Archive for May, 2007

30
May
07

Supporting Our Troops

Ha!  Made you look!

Just when you thought I’d forgotten all about it, chattering on about my apartment, tv, etc…

WHAM!

I’m right back at ya’, yammering on about public housing and savin’ all them poor people.

I’m up over at Foresight, championing the Gulf Coast funds in the Iraq bill and pushing for additional support for H.R. 1227, an equitable Gulf housing bill we hope ain’t D.O.A. in the Senate.

24
May
07

I Just Can’t Escape These Guys

When I moved into my current place in Brighton, my mom was reassured that I’d be “safe” by living down the street from the Catholic Archdiocese headquarters.  One might see some truth in that statement, considering I’m no longer pre-pubescent.

Then I crossed paths in New Orleans with one of their priests, now Archbishop of the Crescent City, a promotion following a past managerial position during their heady days under former Cardinal Law. 

Now, it seems, my neighbors are leaving me, and moving to…Braintree.  Well, we won’t have to say goodbye now after all! 

Uh oh.  As penance for my blasphemy, G-d has ordained Boston College to take over my entire neighborhood, which they have promptly rechristened their “Brighton Campus.”  If you need me, I’ll be chained with my neighbors to a bulldozer on Foster Street. 

17
May
07

Not in My Backyard

Technically, anyway, since I no longer live in Braintree…

…but at the old Monatiquot Village apts (now Braintree Village) down the road from where I grew up…a young mom was killed today – police are searching for the murder suspect – who neighbors believe is the boyfriend…apparently they were always fighting.  The one woman they interviewed on the local news was like, so resigned, yeah, they were always fighting. 

The heartbreaking image: the woman – Michelle Durham - never came to pick up her daughter from school, and so the police were sent on a “well-being” check to the apartment, where they found her dead. 

BOO again.  How many of you have experienced that anxious worry about being left behind?  When our moms (parents? nannies?) are late to get us – on their end, stuck in traffic, worrying as much as we are.  This poor little girl.

Monatiquot sat down a hill behind my junior high, separated by woods.  There was a well-trod path between them, with somewhat of a clearing halfway through, and fights would be scheduled there.  “Sully and Foley are fightin’ down the path!”  On-looker stampede.

Monatiquot has affordable apartments; it was in the rounds of possible rentals when my mom and I first came back to Boston.  My aunt and cousins lived there for awhile when we were toddlers.  My aunt found my cousin Kenny one day on the wrong side of the balcony railing.  He’s always been a curious one.

My mom and I ended up at Skyline, another apartment complex in Braintree (though my mom purchased a basement condo), where we could turn off the tv/noise in our apartment and listen to the mom and son fight next door. 

I’m always looking for the local shout-out, but it’s always a stunner – and usually not in a good way – when Braintree makes the news.  My heart goes out to this little girl and her family, and all the women caught in violent relationships. 

 

(A sort of tangential note…my advisor and I were talking about our experiences with public housing residents (he was a manager in NYC’s housing authority; I was talking about my cousins), many of whom are single moms with kids.  He told me the biggest disruption in his residents’ lives was domestic violence.  I said what I witnessed was addiction.  And he sighed in recognition, and agreement.)

16
May
07

AP: Rich White People Finally Save Themselves

There’s so much problematic subtext in the AP’s coverage of the recovery of New Orleans’s Lakeview neighborhood, I don’t know where to begin.  First, I have to get my heart to stop pounding in outrage.  Then, I guess I’ll take it from the top.

First, the Lakeview neighborhood is more affluent than the vague term “middle-class” indicates.  Average household income is around $64k, versus $43k in Orleans Parish and $56k in the U.S.  (This data differs slightly from the Area Median Income figure of the U.S. Census.  All data here is from Census 2000 as reported by the rockin’ Greater New Orleans Community Data Center.)  It is also a white enclave – 94% – in a city that was 63% black prior to the storm (The US is 70% white).  Average gross rents in Lakeview were almost $800, versus ~$500 in New Orleans and ~$650 in the U.S. overall.  Respective poverty rates for Lakeview-New Orleans-U.S. were 5%-28%-12%.  Other telling features of the neighborhood were its two-third owner-occupancy rate (versus less than 50% city-wide), and less than 40% of kids being raised by grandparents (NO: 55%; US: 42%), and only 5.4% female-headed households (NO: 18%; US: 8%).  On average, Lakeview is a wealthier, whiter, more “stable” environment for children and families (presuming that marital households vs. households headed by single-mothers and grandparents equate to some measure of greater financial and social stability). 

Succession here – like in Staten Island, a whiter, wealthier more conservative enclave than New York City overall – might start to sound like a good idea when your suburban neighbors (Metairie, New Jersey) look more like you than those living within your municipal borders.  Whether this is a sign of “fierce independence” or some deeper desire for gated segregation is for you to decide. 

Meanwhile, a look at New Orleans East paints a different picture, one some of its residents featured in the article try to describe. 

Continue reading ‘AP: Rich White People Finally Save Themselves’

16
May
07

The Beginning of the End

Coincidentally, Wesley and I have similar post themes this morning, though we’re chronicling the demise of different histories.  While he says “Good Riddance” to lingering, crappy television, I watch with mixed emotions as my neighborhood changes around me.

I refrain thus far from using the word “gentrify,” as it appears the future of Brighton Center could go either way. 

I think to think of Allston-Brighton as the goiter on Boston’s neck. 

 

Originally part of Cambridge, and bounded on two sides by the posh towns of Brookline and Newton, Allston-Brighton joined the city of Boston in the early 19th century.  It was originally pastoral land – a vacation area for the wealthy of Back Bay – and stockyards.  It is one of the larger, denser neighborhoods of Boston with about 70,000 residents and rows and rows of fine, old apartment buildings (versus the triple-deckers that dominate most of Boston’s neighborhoods), and has many institutional residents, including the bookends of BU and BC, the ever encroaching Harvard, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, a couple Catholic seminaries, an international language institute, and two public housing projects.  It’s home to a diverse mix of people, including students  and the elderly; Russian, Brazilian and Irish immigrants; Orthodox Jews; a large Korean population; a smaller Hispanic population, and an even smaller African-African population.  With a 23% poverty rate (versus 19% in Boston, and 13% nationwide), the elderly and students crowding in beside the long-time families, I often joke that Brighton is a fixed-income community.

Where I live, I have three centers within walking distance of my house: Oak Square, Brighton Center, and Cleveland Circle.  Cleveland Circle is certainly on the developer’s chopping block given the high-end condos going up beside it (and no, you won’t live in Chestnut Hill, no matter what the realtors tell you), and I can’t say that’s a bad thing.  When your closest neighborhood center is dominated by collegiate watering holes and a Dunkin’ Donuts, you secretly hope these Lexus-driving, latte-drinking future neighbors might demand at least a bistro and a Starbucks to soften the blow that they basically live in BC’s backyard.

But I’m more conflicted about the changes underway in Brighton Center.  The main Washington Street thoroughfare is home to a whole bunch of independent stores – two cafes, a local produce shop, a bakery, an ice cream shop, a florist, a store full of kitsch, European (a.k.a. Russian and Greek) food stores, two diners, a smattering of bars and restaurants, a dentist and an eye doctor, a Knights of Columbus and an Elks Lodge, a dance studio, a new age shop, the Brighton Main Streets office, and countless others I’m forgetting.  Check out these storefronts:

What decade is it here??  The place is great, and not without your expected conveniences of banks, dry cleaners, post office, etc.  Saturday morning coffee and eggs at Mandy and Joe’s reminded the M.A.S. of a local spot in Minneapolis where he used to hang out.  The home cut fries in the authentic Irish Porterbelly’s were one of my favorite snacks.

And yet, slowly but surely, the place is disappearing.

First the thrift shop Boomerang’s that supported AIDS organizations closed.  Then an Exxon, and shortly after that, another storefront a few blocks down from the gas station.  The local chain Boca Grande opened up.  Now the new age shop is going out of business. Porterbelly’s got rid of its fresh-cooked pub food of overstuffed sandwiches and killer fries for a straight martinis-and-burgers menu fiasco.  And now the Korean restaurant across the street has shut down, to be replaced by the nasty chain Smokey Joe’s BBQ.  I can count at least three vacant store fronts interspersed among all this commerce, and I imagine Boca Grande and Smokey Joe’s are the sign of things to come. 

As mentioned, I have mixed feelings.  My gut tells me this turnover is not for the better.  I admit, I’d love some newer, better, independent restaurants – though I’d wish that on this entire city, and not just my ‘hood.  And despite the gentrification of other former moderate- to lower-income neighborhoods – I’m thinking of Centre Street in JP in particular – I just don’t see Brighton soon having the income or the housing stock to support such an “upgrade.” (I use quotes because I love Centre Street now even as I realize I can’t really afford the “new” JP.)  We have too many students/institutional tenants; too many big, older buildings that would need some serious upgrading for condo conversion (versus the more easily converted triple-deckers); too many religious, lower-income Orthodox families that need walking access to the synagogues of Brighton and Brookline; and too many senior citizens and their institutional housing.  The median condo prices out here for first-time buyers are on par with Dorchester and certain regions of JP (at that neighborhood’s nether-region suburban borders or those that abut Roxbury), not Cambridge, Boston or even Somerville.  I moved to Brighton because I liked its density, accessibility (three T lines and numerous buses), location, diversity and green space.  But I moved here mostly because it had one-bedroom apartments that I could afford.  (Ones that reminded me of NYC, with their pre-war design and elderly Jewish grandmas for neighbors.) 

As a Neiman neo-Marxist, I am torn between my desire to see some degree of upscaling of the bars and restaurants in this neighborhood (would it kill Massachusetts restauranteurs to embrace the green, leafy salad and cool it on the subs and calzones?), with my stronger desire to keep the neighborhood authentic, diverse and accessible.  There is a vibrant street life here; in our walks the M.A.S. and I will pass older Russian couples arguing, Irish rugby players headed into the Green Briar pub or Porterbelly’s, Orthodox children playing in their yards, and BC fashionistas out for a run.  It’s cool here.  I like it. And I know from direct experience that this affordable urban moment in time could certainly come to pass given the forces of private development we don’t easily resist in our lives.  But for Christ’s sake, I don’t want a Smokey Joe’s.  I can drive to the strip mall in Stoughton should I really have a hankering for mass-marketed ribs. 

14
May
07

Fieldwork

Trying to keep this short this morning as my globalization and inequality paper is weighing heavily on me.  The M.A.S. and I confessed last night neither of us are prepared for our anniversary this weekend, given it’s arrival on the tail end of the school year.  Enjoyed a lovely spring weekend in CT with my mom and stepdad for Mom’s Day.  Did a little shopping with my mom, which is always highly beneficial for my closet.

As briefly mentioned here, I was in New Orleans last week for three days, my first trip since Jan/Feb.  One night at dinner, I sat at the bar beside a woman from Rhode Island who asked me at what stage of planning was New Orleans.  I’m still trying to understand the question, but as I told her, the city is being rebuilt very unevenly.  I can’t stress enough how post-Katrina New Orleans offers an ideal-type scenario of all the potential development inequalities that threaten so many impoverished places, disaster or otherwise.  At least half the city remains displaced; the median income of the city has risen since the storm, indicating that those who have returned are more likely to be well off.  (The post-storm relative percentage of homeowners to renters, and whites to blacks, also indicate that a majority of lower-income, black renters have been unable to return to the city.)  Construction abounds for those with means; this does not include the city, who lacks the funding and the external trust of potential resource channels to bring in the necessary monies to rebuild the city.  The Office of Recovery Management (ORM), formed in the last six to nine months to lend some legitimacy and order to the rebuilding process, operates a 501(c)3, so that the philanthropic money that is flowing in to support redevelopment does not go to the long-corrupt city government.  Meanwhile, charitable $$ is not enough to rebuild an entire municipality; funds raised to date support ORM salaries for employees who then coordinate with the city agencies actually responsible for carrying out redevelopment tasks.  Yet, these agencies still lack the requisite funds – mostly governmental (state and fed); these monies are generally tied up in some byzantine post-disaster red tape arrangement made more dire by the unique pathos of both LA and Bush Administration politics.  Yikes.

So demolition and development unfolds in the wealthier areas of the city, as might be expected, and legions of outsiders continue to descend on the city to steer redevelopment on behalf of locals without the voice or resources in the current post-storm environment.  I met one former New Yorker there who enjoyed her new life in New Orleans even as she felt the transition was a challenge.  I refrained from recommending she hang out at the Whole Foods on Magazine St. in order to catch up with all the other NYC transplants.  Seriously, it’s some 21st century, Northeastern liberal’s version of a banana republic down there (and I implicate myself, obviously), though I like to believe we don’t mean to take over the city with corruption in our hearts, but rather from a different paternalism of social justice as our guide.  (Of course, for some many – locals and non-locals alike – it’s just a power grab.  Don’t let them tell you otherwise.)

It felt good to be out in the “real world” again, meaning here to be working on an applied problem, and not orbiting in the world of ideas and notions of inequity as I have been doing all semester.  Apparently, Louisiana has yet to outlaw cockfights (this is not in my planning portfolio as a problem to be tackled, but instead from a radio ad I can’t get out of my head), and I may work with some organizers this summer who are addressing – among other things – the 10% graduation rate of one of the city’s few remaining public schools (the privatization and subsequent further devastation of pieces of the already disastrous school system is something to which I’d need to devote an entire post).  Meanwhile, I’ve never stayed in the French Quarter before – and did so this time according to a “safety in numbers” approach to the city – and I’m astounded by how busy this teeny, tiny portion of the city is in terms of tourism.  And how tacky and male that tourism is.  With little exception, it’s like packs of white dudes roaming a bounded terrain of streets.  A different feeling of insecurity swept over me as I crossed Bourbon Street each night to my hotel.

I was dismayed on my trip to City Hall friday morning to see the city has fast-forwarded in the last five months to embrace metal detectors at the entrances of the building.  When I was there in December 2006, the lobby had the traffic and spirit of a bus station, with it not being clear whether people were waiting to board the elevators to carry them to their official business, or just hanging out beside the elevator banks as they might on their front porches.  Of course, in my trip through the metal detector, I had to hand over my bag to the security guard.  She didn’t look through it though, so if anyone has any goods they’d prefer to sneak into the buildings, may I suggest removing them from your person and hiding them in your bag.  Good work.

I’ll be back down again at the end of the month, for a conference and perhaps some further meetings.  I didn’t feel the same emotional pull this time around in NOLA; the love-hate relationship that has gripped so many of us who have worked down there over the last 18 months.  If my work continues there, I’m pleased, mainly to have work in such a complex (and yes, high-profile) environment.  But, I’m also okay with moving on, at this point, and forming new relationships in other cities, including the one I live in now.  We’ll see, but I feel a lot less conflicted about New Orleans this time around.  Hopefully this sentiment will last.  The emotional transitions were exhausting.

And I sat next to a woman in first class on the flight home.  I don’t think this has ever happened before, as I typically seem to be one of the few women in first class not there on the arm of a man.  The Boston Globe offers a tangential, partial explanation of why that’s the case.

 

 

08
May
07

Inspired

One might surmise of the French electorate this weekend, voting in right candidate Nicolas Sarkozy on his promises to redress unemployment and tackle immigration.  Weboy certainly thinks so. 

I’m not so sure, though I’m certainly impressed with 85% turnout!  Um, my fellow Americans, can we turn off Dancing With the Stars for five minutes and get to the polls, please?  “Freedom fries” legislation might actually pass if we turned up once in awhile! (I know, Tuesday’s not the easiest day to get to your local elementary school gym, but c’mon, we’d never be such g-dless heathens as to hold elections on a Sunday!  Crazy French Marxists. Oh wait, they just lost. for the third time in a row.)

(Caveat: Marxism does not equal Socialism.  Moving on.)

Anyway, I know I just said I wasn’t going to be blogging, you know, with homework to do ‘n all, but once again, my nerdy competitive spirit overtook me, and I couldn’t let Wesley be the only one waving his hand wildly in our virtual classroom.  Below, excerpts from my comment following his treatment of the French presidential election:

Continue reading ‘Inspired’