^ fortress forbidding : concept = The Pentagon

—- —- —-

On Monday night I attended the monthly “Working Session” of a group named, in exquisite bureaucreat-speak, the “Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee.” We met at the Central Boston Elders Services offices, 2315 Washington Street — scene of many many Roxbury planning meetings over the years, some intense, some sleepy.

The members of this committee — we’ll call it RSMPOC if you please — have been tasked, as they would say, with guiding a reconstruction of the Whittier Street Housing Project. They take their brief seriously. Grave expressions adorn the faces of all. There isn’t a “youth’ among them. The RSMPOC has experience; look upon it as a Board Of Wise Folk.


^ the Board of Wise Folk waits…

Before these Wise Folk came several representatives from the Boston housing Authority (BHA), which operates the current Whittier Street. Among the team was an architect. He offered up a picture show of artist’s renderings, of what the repackaged Whittier Street might look like. To my eyes, it wasn’t pretty. Whittier Street fronts on Tremont Street, a throughway kind of avenue along which, long ago, comfy buildings — some brick, others of wood — leathered up like well-broken in baseball gloves. Though the avenue was broad, the dwellings and shops along it had a day-in-the-park kind of look; They were neighborly, their doorways a handshake, their windows a wink of the eye. But that was then. Today the slice of Tremont Street onto which Whittier Street fronts is hemmed in by obese buildings as overweening as a Green giant — if the Green giant were made of glass and steel. These giants look like FBI offices and smell like interrogation rooms, conferences, offices whose staff always say “oh you want the office next door’ instead of ‘can i help ?” In short, the architecture lined along Tremont Street has no soul, no face, no name. It isn’t people.

This already being the case, a case that needs be stopped before it spreads, imagine my dislike as I watched the BHA architect — a slender man with a slender grin and slim eyes behind eyelid spectacles — display a Whittier Street fronted by yet more steel and glass giants and backed by densely confrontational low-rise row housing. This could just as well have been — more likely should have been — a Pentagon annex than anybody’s housing. But there it was. The look of a project, shiny and new and as function-minimal as a box cutter.


^ are we not people ? are we box cutters ? — a Whittier Street function-minimal

I suppose that to the residents of Whittier Street public housing, any new residence to which they give you a key accords better than a shelter or a doorway; but for not much extra cost, the new Whittier Street could offer those who will be slated to reside there something more than a  cargo room of walls painted hospital bathroom green.

And who will be offered a place in the new project — if it actually gets built ? Clearly, current Whittier Streeters should get first call; just as clearly, a mix of income levels and cultures should be invited. That’s what the new Roxbury might just achieve, if it’s lucky.

photo (14)

District Councillor Tito Jackson ^ sat in the audience — maybe 25 people in all — and engaged both the BHA people and the Oversight Committee in discussion of what, when, how, and what for. Sitting next to him, but not asking questions,  was Whittier Street’s State Senator, Sonia Chang-Diaz (^). Also in attendance was the grand old lady of Whittier Street push-back, State Representative Gloria Fox. She talked on her cell phone sometimes, berated the Committee at others. Her basic message has always been “get it done, we are people too.” Good luck with that.

The RSMPOC meetings go on. We were handed a schedule of meetings for the full 2014 year, monthly, of “Working sessions” and, on different dates, of Public Meetings. Nothing in this schedule indicates that the new Whittier Street will likely be sent happily on Approval Highway at any time soon.

After all, these plans have long since passed their sell-by date.

Future residents of Whittier Street surely are tired of waiting. Present residents too. My own view is, “better to wait for the right dwelling than rush to a mistake. The project-like concept pictured to us by the BHA architect misses every mark. Is there some reason why the land upon which the current Whittier Street sits can’t now host the kind of neighborly, three story homeyness found right next door in Madison Park and all along Washington Street from Guild Street to Egleston square ? The BHA project does envision some row-house townhouses, especially along next-block Ruggles Street. Why not build the same along Tremont Street ? If Green giant buildings are needed — apartments above retail and restaurants, as one finds a-building along Boylston Street in the Fenway — then fine: but add some design to their facings, some curvature and filigree so that Tremont Street doesn’t look like a pathway of lilliputians walled in by Yahoos.

We are building for people, after all. People have souls as well as jaws and torsos.


citizen discussion was lively and pointed. was the RSMPOC listening ?

Of course the designs being hawked at Monday’s meeting arose during the Tom M mayor decades. we now have a new Mayor with a very different persona and an almost informal way about him. Of construction, he first of all cares about his Building Trades “sisters and brothers.” On that, he is solid rock. Flexible, however, may be his  toward design. He professes to care deeply about actual people. Perhaps before 2014 ends we will see that sort of “Walsh effect” at work on the shape and feel of a new Whittier Street. And maybe not.

—- Mike Freedberg / Roxbury Here


  1. Thank you, what a great read, you write well. I grew up in Roxbury 1995-1963. 1186 Tremont St. to be exact. Next to Conolley’s Famous Stardust Room, corner of Whittier. There was a HUGE Hess gas station across the St., it where police headquarters is now, the tri-plex we lived in you ask?….it’s grass..lol. So reading about the old neighborhood is endearing. Thanks Again, Wayne

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