Monthly Archives: November 2014


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^ lots of committee, not much connection ; the “NIDC” meets at Boston Public Library

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Last night I attended a meeting of the so-called “Neighborhood Innovation District Committee,” a group of about 15 well-knowns who have been tasked with etablishing an “Innovation District,” as we now call technology research parks, in Roxbury. Unhappily, the meeting made the creation of such a district harder to achieve, not easier.

The committee couldn’t even define what “innovation” means without swerving well off the rails. Committee member Ed Glaeser — who has written brilliantly about Boston’s history and surely knows better — asserted that “innovation should apply to all kinds of business enterprises : food stores, handicrafts, retail.” This is nonsense, as was his assertion of “an innovation district with a heart.”

Dear Ed Glaeser : what an innovation district needs is a profit.

One committee member said, “you can’t create an innovation district from the top down.”

Sorry, Sir, but that is precisely how you create it.

Having determined that the innovation district they were working on would, basically, do the same job that Boston’s Main Streets and Neighborhood development programs are already doing — and thereby unnecessarily duplicating said programs — the committee proceeded to discuss, for more than an hour, the kinds of “neighborhood impacts” that one usually hears at neighborhood approval meetings for residential and mixed-use real estate development : Madison Park being a good example.

There was, therefore, much talk about assuring that the Innovation district wouldn’t displace existing Roxbury residents, that it would help provide employment for neighborhood residents, that it would favor neighborhood innovators, etc.

In all of this well-meaning, sensitivity-trained committee-ese, I heard not one full sentence of what the building of an innovation district is all about. Considering that the committee includes very connected Boston activists — Mel King, Byron ushing, Sheila Dillon, Greg Bialecki, Dan Isenberg, and Marianna White-Hammond, Chris Jones, and Valerie Roberson, as well as Glaeser — and is chaired by former mayor candidate John Barros, this failure to address the real issue annoyed me greatly.

So let me now set forth what an innovation district is and what creating one means to the future of Roxbury :

1. An innovation district is, in fact, a technology start-up and research park. no more, no less.

2. to create one, you need ( a ) an easy access highway or public transpo or both ( b ) space that can be rented cheaply and built just as cheaply ( c ) innovators and researchers and ( d ) investor capital.

3. to permit an innovation district, you need a City government that actually wants one (and doesn’t just say that it wants one)

4.putting an innovation district in Roxbury is easy to do. Melnea cass Boulevard skirts Roxbury’s northeast border and connects immediately to Route 93. The area along Cass Boulevard is well stocked with under-used warehouses, trash-mashed empty lots, and old factories. Innovators live and innovate (in lots and garages) hard by the Boulevard and all along Fort Point Channel directly next door.

5.An innovation district in Roxbury will accelerate major change already taking place in the neighborhood, as young people unable to afford the current South End move to Roxbury next door and as the Dudley Square business district is money-jolted by the soon presence, in the Ferdinand Building, of 500 Boston school department central office employees.

Real estate prices are moving sharply upward all over Roxbury, and long-time residents, who have never had much economic boon (a lot of that due to racism) now find themselves holding a lottery ticket in the form of homes worth $ 800,000 to 4 1,500,000 — usually with no mortgage to pay off, as it was often difficult to get lenders to grant mortgages in Boston’s community of color.

Those who want to stay in Roxbury will need to move fast to keep up, and a lot of that keeping up will require Boston Public schools to do better, much better, at educating kids for actual jobs. The need is already there, and very pressing, but it’s easy right now to put off the difficult decisions — especially those involving the school system — for another day. Placing an innovation District in Roxbury — and thereby importing the innovators, although many innovators (yes, people of color too, believe it or not) now live in Roxbury, though you wouldn’t think so to hear what was said last night — will accelerate these changes and force everyone to rethink his or her personal situation : can i stay ? if so, how and where ? What will i have to do differently ? Is it worth it ?

Change is difficult, but in a dynamic economy such as Boston’s, you either accelerate the change or it accelerates you. An innovation district, properly focused and not trying to solve all the ills of our society, has the economic power to change a neighborhood enormously. i would have thought that last night’s committee meeting would have understood this. It did not. Instead, it pretty much guaranteed that there won’t be an innovation district in Roxbury any time soon.

—- Mike Freedberg / Roxbury Here

SEEN FROM THE HILL : Letter to the Editors of the Boston Globe

1 Dearborn School

Dear Editors :

(Editor’s Note : the 100-year old Dearborn School building has been the subject of heated debate between some residents of Dudley Street East and the Boston School Building Authority, which asserts that the building is too far gone to be renovated except at an unacceptable cost. The City wants a new, much bigger building to serve its expansion of the Dearborn into a STEM Academy.)

Demolition of the Dearborn Middle School in Roxbury is the litmus test for the tale of two cities (“Preserve busing-era landmark,” Editorials, November 4). Preservation isn’t just about buildings and spaces. It’s about the people that bring those buildings and spaces to life !

I started high school when busing in Boston began. The tale of two cities and two school systems was clearly evident and ugly ! Fast forward to today, and the most recent school assignment plan and lack of addressing school quality are sober reminders that our busing wounds have yet to heal.

Demolishing the Dearborn building affirms that we’d rather forget than atone for a segregated and unequal school system that is worse off now than when busing was ordered in the 70s.

Neighborhood pride from all walks of life in the Highland Park/Fort Hill section of Roxbury and beyond celebrate the recent restoration of the Fort Hill Tower, whose history is steeped in the Revolutionary War. If we are one city, why isn’t the struggle for educational parity equally as important as the struggle for independence?

— Rodney Singleton / SEEN FROM THE HILL



Good Morning Mr. Mulligan and Ms. Frazee:

Your gratitude is much appreciated and thank you for all your hard work on the Fort Hill Tower! It looks great!

It was quite a voting journey for the Fort Hill Tower, Roxbury, and her supporters, some from as far away as Italy. Roxbury love spreads like jam. Easy and oh so good!

We battled from seventh place, with just 23 votes to a very strong and challenging second place with 2765 votes. As noted, votes for the Fort Hill Tower came fast and furious on the final day. At its height, I counted between 15-20 votes in a matter of seconds!

In the end, we came up short by 498 votes to LogMein’s tally of 3263 votes. But in the final weeks, no competitor could match our one day tally on the last day of 643 votes!

It’s important that both of you mentioned neighborhoods and community. In all honesty, much of the enthusiasm you’ve praised me for, I derive from my Roxbury neighbors and the folks that supported us. The enthusiasm is ours, collectively.

An email I sent out on the last day of voting summed up a big part of my enthusiasm. The Fort Hill Tower symbolizes our connection to one another as people in Roxbury and our connection to this time and this place. And all of that matters and is critically important to our city and beyond.

My sense is that I wasn’t the only one feeling that way because folks wrote back saying yeah we do matter, and preservation means so much more — it is about people!

To Mr. Mulligan’s point “the real winners are the community.” Agreed! A win-win! Our vote supports restoration work of an important city resource and is also an important vote of solidarity.

Folks in Roxbury bear witness to that solidarity every day and in my mind the 643 voting fury the final day is testament to it and is just the tip of the iceberg!

For that, I’m thankful! But not for a vote, rather the lesson that vote teaches.
We celebrate with you the completion of projects in our neighborhood, like the B-2 police station, the Dudley Library, the Shelburne, the Bruce Bolling Administrative Building (AKA Ferdinand’s), and the Fort Hill Tower.

But incumbent to the celebration for completed projects, there’s also a celebration of the folks those projects are meant to serve. Namely: are we participating in the restoration and construction with employment opportunities and business opportunities for firms of color in our neighborhood? Are we represented in a way that sustains and preserves our space in this place and time ?

Or, how we can rationalize doing all of the previous projects to preserve the history, utility and capital in a building or structure and not rationalize the very same history, utility and human capital in restoring a school at Dearborn ?

The Dearborn school building should not be torn down! God forbid! Would we do that to the Fort Hill Tower? No, we wouldn’t! The Dearborn school building should be restored and utilized as the updated, state of the art STEM facility that was promised !

Last year at Discover Roxbury’s Heart of the Hub celebration, Mel King was one of three Pudding Stone awardees. The Pudding Stone is awarded to individuals whose tireless activism in their community provokes the good in all of us.

Mr. King’s speech was eloquent; the one quote I held fast to was him saying “you are exactly where you’re supposed to be.”

He’s right! Roxbury residents are exactly where we’re supposed to be. We’re not moving anytime soon, despite what hear. We’re here in this time and this space to show each other, the City of Boston, the state, the country and the world how preservation must work.

So we invite you both to Roxbury anytime for a healthy slice of Roxbury anytime for a healthy slice of Roxbury hospitality!

Warm Regards,

— Rodney Singleton / Seen from the Hill

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^ Charlie Baker at the Reggie Lewis Center at  a well-attended seniors Event

The future of Roxbury is not merely the matter of a neighborhood and the City we are part of. Roxbury also depends significantly on state services.

More than most communities, Roxbury relies on state agehcies fo deliver services effectively to our residents. The DCF must safeguard our children, many living in crisis. The Health Connector must work, so that our residents, few of whom are wealthy, can have effective, low-cost health insurance. Many of our residents end up in the criminal justice system; the last thing we need is a state crime lab fabricating evidence that sends our wrongly accused young people to jail.

We also need housing initiatives, not all of them for affordable housing. The state owns much land in the City of Boston, and in our community, that lies unused. One candidate has proposed selling or leasing that land to developers at low cost, exploiting Mayor Walsh’ s newly streamlined permitting process, to build upon — and thus also to provide construction jobs to our people.

That candidate is Charlie Baker. His opponent, Martha Coakley, has done a creditable job, as Attorney General. fighting predatory lenders; but on many fronts she has either been absent or weak. The recent 37 percent electricity rate hike, for example, was approved without, evidently, any input from her, even though the Attorney General is charged with overseeing utility rate requests.

Nor has Coakley mounted much of her own campaign. Such as it is was either donated to her via endorsement by much-respected higher-ups, notably First Lady Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton. These endorsements actually advertise weakness. A governor candidate should lend credence to other political figures, not need them to lend credence to her.

But is this any surprise ? All year long, at dozens of Forums, this writer has seen from Coakley no policy commitments, few plans — and those never detailed — nor even much acquaintance with the details of key issues. Which is likely why her campaign has been run as a “vote Democrat,” generic, party thing rather than as an “I’m for Coakley” movement.

Meanwhile, Baker’s entire effort exudes leadership. You have seen it as well as we have.

Baker has campaigned intensely in Roxbury and surrounding communities of color, bringing a message of support for innovation, encouragement to economic opportunity, and determination to create better schools for all kids. He doesn’t just talk the talk. His support for a Roxbury innovation district walks the walk, as does his program to link local schools to the skills aspirations of local kids and the job opportunities actually available — and often begging, for lack of skilled applicants — in the area.

Baker also walks the walk on drug addiction re-hab and recovery, a major crisis not only in Roxbury. He’ll designate a cabinet level position targeting recovery and mental health emergencies ; and both are much needed.

Bettering the lives of our community’s people isn’t just a slogan for Baker, it’s a a passion. We can count on him to be present in Roxbury for many town halls, just like Mayor Walsh. We know this because Baker he has already done it, in the course of running the most city-intense, person to person governor campaign of any non-Democrat in decades.

But most of all, Baker has made it a first priority to remedy the ineffectiveness of so many state agencies, misdoings that have wasted taxpayer money even as they disrespect we the people who count on having those services accorded to us properly and honorably. Baker is glad to be known as the “expert manager” candidate. We think he is exactly that. We are glad to endorse his candidacy for Governor.

Mike Freedberg, Editor / Roxbury Here