate down Centre Street, in West Roxbury, across from the Hebrew Rehab Center. The inexorable creep of institutional expansion will reach that parcel eventually. “Density follows density” is a maxim of urban planning.
City planners have performed comprehensive master plans for neighborhoods (including a really good one for Roslindale, adopted in 2007), but this stretch of Centre Street straddles West Roxbury, Roslindale and Jamaica Plain. When impacts of proposed development straddle jurisdictional boundaries, growth tends to get permitted in a piecemeal fashion, without a comprehensive long-term vision of the whole.
Neighbors have reasons to be mistrustful of official neglect of this corridor. Several years ago, when Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum sought to install a new institutional complex at Centre and Weld Streets (on land that was not zoned for institutional uses), Harvard and the city pledged to extend the park like effect of the Arborway down Centre Street by planting oak trees along Centre Street sidewalks from Arborway to Weld Street. Harvard got the zoning waivers it wanted, but neighbors have yet to see the trees. Who at City Hall is responsible for making sure Harvard and the city’s Parks Department keep the bargain? Nobody at City Hall was watching when the Hebrew Rehab Center installed offices for countless Harvard employees at its facility on Centre Street, in violation of a deed restriction that limits the premises to a home for senior citizens only. (Little known fact: that restriction was put in place when the city’s development agency took public green space at Centre Street’s Joyce Kilmer Park for the complex, transforming Joyce Kilmer Park into Joyce Kilmer Parking Lot.)
City agencies have a terrible track record of monitoring developer compliance with public commitments after development is built. City councilors should hold a hearing on why City Hall doesn’t have one office (independent of the development agency) to monitor developer compliance with public commitments.
This is a critical time for everyone to take the long view of the Centre Street corridor. It will be up to the surrounding neighborhoods and City Councilor Matt O’Malley of Jamaica Plain to hold the city’s feet to the fire to make sure the corridor turns out for the best in the long run.
Past President, Longfellow Area Neighborhood Association