Friday, May 30, 2008

Councilor Ciommo on BC's Bid to Purchase Apartment Building at 2000 Comm Ave

Boston College has confirmed that they are pursuing purchasing the 16-story apartment building at 2000 Commonwealth Avenue in Brighton, according to a written statement by Jack Dunn and published reports at and the Allston-Brighton TAB. This follows news broken by last week that BC was secretively pursuing the property at a purchase price in the vicinity of $68 million.

Allston-Brighton District 9 City Councilor Mark Ciommo has now expressed the problems with the purchase. "I think the neighborhood has been clear about not taking residential stock [off the tax rolls]," he said last week in an interview.

The purchase of 2000 Comm Ave is "not something we want to encourage," Councilor Ciommo continued.

Construction of the building in 1987 was opposed by then-District 9 City Councilor Brian McLaughlin -- but supported by then-District City Councilor Thomas Menino, now Mayor of Boston.

BC previously tried unsuccessfully to purchase the property in 1993 because of strong neighborhood opposition -- and opposition of Paul Barrett, then-Director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

"If [purchase of the building] wasn't in the best interests of the neighborhood then, why would it be now?" said Theresa Hynes of Brighton earlier this week.

Converting Tax-Paying Housing Into a Student Dormitory

Director of Public Affairs Jack Dunn emailed to confirm that the university is interested in turning the building into an undergraduate dormitory:
Boston College’s interest in 2000 Commonwealth Ave. reflects the university’s desire to improve the quality of life for our neighbors and our students, by housing as many undergraduates as possible in university controlled residence halls.
The 190 or so units are a mix of 1- and 2-bedroom apartments. Assuming two students per bedroom means that roughly 600 students could be housed in the building.

BC's purchase of this building, followed by conversion to undergraduate dormitory use, would take approximately $400,000 off of the city's tax roll. (190 or so units averaging a bit over $2000 per unit per year.) By comparison, BC currently only pays $215,000 per year in Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) to Boston.

When asked if the potential removal of approximately $400,000 from the city's tax rolls is appropriate compared to the $215,000 in PILOT, Councilor Ciommo answered, "No."

BC Official Refuses to Meet With Neighborhood Civic Organization Over Issue

The Brighton Allston Improvement Association invited Thomas Keady, Jr., Boston College's Vice President for Governmental and Community Affairs, to meet with their group on Thursday, June 5th to discuss BC's possible purchase of the building.

Dick Marques, President of the BAIA, confirmed the invitation and that Keady declined the offer, saying that BC would instead only meet once the issue was more finalized.

Marques and Hynes interpreted Keady's refusal to attend the civic group's meeting as an attempt to meet with the neighborhood only after the deal was over and done with -- not in advance, when the neighborhood might provide input into whether or not the deal should happen in the first place.

Delays In Discussing Revised Institutional Master Plan With Residents

The BRA sent out a message two weeks ago canceling the May meeting of the BC Task Force, which caused head scratching amongst a number of neighborhood residents.

John Fitzgerald, project manager at the BRA overseeing BC's IMP filings with the city, wrote back to me:
It was rescheduled because BC has been working closely with the BRA, even as recently as last week where suggestions were made by the BRA on some options for BC. We just wanted to make sure that BC has had time to respond to our issues rather than holding a Task Force meeting where BC would not be ready to present anything concrete.
Adding two plus two together, I suspect that BC did not inform city officials about the purchase of 2000 Comm Ave until very recently, and that the city responded by asking BC to make modifications to the IMP by factoring in undergraduate housing at the new apartment building into their plans.

Councilor Ciommo confirmed that BC had been pursuing the purchase secretly, because he only found out about it by reading the story last week at the Brighton Centered Blog.

An obvious conclusion from all of this: there is now absolutely no need for a Brighton Dorm. By expressing their interest in 2000 Comm Ave as undergraduate student housing, BC is clearly stating that 16-story dormitories are an acceptable housing model for their undergraduates. The move to purchase 2000 Comm Ave directly contradicts repeated statements by Keady to the Brighton community that on-campus student behavior is poor in tall dormitory buildings.

BC can easily achieve 100% on-campus housing for their undergraduates by simply adding a few stories to dormitories already envisioned for their Main Campus, particularly at the current site of the Mods dorms. No need for any new dormitories on the former St. John's Seminary land -- or even purchasing 2000 Comm Ave -- to reach 100% on-campus housing.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Boston Breakers Women's Soccer Team to Play at Harvard Stadium Next Year

The new Women's Pro Soccer league will open play in April 2009 with eight teams, including the latest incarnation of the Boston Breakers. The WPS is the professional women's soccer league follow-up to the WUSA league that folded in 2003 after three seasons of play.

The Breakers recently announced that they will be playing their games at Harvard Stadium in North Allston -- not Nickerson Field at Boston University where they played during the league's previous incarnation.

While the WUSA and its teams were a single business entity, the new league has been developed under the franchise model where each team is independently owned. The Breakers team has five owners -- Michael Stoller (Managing Partner), Gary Loveman, Bill Helman, and Lyman Bullard, all of Massachusetts, and Louis Hernandez of Connecticut.

Now cover your ears... Boston-area tween girls might start screaming because of the possibility that Kristine Lilly -- a star on the last Breakers team and a long-time player for the U. S. Women's National Team -- could return to play for the new Breakers.

"I am very excited about the league coming back," wrote Lilly in response to an email query. "I plan on returning to play in the league after I have my baby" later this summer. The team would be thrilled to have her on its roster, too, said Joe Cummings, General Manager and President of the Breakers (who was also General Manager of the team during the WUSA years).

Move From Nickerson Field to Harvard Stadium

The main reason the Breakers organization decided to move from BU's Nickerson Field to Harvard Stadium was to accommodate somewhat larger crowds, according to Cummings.

Cummings said that some of Nickerson Field's seating was old and crowded, limiting practical attendance to less than 7000. There were a few games during the WUSA years where the attendance stretched that capacity, so the move to a larger stadium was considered necessary. Harvard Stadium can accommodate more than 30,000.

The WPS league's business plan is targeting attendance of 4000 per game across the entire league, but Cummings thinks that the Breakers may see crowds averaging closer to 6000 per game in Boston based on their WUSA history -- with an occasional game reaching 10,000-12,000. (This contradicts the Cambridge Chronicle's story, which reported that the Breakers are hoping for attendance of 10,000-12,000 per game based on their WUSA experience.)

The WUSA's average attendance started strong due to the interest from the 1999 Women's World Cup Final, but then dropped its average from 8000 in 2001 to 6700 in 2003. (Note that these average figures can be inflated significantly over the median by a small number of games that are double-headers with Major League Soccer or national/international teams.)

Harvard Stadium was built in 1903 and is registered as a National Historic Landmark. "I think it has a lot of history," wrote Lilly, noting that she thinks it can still be made into an "intimate atmosphere" for the typically smaller soccer crowds.

The stadium was overhauled in 2006 to replace the natural turf with an artificial surface and to add lights to allow nighttime play. The "FieldTurf" surface is similar to the current surface at Nickerson Field that was installed around 2001.

Wouldn't the soccer team and players prefer to play on grass? "Yes, we would," Cummings said, but noted that the March 1 start of their training season makes grass play difficult in New England. Professional soccer players generally overwhelmingly prefer natural grass to artificial turf; 12 of 14 teams in Major League Soccer play on grass.

The team does not yet have an arrangement for a site to hold their practices, but they are currently in discussions with Harvard over the possibility of using a combination of Harvard Stadium -- which is usable year-round because it is covered with an all-weather bubble during the winter months -- and surrounding grass playing fields. Practice times are usually 10 am - noon, which does not conflict with student varsity or intramural sports.

Night Games, Parking, and Transportation

The Breakers will be playing ten or eleven home games per year at Harvard Stadium, of which seven or eight are expected to be night games. The Boston Cannons of Major League Lacrosse play their seven home games at Harvard Stadium, all of which are night games.

Harvard scheduled its first night football game at the stadium in September 2007 against Brown, which caused an uproar both among the neighborhood (whom Harvard had promised to notify well in advance of the event, but did not do so) and on campus (because the date conflicted with a Jewish religious holiday). Harvard postponed that game by a day to avoid the religious conflict. Harvard's behavior led some in the neighborhood to feel "insulted".

Part of the Breakers' agreement with Harvard provides for on-site parking using Harvard's existing lots, which will be at an expected cost of $10. Cummings said that the overall WUSA experience was for an average of one car per 3.5 attendees -- which would imply the requirement of 1700 cars for an average attendance of 6000 -- but that on-site parking at BU never exceeded 1000 cars. Harvard currently has approximatley three thousand parking spaces in North Allston, according to their institutional master plan notification form filed in January 2007, although some of that parking is used at night and on weekends by residents of the graduate student and Harvard Business School housing in North Allston.

Mass transit is a one-mile half-mile walk to Harvard Stadium from the Harvard Square station on the Red Line -- a clear step down from Nickerson Field which sits along the Green Line's B Branch. A number of bus routes (66, 86, and 70) serve the Harvard Stadium area.

Boston as a Baseball Basketball Football Hockey Soccer Town?

When people think of Boston as a sports town, professional soccer is not usually the sport that first comes to mind.

Harvard Stadium hosted a number of early-round soccer games in the 1984 Olympics, World Cup and Women's World Cup Final games, as well as qualifiers, have been played regularly at Foxborough -- also the location of the home stadium for the New England Revolution since their first game in 1996. And the Breakers led the WUSA in attendance in 2002.

"Over the past six years [we've] seen a real shift to soccer" in Boston, said Cummings. He noted that Boston's strong trends in an immigrant population make it more of an international city that will support professional soccer.

"Playing for the Breakers in the WUSA was amazing," wrote Lilly. "I enjoyed myself and our organization was great. We had great crowds and the support from the community was good. I think we can get more of the community involved with the new league and give young girls their dream back."

Possible Return of Kristine Lilly to the Breakers?

Later in 2008 the WPS expects to run its veteran player allocation and draft in order to populate the rosters of the eight teams.

One favorite to return to the Breakers' lineup would be midfielder Kristine Lilly -- former captain and 20-year veteran of the women's national team, record-holder for the most international minutes played, and boasting an astonishing 340 caps (games played). She wants to return to soccer in 2009 -- after she has a baby later this summer -- and the Breakers are definitely interested in the possibility of acquiring her, according to Cummings.

Another player who might return from the WUSA Breakers days is goalie Karina LeBlanc, who was born in Atlanta but plays for Canada's national team.

Two former Breakers players who are unlikely to return, however, are forwards Maren Meinert and Dagny Mellgren. Meinert was named the WUSA's Most Valuable Player in 2003, but has retired from playing in order to coach in Germany. Norwegian Mellgren scored the goal that won the gold medal for Norway at the 2000 Olympics, but retired in 2005.

Former Breakers coach Pia Sundhage is currently coaching the U. S. Women's National Team while they prepare for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China. Former WNT coach Tony DiCicco will instead be coaching the Breakers when they return to play.

Given soccer's popularity amongst the country's youth, it is not surprising that the Breakers already have MySpace (music: Dropkick Murphys, of course) and Facebook pages, and the WPS has a YouTube page.

The Breakers have a partnership with the Boston Renegades, an amateur soccer team part of the W-League of the USL, to put on youth camps and clinics. The Renegades play their games at Framingham's Bowditch Stadium. The W-League's regular season started May 10 and continues through July 20.

Image of a soccer ball by jbelluch and of Harvard Stadium by daviddumas provided through a Creative Commons license. Image of Kristine Lilly from

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Party Rules vs. Convention Rules

The Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee is holding a public meeting on Saturday, May 31st in order to address the issue of whether or not to seat at their August convention the delegations from Michigan and Florida. Those two states violated Democratic party rules by holding their Democratic presidential primaries before February 5, 2008 -- and are currently allowed no delegates to the convention, according to those 2007 rules.

Readers of this blog may remember my February 2008 reference to Boston City Councilor-At-Large Sam Yoon being named to the DNC's convention Rules and Bylaws Committee.

Councilor Yoon will not, however, be part of this Saturday's meeting -- he's on the DNC's convention's Rules and Bylaws Committee (which won't meet until just before the convention itself), not on the DNC's standing Rules and Bylaws Committee (which meets this Saturday). (The MSM often confuse the two committees in their terminology.) Only time will tell if the convention's committee, on which Councilor Yoon sits, will have to rule on any procedures related to the Florida and/or Michigan delegates left unresolved by the standing committee.

TalkLeft goes through the delegate math for a couple of proposals that will be considered by the DNC's Rules Committee at its May 31 meeting. The meeting will be held at a hotel in the Washington area -- but the Lyndon LaRouche-ies appear unable to use google to figure out the address, so they think it is a secretive conspiracy. (Maybe they were actually thinking about the informal dinner for committee members on Friday night.)

Of the 30 members of the committee, 13 openly support Senator Hillary Clinton's bid for the nomination, eight openly support Senator Barack Obama, and the remainder (including both co-chairs) are neutral -- although four apparently lean towards Senator Obama. One of Senator Obama's supporters is from Florida and will not be allowed to vote on that state's challenge; one undeclared committee member is from Michigan and will likewise not be allowed to vote on that state's challenge.

Massachusetts members of the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee are: co-chair James Roosevelt, Jr. of Waltham, the President and CEO of Tufts Health Plan; and Dr. Elaine Kamarck, of Harvard's Kennedy School (of Government). Dr. Kamarck correctly predicted in February that the committee would again have to take up the issue of Florida and Michigan before the convention. Roosevelt, who once ran for the 8th Congressional District seat (losing to Joe Kennedy), is profiled in the Chicago Tribune.

Image of head scratching by PhotoJonny provided through a Creative Commons license.

Monday, May 26, 2008

City Council Looking Into Bisphenol A in Baby Bottles

The Boston City Council will be holding hearings Thursday afternoon on the potential health impacts of the chemical compound Bisphenol A (BPA, C15H16O2) that is used in the manufacture of many baby bottles. Councilor-At-Large John Connolly, chair of the council's Committee on Environment and Health, called for the hearing.

BPA is commonly used to manufacture hard plastics that are also transparent, such as the water bottles made by Nalgene, as well as the linings in canned and bottled foods and drinks. The chemical has been linked to concerns over various neural and behavioral problems particularly in young children. The National Toxicology Program of the National Institutes of Health recently issued a draft report on BPA concluding that:
there is some concern for neural and behavioral effects in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures. The NTP also has some concern for bisphenol A exposure in these populations based on effects in the prostate gland, mammary gland, and an earlier age for puberty in females. [emphasis in original]
Why would the Boston City Council take up the case of possibly banning the sale of baby bottles made with BPA since such issues are usually in the domain of the federal government's Environmental Protection Agency and Consumer Product Safety Commission?

Because the federal government has been way behind the curve on this topic -- avoiding or delaying regulatory action on BPA, possibly in part due to influence exerted by the chemical manufacturing industry.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published a two-part investigative report in November 2007 on the health impacts of BPA and how agencies in the federal government were failing to act to regulate its manufacture or use. Their report found that "the federal government's assurances that [BPA] is safe are based on outdated U.S. government studies and research heavily funded by the chemical industry." Bill Moyer's Journal this week carried a story about the Journal Sentinel's coverage which you can watch online (or also on demand with Comcast).

Steven Hentges of the American Chemical Council -- the chemical industry's trade association that also runs a Political Action Committee that spent $2.39 million in federal lobbying in 2007 and $85,000 in Massachusetts state lobbying in 2007 -- will be speaking at the hearing. (Hentges is not a registered lobbyist either with the state or federal governments.)

After Canada banned the import and sale of plastic baby bottles containing BPA, Hentges criticized such bans as not being based on science. Oddly, the American Chemistry Council even issued a press release after Canada's ban quoting Hentges claiming that “the weight of scientific evidence, as assessed by Health Canada and other agencies around the world, provides reassurance that consumers can continue to safely use products made from bisphenol A." Turning a government's move to ban a product into a statement that the product is safe sounds like more spin than a Tasmanian Devil.

Also speaking at the hearing will be Mia Davis, National Grassroots Coordinator with the Clean Water Fund and co-author of the book "Baby's Toxic Bottle," and Dr. Michael Shannon, Chair of the Division of Emergency Medicine at The Children’s Hospital of Boston.

How do you know if a particular hard plastic product contains BPA? There is no way to know, since disclosure of its presence is not required to be reported. That's part of the problem. Nonetheless, apparently only plastics falling under categories 3 and 7 (the recycling numbers on the bottom of the bottle) potentially contain BPA.

San Francisco banned baby bottles containing BPA in December 2006, but never enforce their ban and later rescinded it. Canada banned them in April 2008, and Senator Charles Schumer has introduced legislation to ban them in the U. S. Ten states have legislation currently pending for their own bans on the bottles. Nalgene and Fisher Scientific have announced that they will stop producing the bottles, and Wal-mart and Toys-R-Us/Babies-R-Us are phasing out carrying bottles made with BPA.

Scientific Consensus Reached

The NIH convened a panel of experts in November 2006 to assess the literature relating to "concerns about the potential for a relationship between BPA and negative trends in human health that have occurred in recent decades." The panel issued a series six papers in the journal Reproductive Toxicology, including the consensus statement of the participants (vom Saal et al. 2007, Reproductive Toxicology, 24, 131-138, "Chapel Hill bisphenol A expert panel consensus statement"):
...Human exposure to BPA is within the range that is predicted to be biologically active in over 95% of people sampled. The wide range of adverse effects of low doses of BPA in laboratory animals exposed both during development and in adulthood is a great cause for concern with regard to the potential for similar adverse effects in humans. Recent trends in human diseases relate to adverse effects observed in experimental animals exposed to low doses of BPA. Specific examples include: the increase in prostate and breast cancer, uro-genital abnormalities in male babies, a decline in semen quality in men, early onset of puberty in girls, metabolic disorders including insulin resistant (type 2) diabetes and obesity, and neurobehavioral problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

There is extensive evidence that outcomes may not become apparent until long after BPA exposure during development has occurred... These developmental effects are irreversible and can occur due to low dose exposure during brief sensitive periods in development, even though no BPA may be detected when the damage or disease is expressed. [emphasis added]
Note that the consensus statement of the 38 scientists convened for this panel addressed the health impacts of low doses of BPA, particularly emphasizing the evidence for long-term, irreversible effects initiated due to exposure during early childhood development. This is the apparent reason why recent concerns have focused on baby bottles, rather than linings for food and soda cans.

City Council Hearing

Date: Thursday, May 29, 2008

Time: 3:00 pm

Location: Iannella Chamber, 5th Floor of Boston City Hall

Other people will be allowed to testify at the hearing.

Image of Nalgene bottle by ryanmack provided through a Creative Commons license.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Boring Legislative Ballot This Fall in Allston-Brighton

While the nation-wide presidential race is wide-open and full of voter interest, local elections this fall will be comparatively boring.

All sitting Allston-Brighton representatives and senators in the State Legislature are running for re-election unopposed.


While the certified nomination signatures are not due until Tuesday, May 27th from the local elections officials to the Elections Division in the Secretary of the Commwealth's office, the names of those individuals who pulled out nomination papers for each office are available. Only the current office-holders have pulled nomination papers for the two representative and two senator offices in A-B, according to an official at the Elections Division. Assuming that each candidate has submitted a sufficient number of valid signatures, they will all run unopposed.
17th Suffolk: Representative Kevin Honan (Democratic Party)
18th Suffolk: Representative Michael Moran (D)
2nd Suffolk and Middlesex: Senator Steven Tolman (D)
Middlesex, Suffolk, and Essex: Senator Anthony Galluccio (D)
Two years ago Representative Moran faced a Republican in the general election, Russell Evans, who mounted a vigorous campaign throughout the district. The challenger only garnered 17% of the vote in the election, however, because, of course, A-B is quite liberal and heavily Democratic. (In 2006, 54% of registered voters across Suffolk county were listed as Democrats while only 8% were listed as Republicans.)

Senator Galluccio won his seat in an open, special election last year after Senator Jarrett Barrios stepped down to take a position with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Massachusetts. The Democratic primary seemed a reasonable race, but, lo and behold, no Republican challenger for the subsequent general election.

Neither Representative Honan nor Senator Tolman faced opposition for their seats in 2006.

Will somebody, please, spice up this fall's local elections in A-B by running a sticker/write-in campaign, !

Image of optical scanner and ballot by .michael.newman., and fluffernutter sandwich by roboppy, provided through a Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Familiar Face Consulting for Councilor Ciommo

The agenda for today's City Council meeting had a slew of "temporary" (i.e., fiscal year-end) appointments for staff members of the various councilors. Buried amongst those announcements, however, was one that caught my eye:
0608 Order for the appointment of temporary employee Kevin Carragee in City Council.
Brighton residents know Carragee well as an Oak Square resident who, along with his wife, have played a crucial role in forming the Presentation School Foundation and purchasing those school buildings from the Archdiocese of Boston. He's active in the community and is on the faculty at Suffolk University.

Why would Carragee be taking a job working for a city councilor -- presumably Allston-Brighton District 9 Councilor Mark Ciommo?

He's got a perfectly good job already, and Ciommo probably can't afford him on the small staffing budget a city councilor has at his disposable.

Councilor Ciommo confirmed that Carragee will be working with his office, but only for 20 or so total hours over the next month or two as a consultant to improve the communications and delivery of constituent services in Ciommo's office. Carragee's faculty position is in the Department of Communcation and Journalism, after all, so this kind of consulting work is right up his alley.

Mystery solved.

Image of OLP Grammar School from Brighton Allston Historical Society.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Vickie Tolman to Receive Profiles in Children's Courage Award

Vickie Tolman, daughter of state Senator Steven Tolman of Brighton, will receive this year's Profiles in Children's Courage Award from the Franciscan Hospital for Children.

At age eleven, she suffered from the sudden onset of paralysis of the legs, difficulty speaking -- and, at least for a while, she needed a feeding tube. Her story has a positive ending: after eleven years of recovery, she now appears able to lead a normal adult life, living on her own and working at the hospital's preschool daycare facility.

The Boston Globe carries a touching story on her in their Living/Arts section. Senator Tolman "has seldom spoken about his daughter's condition publicly," but did so for the story, talking about her challenges while growing up and recovering from the illness. I have heard a few longtime Brighton residents mention privately and quietly that his children have had some challenges to their health, but nobody has given any details beyond that -- an indication of how effectively Senator Tolman has closely-guarded the privacy of his family. The Globe story is definitely worth a read.

BC Reportedly Renews Bid to Buy 2000 Comm Ave Apartment Building for $68 Million

Boston College is reportedly once again secretly trying to purchase the apartment building at 2000 Commonwealth Avenue, according to a report in today, for a price in the neighborhood $68 million.

BC previously tried unsuccessfully to purchase the building in 1992-3. Paul Barrett, then-director of the BRA, was opposed to BC buying the property and turning the building into a dormitory (archive fee). That is pretty strong opposition coming from Barrett -- particularly since he not only graduated from BC in 1978, but also captained the BC hockey team (archive fee).

The current building was constructed in 1985 by developer Jerry Rappaport over neighborhood objections due to its 16-story height being out of character for the Comm Ave corridor and nearby Chestnut Hill Reservoir. Mayor Raymond Flynn vowed to help Brighton residents to block the construction project, but the City Council intervened (archive fee) -- under the pro-developer push of District Councilors James Kelley and Thomas Menino (archive fee) -- to grant the developer a building height exemption above the allowed 70 feet. Allston-Brighton District Councilor Brian McLaughlin was one of only three votes against the exemption; Councilor Charles Yancey was another.

Rappaport sold the property in 1997 (archive fee) to Smith Property Holdings (current address in Colorado) for $27.5 million.

Before the current building was constructed, four construction workers were killed in 1971 (archive fee) on the same site when the roof fell in and the building, 75% completed, collapsed.

Off-Campus Student Dormitory

In recent years, much of the building has been occupied by undergraduate students of Boston College, with one BC official mentioning an approximately 40% student occupancy rate. Online reports of the student behavior in the building are highly negative, such as, "If you like to party all night and don't plan on sleeping for your entire stay here then move on in. Otherwise, stay away."

Despite such stories, Father William Leahy, S. J., President of BC, has stated that he believes the students in tall, off-campus apartment buildings, like 2000 Comm Ave, "rarely encounter the same kind of problems" (archive fee) as found in 1- or 2-family houses occupied by students. His argument appears to be unsupported. Yet BC has repeatedly insisted that on-campus students actually behave worse in tall dormitory buildings, and therefore BC has pushed for dormitories not to exceed four stories.

If BC were to purchase 2000 Comm Ave -- thereby likely turning it into on-campus undergraduate housing -- would they chop off all the stories above the fourth floor to ensure that their students occupying the building would behave well? Or were their arguments all along simply a ruse?

Via UniversalHub.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

BC Football Player Admits to Facts for Indecent Assault and Battery; Case Continued for Two Years

Boston College football player Brady Smith Wednesday admitted to sufficient facts in the charges of indecent assault and battery following an incident on April 19, 2008 when he allegedly broke into a woman's on-campus dorm room and "put his hand down her pants." Brighton Municipal Court Judge James Coffey ordered the case continued for two years rather than immediately send the case to trial -- meaning that, if Smith keeps his hands clean, he will not see any jail time.

Smith is one of four members of last season's BC football team to face criminal charges of assault and battery. The other three players' cases are pending.

Smith had originally been arrested by BC police, and subsequently arraigned, on rape and breaking and entering charges, to which he pleaded not guilty at the time of his arraignment. The Suffolk County District Attorney's office recommended the case be continued on the lesser charges of indecent assault and battery based on the evidence and the desire of the victim, who plans to complete her studies in the near future, to "resolve the case before she graduates," according to the Allston-Brighton TAB.

Smith's admission of sufficient facts in the case means that he would "likely be found guilty should [the case] go to trial," according to Jake Wark, press secretary for the DA's office. Smith's admission does not represent a change in his plea in the case.

The conditions imposed by the judge for the continuation of the case include a recommendation to the Department of Probation that Smith attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and regularly submit to urine testing both for alcohol and illicit drugs. Should Smith violate the terms of the continuance within the next two years -- such as re-offending -- then the judge could order the case be sent to trial.

Should Smith keep to the terms of the continuance, however, the charges would likely be dismissed after two years. Wark noted that the admission of sufficient facts and the continuance would stay on Smith's record after that time; sealing an adult's record could be requested by defense counsel, but would be unusual for an adult defendant.

After Smith's arraignment in April, BC suspended him from classes and he was permanently dismissed from the football team.

Two other BC football players, Gosder Cherilus and DeJuan Tribble, have their next court date on June 11th in the Central Division of the Boston Municipal Court. They were charged with assault and battery after an incident at The Greatest Bar in July 2007. Running back A. J. Brooks was scheduled to go to trial this month on assault and battery charges stemming from a November 2007 incident on-campus. Like Smith, Brooks was kicked off the team and suspended indefinitely from the school; Cherilus and Tribble, however, continued to play last season and both were drafted by the NFL last month to play Detroit and San Diego, respectively.

Image of gavel by vitualis provided through a Creative Commons license.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Red Lights and Bike-To-Work-Week

For those still driving their Suburban Assault Vehicles to work this week, you must have missed the memo: this week has been Massachusetts Bike-To-Work-Week, also called the Bay State Bike Week.

As a regular bicycle commuter, I can say that I saw more than the usual number of cyclists on the road this week, which was an encouraging sight.

But my most unexpected observation was how many of the cyclists were obeying the road laws: stopping for stop signs and red lights. During the week, I often saw 3-4 cyclists wait out the red light at intersections when there was no cross traffic. They may be newbies, but they can teach those hardened, old, aggressive cyclists a thing or two about safe riding practices.

A few tidbits:
  • Adam Gaffin has a nice wrap-up on blogging about the week's events.
  • The Boston Herald has a video of Mayor Thomas Menino bicycling; he should visit his local bike shop to get his seat height re-adjusted.
  • A couple of Cambridge thug-clists did some bad work on a motorist.
  • The week's events didn't get off on the right pedal when a crazy series of accidents in Allston's Packard's Corner took out a bunch of cars -- as well as a poor, parked bicycle in the pictures that no one seemed to want to note in the captions.
  • Eric from JP got nailed by a taxi that failed to yield to him in a bike lane -- but he lived to tell about it because of his helmet. Where are those bumper stickers "Bicycles Are Everywhere"?

Image of traffic lights by B Tal provided through a Creative Commons license.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Robo-Call Amber Alert for Black Cat in Brighton

Not being a current pet owner, the problem of a lost dog or cat isn't something that's on my radar. Sure, I see the occasional flyer for a lost pet posted on a utility pole -- an illegal posting of bills which is a $300 fine in Boston (ORD 16-23.1), I might add -- but, when I don't recognize the lost pet, the flyer just goes "out-of-sight, out-of-mind."

In the olden days, people would also go door-to-door asking their neighbors if they've seen Fluffy anywhere lately; sadly, these days too few city folk know their neighbors. Alternatively, someone would find the lost dog and call your phone number listed on its dog tag.

A few days ago, I saw this flyer [right] along my block. Nothing unusual, didn't recognize the cat, didn't think much of it.

Yesterday, however, I got a robo-call -- from -- asking if I had seen the same pet. We're not in Kansas anymore, just Brighton.

It should have come as no surprise to me that in the internet age a company would be formed to help reunite people and their lost pets. Not just a website where you can post electronically the same flyer you used to post on the utility pole, but a system that helps you fan out in the neighborhood to ask people if they've seen your lost pet. Maybe I've been in a pet-free cave the last few years, but I had not previously heard of the "findtoto" service.

This company will send out a series of robo-calls to phone numbers in your areas to ask people if they've seen your lost pet, and provide a contact number in case you have. They also list your pet, along with photo, from their online database. (Their database display methodology is currently rather poor, because it lists all lost pets in your state. If their business expanded greatly, you would want to be able to search by town or zipcode.)

Here's Brighton's lost cat:
Scott, 2008-05-03, 877-738-8686, Brighton, domestic short hair, Bunny
Doesn't quite look like a bunny, but I digress. The poor thing has heart problems and needs daily medication. The findtoto database listing provides what I presume to be the company's phone number, not the owner's home phone number (which is provided in the robo-call and on the physically posted flyer), which is 617-254-5957 in this case; the cat disappeared from Larch Street in Brighton, which is next to The Cenacle and a few blocks away from here.

How much does this service cost? A lot! Prices range from $65 for 250 robo-calls (suitable for a low-density rural location) to $425 for 5000 robo-calls in a dense, urban environment.

Note that the organization's website claims that they are exempt from the National Do Not Call Registry, which would explain why their call went through to my house despite having registered my phone number with the list.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Proposal to Tax University Endowments All Mixed Up

A state proposal to tax university endowments in excess of $1 billion at 2.5% per year appears to be gaining a little bit of steam, according to an article in the Boston Globe this morning.

Critics of the institutions of higher education point to their massive endowments -- especially Harvard University's $34.6 billion -- as out-of-line with their mission and managed in a way that, for all intents and purposes, looks like a for-profit corporation. Harvard's endowment now exceeds the $28 billion annual operating budget of the entire state government.

The proposal to tax the endowment funds greater than $1 billion, however, is particularly odd because for-profit corporation taxation is usually based on income or earnings -- not on the value of the capital itself. Harvard earned nearly 20% return on their endowment investments last year, resulting in a profit of approximately $6 billion; taxing those earnings at the capital gains rate would seem to be a more credible proposal than taxing the endowment itself.

A rule-of-thumb for non-profit endowments is that they ought to be spending roughly 5% of their endowment per year, otherwise they are hoarding money rather than operating in the public interest. A 10% return on their endowment can be considered then as a reasonable way to allow for modest growth of 5% (after the 5% expenditure is removed). Most universities have, in recent years, earned a little bit more than this rate of return.

How about if the state legislature considers a different law: tax earnings in excess of 10% at the capital gains rate of 15% on endowment capital exceeding $1 billion? That would mean that 10% of Harvard's 20% return on $28.7 billion in 2007 would be taxable at a rate of 15%, resulting in a tax payment of $831 million. It would be the non-profit equivalent of a windfall profits tax.

I am not claiming that such a state law would be a good idea, but it would at least make more sense from a tax perspective than the proposal to tax endowment capital itself that was mentioned in the Globe article. The "endowment windfall profits tax" would protect smaller institutions with endowments under $1 billion, and would not tax institutions when they have poor investment returns for the year.

Image by Tracy O provide by a Creative Commons license.

UPDATE: CNN's right-winger Glenn Beck seems to have picked up the term "endowment windfall tax" without attribution. He must be a reader of Brighton Centered.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Thirsty Scholars Pour Into North Allston; Systems Biology Finals Club To Follow

Harvard University hasn't been working with, or even up front with, residents of North Allston and North Brighton according to an article in The Harvard Crimson last week. (The article's additional claim that Boston College behaves neighborly by comparison is the subject of much dispute.) Harvard's Director of Community Relations, Kevin McCluskey, was quoted in the original Crimson story but was unsatisfied with Harvard's depiction in it -- so he and Kathy Spiegelmann wrote a follow-up letter-to-the-editor, published in Monday's edition, titled, "Harvard Hopes to Maintain Open Dialogue with Allston."

Members of Harvard's Faculty must have been quite confused that same Monday to hear Chris Gordon, Chief Operating Officer of Harvard's Allston Development Group, tell them during the faculty meeting that they had hidden a room on the roof of the Allston Science Complex -- named a "function room" on all the drawings and documents -- that is actually intended to be a bar for the scientists to socialize and drink.

There is no indication that Gordon or any other members of the ADG ever mentioned this intended use for a room in the Science Complex during the zoning approval process under Article 80 of Boston's zoning code. It's not a stretch to say that somebody's done found lion at the site.

It is outrageous that McCluskey publishes a letter-to-the-editor claiming to work with the neighborhood on the same day that Gordon tells the faculty how Harvard hasn't been up-front with the neighborhood.

A bar for 80-hour-a-week, nose-to-the-bench molecular biologists and biochemists? Well, some might say that they they know what they're doing. A friend once told me that, if she ever decided to drop acid, she would trust Caltech or MIT chemists to synthesize it, because she was sure that they would run a nuclear magnetic resonance test to verify its purity. But would she trust a Harvard chemist? Maybe, maybe not.

University chemists and biologists are popular at after-hours events, since it's relatively easy to sneak 96% ethanol out of the stockroom or the lab shelves. Most scientists know to avoid using ethanol more pure than 96%, however, because carcinogenic benzyne is added to it as a material separation agent... so the Allston Science Complex Systems Biology Finals Club bartender ought to be careful when purchasing product for their shelves.

Would proteasome researchers think highly of a Science Complex bar, or would they consider it degrading?

Via Harry Mattison.

Image of Somerville's Thirsty Scholar Pub by davidz, LSD image by Quasimondo, and ethanol by willie lee (not jack brown), provided through a Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Harvard vs. BC Town-Gown Story Bleeds Maroon and Gold, Not Crimson

Last week The Harvard Crimson, the university's student newspaper, published a news story ("Two Approaches to Campus Expansion," 4/28/08) contrasting the approaches to institutional expansion pursued by Harvard University and Boston College.

In covering the story, however, Crimson reporter Nan Ni did not include information either from an interview she conducted with BC Task Force member Kevin Carragee or from the discussion at a BC Task Force meeting she attended.

Both sets of information contradict her story's main thesis that BC follows a "policy of open disclosure" with Brighton residents over its institutional expansion plans, thereby resulting in a news story that appears biased in order to deliver a desired conclusion. The Crimson article is also at odds both with the experiences of many Brighton residents and the historical record.

And in an odd twist, the Crimson reporter appears to prefer shopping for handbags over balanced and fair reporting of local news.

Crimson: BC Has a "Neighborly Touch"

The supposed benevolence of BC toward the neighborhood described in Ni's story is supported by extensive quotations drawn from only one Brighton resident, John Bruno, a resident of North Brighton and a member of the BC Task Force:
Bruno said that he preferred BC’s approach to community relations [over Harvard's], calling it “negotiation with a neighborly touch.”
Bruno has admitted publicly that his son receives an Allston/Brighton Scholarship from BC and also announced in two public meetings in January that he had been contacted by the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission over potential issues of conflict-of-interest arising from that scholarship and his position on the task force. (The SEC itself is prohibited by law from confirming whether or not an investigation is ongoing.)

Neighborhood Reaction to Crimson Story

Reaction to the Crimson story was quick and negative among a number of Brighton residents familiar with how BC operates in the neighborhood.

"The Crimson article paints a very different picture from the one, we Brighton residents have experienced for the past year while the planning process has been moving forward," wrote Brenda Pizzo. "The trouble is that BC has been doing all the planning without any input from the neighborhood... BC disregarded comments, concerns and opinions from the neighborhood."

Pizzo also wrote directly to Bruno and the task force to express her disbelief.
John, are you kidding me? Let me tell you something, when you go to neighborhood meetings for an entire year and see the same plans over and over and attend meetings with Boston College and BC fails to make eye contact with the neighborhood because they view us as the enemy, that begins to feel like frustration and helplessness...

I'm gravely disappointed in the way you painted this picture, Mr. Bruno. It's not right.
Brighton resident Eva Webster echoed Pizzo's remarks in a letter-to-the-editor of The Harvard Crimson that is as yet unpublished. "BC held a number of meetings with Brighton neighbors prior to filing the [project notification form] for their upcoming Master Plan," wrote Webster, "but in each of those meetings, BC was telling the community what BC wanted to do, and showed little interest in learning, or heeding, what was important to us."

Charlie Vasiliades, the "Mayor of Oak Square," expressed his reaction to the Crimson story more succinctly. "What planet has the Crimson come from?"

Does BC act openly and benevolently in how they deal with the Brighton neighborhood? "In many ways they do," said District 9 City Councilor Mark Ciommo several days later. "You can't say they're the evil empire." Councilor Ciommo explained his point by citing a series of programs in which BC works positively with the neighborhood, including their volunteer organizations, the Boston College Neighborhood Center, outreach from the nursing school, and various sports and educational programs.

But when it comes to BC's process of institutional expansion into the neighborhood, the situation is less clear. "As far as the development issues, the jury is out right now," continued Councilor Ciommo. "Many of the neighborhood's issues [such as housing and athletics facilities] have not yet been addressed adequately" in their [institutional master plan (IMP) process, Councilor Ciommo said.

BC's failure to work with the neighborhood constructively -- or even to notify them in advance of plans -- was illustrated in a 2004 Boston Globe article describing BC's purchase of 40 acres of the St. John's Seminary land from the Archdiocese of Boston:
Even though the sale of the expansive archdiocesan campus to Boston College had long been expected by residents of the serene tree-lined blocks around the Brighton property, few neighbors were prepared yesterday for the news that the college is buying more than 40 acres in the neighborhood, 15 acres more than originally anticipated. Perhaps even more unnerving for some was the way the deal was done: sealed between the buyer and seller, with no consultation with the neighbors. [italics added] ...
Many city officials interviewed said they were not notified of the sale agreement until yesterday.
Thomas Keady, Jr., Vice President for Governmental and Community Affairs told Crimson reporter Ni -- in the context of BC's 2006 desire to purchase land near the Chestnut Hill Reservoir -- that "it was important to keep the college’s neighbors abreast of its activities". This statement is directly contradicted by BC's actions in 2004 when they failed to inform both the neighbors and city officials in advance of their plans to make their largest land purchase in many decades.

Interviews with Brighton residents, as well as the historical record illustrated by the Globe story, demonstrate that Harvard and BC pursue institutional expansion in similar ways -- in contrast to how the Crimson article tried to draw a distinction between the two institutions.

Crimson Reporter Does Not Include Information Contradicting Story's Thesis

On the evening of the April 22nd meeting of the BC Task Force, Ni interviewed Kevin Carragee, resident of Brighton and a member of the BC Task Force. Neither the Carragee interview nor any similar interview contradicting the Crimson story's thesis were included in the story that went to press.

Carragee said later that he did not agree with the central tenet of the Crimson story comparing how Harvard and BC treat the neighborhood in the process of their institutional expansion. "There's more continuities than discontinuities" in the way the two institutions approach the neighborhood, he said.

Ni was also present throughout most of that April 22nd meeting. At that meeting, Carragee and other neighborhood residents repeatedly requested that BC meet with the neighborhood over the modifications to their institutional master plan (IMP) following the Boston Redevelopment Authority's scoping determination in February. BC Vice President Keady repeatedly refused to agree to meet with the neighborhood for any such meetings on the substance of BC's revised master plan, saying that BC would only do so the night before BC files their revised IMP (the draft project impact report) with the city.

During the meeting, Carragee said that "it would be a mistake" if BC came with the final IMP in the manner that they planned to do. Other residents, including Shelby Marshall, voiced strong support during the meeting for Carragee's position. "Is it just an up-and-down-vote?" asked Marshall increduously about the non-collaborative way BC was behaving with the neighborhood. Webster was also at the meeting and called BC's actions "self-centered."

With all that openly expressed opposition to how BC is dealing with the neighborhood, how could the Crimson reporter not catch a single piece of that information that was contradictory to her story's thesis?

The answer is simple: Ni was busy throughout the meeting shopping on the internet with her laptop computer.

I know. I sat directly behind her. I watched her screen over her shoulder as she shopped. I didn't realize she was a reporter until after the meeting -- when I saw her walk out to meet with Keady and briefly overheard their conversation in the parking lot as I got in my car. The web surfing was distracting and amusing... although I still managed to ask a few questions and take pages of notes.

During the meeting Ni shopped for handbags, sunglasses, skirts, and tops. I didn't see her make any actual purchases, but neither did I see her take any notes of what was going on at the meeting. The handbags she was looking at appeared to be quite fancy, at least relative to my frugal preferences. And the skirts and tops appear to be very cute, too; she seems to have a nice, albeit expensive, taste in clothing and accessories.

Noting Ni's attendance at the meeting but failure to report on what transpired, Carragee later said, "I don't think she was sensitive to what was happening at the meeting."

Ni did not respond to an email request for comment (sent to a gmail address provided by the Crimson staff, not the email address in her byline which bounces), nor could she be reached through a number of phone calls both to the Crimson offices and her dormitory room.

Cherry-Picking Quotations

A casual reader of the Crimson story might assume the reporter was simply clueless about the relationship between BC and the neighborhood. It's easy to understand that a reporter might throw together a quick story without looking deeply into the issues -- and thereby get the story wrong through inadequate investigation.

After looking into the reporting in this Crimson story, however, the picture emerges that the reporter was exposed to an alternate point of view coming from a number of different Brighton residents -- Carragee, Marshall, Webster, and others who spoke up at the 4/22 meeting attended by the reporter, as well as Keady's dismissal of their requests to work with the neighborhood. Presented with this information, the reporter ought to have written the story very differently.

While John Bruno was the only Brighton resident quoted referring to the nature of BC's relationship with the neighborhood, it should be noted that the story also included quotations from BC's Vice President Keady -- who can hardly be considered to represent an independent evaluation of his employer's institutional behavior toward the neighborhood. In light of the SEC investigation, Bruno may not have been the best choice for a Brighton resident to quote extensively -- and exclusively -- in the story. That's why reporters usually call a few people, in order to weed out the one person who's story doesn't match all the others.

By comparison, Ni's story quoted three residents of North Allston and North Brighton about how Harvard University behaves towards the neighborhood.

Did Ni work on this story with a pre-ordained conclusion in mind? No one but she (or her editors) will know, but her outright rejection of the contradictory information which confronted her seems to indicate that is how she approached the story. Quite simply, the information she used in the story appears to be cherry-picked to support her thesis.

She also appears to have been played -- quite well -- by BC's Vice President in making the institution appear in a far more favorable light than the neighborhood residents believe. A simple search of the newspaper archives for the time of BC's purchase of the St. John's Seminary land -- the key property purchase involved in today's town-gown dispute -- would have produced the April 2004 Boston Globe article contradicting Keady's key assertion of how BC considers "it was important to keep the college’s neighbors abreast of its activities."

And, in the end, by doing all of the above, Ni has unwittingly made herself and her shopping habits a part of the story.

Getting played by an interviewee, ignoring one side of a story, and becoming part of the story itself are all mistakes every journalist tries to avoid.

Image of sunglasses by Spanner Dan, and image of handbag by coutorture, provided through a Creative Commons license.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Boston Civic Summit Brings Together Community Organizers

The first Boston Civic Summit took place Saturday at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in South Boston, providing a chance for civic leaders -- and foot soldiers -- from across the city to network with each other and craft a vision of how Boston could look a decade from now.

City Council President Maureen Feeney explained how the idea for the event grew out of a meeting months ago over coffee at Gerard's Restaurant in Dorchester with BCEC Executive Director Jim Rooney. They were looking at "ways to revitalize civic life in Boston," and seized upon a meeting of civic leaders as a way to draw people together from many different neighborhoods in the city.

Roughly 400 people from across the city met for seven hours to talk about community organizing strategies, improving communications with the media, fundraising, and their vision for the city's future.

"Don't Just Tell us What's Wrong"

Mayor Thomas Menino breezed in -- and out -- of the convention center probably feeling a little bit unwelcome. The event was conceived and organized without his input, faced his early opposition, and only provided him five minutes to speak to the crowd.

The event's program (as of one week ago) didn't list him on the program as a speaker; later in the week (and in the published program) he had a five-minute slot at the end of lunch; and only today did he manage to move his speaking slot up to a time right before event's keynote speaker. That the Boston Civic Summit wouldn't look to the Mayor as a keynote speaker speaks to the chasm between between the city's civic leaders and the municipal government's leaders; Boston Herald muckracker Howie Carr says that Mayor Menino privately calls the activists "agitators." The Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services only provided perfunctory visible support to the program -- sending out an announcement of the event to Allston-Brighton residents on April 29th, four days after registration for the event was supposedly closed on the 25th. Gee, thanks for the shout out, I guess.

Anticipating trouble might be brewing at the event, Mayor Menino tried to head it off at the pass: "Voice your concerns. Ask tough questions. Don't just tell us what's wrong."

But describing what was wrong with city government was apparently what happened at the first session of "Managing Community Development / Zoning". I was at a parallel session at the time, but word on the street was that the zoning discussion dove right into institutional expansion and animated BRA-bashing, leading to former Councilor Larry DiCara -- who led the session -- being instructed to keep the discussion in the subsequent session on the zoning process rather than the failings of the BRA. Which he did.

How could a discussion of zoning and community development avoid talking about the elephant in the room, namely the issues of institutional expansion and the BRA's role as possible facilitator? Because she said so, that's why. Councilor Feeney reportedly told one participant that this whole summit was supposed to be about civic involvement rather than reforming city government. A number of summit participants, however, didn't understand how one didn't involve the other.

It was without any apparent sense of irony that Mayor Menino noted how opposition in the early 1970s to the proposed Southwest Expressway faced down the "bureaucrats [who] tried to divide us." He obviously recognizes how civic engagement directly relates to government, although it must be tough now to be on the side of the equation.

"Rugged Idealism"

Keynote speaker Alan Khazei, the Founder of City Year, spoke about how he sees the United States being founded on the ideas of "rugged idealism," rather than the term "rugged individualism" that everyone is taught in high school history class.

Khazei gaves examples of the Boston Tea Party, the work of abolitionists in the 19th century, the suffrage movement of the late-19th and early-20th centuries, Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott -- and the Boston Ten-Point Coalition, which focuses on "the issues affecting Black and Latino youth, especially those at risk for violence, drug abuse, and other destructive behavior."

"Idealism works," said Khazei. "It has the power to change lives." He concluded with a rejection of Ronald Reagan's argument in the 1980 presidential campaign that people should ask, "Are you better off?" Instead, Khazei thinks that people should focus on the question, "Are we better off?"

Aging Population of Community Activists

The wireless tools used by AmericaSpeaks in the "Town Hall" session enabled instant identification of the demographics of the civic leaders of the city -- and the comparison with the city as a whole.

Community activists here have lived in Boston far longer (50% have lived in the city more than 30 years, compared to 10% of Boston residents), are more predominantly white (73% of activists vs. 50% of Boston residents), and are heavily skewed towards older residents (67% are age 45 or older, compared to 38% of Boston residents) than the population at large.

The worrisome message that grows out of these demographics is that those civically-engaged residents are aging but not being replaced by younger activists.

The only silver lining was identified by speaker Dr. Thomas Sander of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, who referred to recent research showing that people who were in college at the time of the events of 9/11 are turning out to be more politically active than their immediate predecessors.

But Sanders pointed to a steady decrease in the average rate of membership in large organizations since 1970 -- bringing activism rates, at least as measured by involvement in large organizations, down to a rate not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Top Issues Facing Boston

Participants identified education (61%), economic development (43%), public safety (37%), and housing (33%) as the most important issues facing Boston. Yet economic development (26%) and housing (15%) were low on the list of issues that they felt they could impact most through their civic participation, being trumped by education (65%), public safety (52%), and the environment (41%).

Political leaders often speak of economic development as key to the city's future, and point to the companies and institutions as drivers of the economic engine. The need for affordable housing is often repeated on the campaign trail, too. That the civic leaders of the city feel so powerless to affect change on these two issues is telling as to a disconnect between government and the people.

Vision for Revitalized Civic Engagement

The participants in the town hall session arrived at a common vision for how Boston might appear twelve years from now, should their civic activities produce meaningful change:
Participants envisioned thriving civic engagement in Boston in 2020 and discused how we would know we have achieved our vision. The group identified the following concrete, measurable things that would indicate we have reached our vision of revitalized civic engagement in our city:
  • Boston has a 100% high school graduation rate and Boston Public Schools are as good as schools in the suburbs;
  • Neighborhoods are green and sustainable (more green development, clean public spaces, decreased reliance on cars);
  • The digital divide has been eliminated, partially through free wi-fi throughout the city and city services are more easily accessed through the web;
  • Lower crime rate, "zero murder rate every year"
  • Young people fully involved in civic programs;
  • City government is more transparent (fully utilizing new technologies, participation is more fully encouraged); and
  • City government is more representative -- both ethnically and of the neighborhoods.
It takes little imagination to suggest that these issues will be front-and-center in the 2009 mayoral election campaign.

Image of old man by Pulpolux, and image of BCEC by silver marquis, through a Creative Commons license.