Archive for the ‘City Hall’ Category

White Squirrel Fest #6

September 10th, 2016

The JP Music Fest is a tot by Boston standard, but really they’ve pulled off six annual versions now.

We enjoyed a few hours there. As a note, the hipster quotient was low today. For example, I only counted two Trilby hats.

Here follow a few snaps of groups we heard in a few hours. I recommend following the links and listening to each. You can also catch a track from each at the JPMusicFest site.

The festival is this time each year, runs with continuous music from noon to 7, offers a wide variety, and is free.

Merrie Amsterburg plays a wide variety of instruments, including allegedly a washing machine. She was on the electric mandolin in JP. merrie3
amechoes2 America Echoes reminds audiences they are identical twins, Laura and Nina Ganci.
The America Echoes women do R&B and folk, electric and acoustic. amechoes6
boxofbirds1 Box of Birds is a folk rock quartet. Steph Durwin leads the vocals.
Guitarist Charlie Gargano of Box of Birds sang too. boxofbirds4
louder1 Louder Than Milk is a very local fun and funny country-like band.
Louder Than Milk has a drummer vocalist too, Jay Page (h.t. to Bridget Murphy). louderthanmilk


On the way to the festival, we had a mini-concert from a wee flutist trying to get the ducks and her brother to listen.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

Boston choo-choo ka-ching

March 3rd, 2016

fairmounttoot-213x300With a very jovial CYA delivery, MBTA General Manager Frank DePaola chuckled his way through good-natured insults from Boston City Councilors last evening. He was at the Hyde Park Muni building for a hearing of the city’s Parks, Recreation and Transportation Committee (alas, no Amy Poehler cameo).

It was a very Boston, very city-government two hours entertainment. We got no denouement, but yet, a promise of more bureaucratic theater. It all may resolve well.

We recently saw that with related commuter-rail matters, specifically the Fairmount line. While we rail about commuter rail, Boston is a positive legend in transit circles nationally and internationally. Our local community groups badgered the commonwealth and feds into bring service and stations on the Fairmount Line (a.k.a. Indigo Line) to the underserved largely black and poor citizens. We also pushed successfully for both more frequent service and more than 50% fare drop to a fairer fare equal to a subway trip to Fairmount Station.

Hence the committee meeting. It had the heavy-fingered title of Order for a hearing Regarding Inconsistencies in Commuter Rail Fares and the Effect of This Policy on Local Communities. It resulted from well-justified whining by residents of neighborhoods and sub-neighborhoods.

Unfair fares?

Commuter rail fares in Boston range from $2.10 to $6.25 per one-way trip. These differences relate — but arbitrarily — to MBTA zones, which only kind of tie to distance from major city rail hubs (mostly South Station). Moreover, a short walk or drive away can make that nearly 300% differential, and again, these are all within the city limits.

Then cue the Mommy-Jane-got-something-I-didn’t calls. The Fairmount neighborhood (mine) lobbied and otherwise worked the system for years go get the service, frequency, stations, and BANG! drop from $5.75 to $2.10 a trip. Readville and Hyde Park Stations, only a short distance away are still at $5.75 and $6.25 a trip. Those around them are aware that out-of-Boston stations like West Medford are at $2.10. (Insert understandable foot stomping.)

Last evening’s very civil hearing got into all of these. Three Councilors spoke their unanimous support for fare equity within city limits. They made it plain their constituents were wired about that happening.

Those who showed

Those who appeared in person and were mentioned as supporters were perhaps as telling as who did not. On the dais were:

  • District Councilor for Hyde Park Tim McCarthy
  • At-Large Councilor and Council President Michelle Wu
  • District Councilor for Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury (and Roslindale sliver) Matt O’Malley

McCarthy cited some of the legislators for those neighborhoods who supported lower fares in-town, including Representatives Liz Malia,, Russel Holmes and Angelo Scaccia, and Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz.

Note who didn’t bother, including all the Parks etc Committee members:

  • Chair Salvatore LaMattina
  • Vice Chair Bill Linehan
  • Frank Baker
  • Annissa Essaibi-George
  • Mark Ciommo

Perhaps they weren’t aware they could take the Fairmount Line and get off 100 yards from the municipal building.

Wu brought the prestige of the Council boss. She also worked the room before the hearing and captured snatches from several of us. For example, Gov. Mike Dukakis has long been a mass-transit rider and advocate. He and I both testified at a few public meetings, he was my my Left Ahead show a couple of times and we’ve even corresponded on fares. When Wu approached me at the Muni, I told her that I’d like to see the T as free with money spent on service, maintenance and security instead of fare collection, while Dukakis said he’d like a $1 trip for all. At yesterday’s hearing, from the dais she parroted that some would like free or $1 fares. I sincerely appreciated her saying that. She’s a skilled pol.

McCarthy has a pre-Council career of constituent services. He spoke of reason and fairness, particularly for the stations in Hyde Park on the two lines.

Sit-down comics

O’Malley was charming as he always is. He can out-jolly even DePaola. He said the fare issue was “a problem with a pretty simple solution, as is dropping all in-Boston fares to $2.10. “We can solve the problem and have an early night,” he added with the requisite chuckle.

Before dumping on DePaola as the T representative, O’Malley also apologized in advance. He linked the GM to a Yankee in Fenway Park, acknowledging that most commuters in  the system had terrible thoughts about the MBTA, particularly in light of the failures to operate last year in record snows (and under the previous GM).

Nonplussed, DePaola confirmed there’d be no resolution at the hearing. He pleaded bureaucrat with no portfolio. That is, he came into the meeting without power beyond listening and responding to direct questions that did not involve promises.

He cited the powers that be:

  • Governor Charles D. Baker
  • The 11-member MassDOT board
  • Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack
  • I think he even mentioned the five-member Fiscal and Management Control Board

Baker is a professional bureaucrat. He knows how to wall himself off and is better insulated than a hipster dressed for downhill skiing. DePaola reveled is padding himself.

As he put it, the fares and related issues are all major policy concerns. He praised the questions and concerns from the audience as well as the trio of Councilors as “great ideas.” Then he was at his CYA best with, “We’re the troops. We deliver the service. The policy comes to us from those who make it.”

That was short of don’t-call-us-we’ll-call-you lingo, but not by much.

T probation periods

I’d add that when the Fairground frequency increase and fare decrease came, they were on trial bases. They were on six and 12 month tests. If ridership and revenue seemed to justify them, the MBTA would (fanfare for noblesse oblige) kindly keep them in place.

Apparently, we near Fairmount Station did OK. The T queen bees would still like better numbers but we passed the minimal, it seems. The irony is that they really don’t other to count, not under the old crew or the new Keolis one. Many Fairmount Line trains have conductors who do not have the time (or interest) to collect fare. Those who do grunt approval of smartphone purchases and monthly passes waved in front of them. They simply don’t count the actual number of passengers per trip.

DePaola made much of the T subsidizing commuter-rail at $4 per passenger trip, in contrast to 65¢ on the subway or trolley. We have to trust those are accurate figures and that they amount to the $200 million a year shortfall the T provides.

McCarthy noted that among the 175 communities who pay some annual fees to the T, Boston is by far the largest contributor. He contended that we deserve a break, at the least that all commuter-rail stops in city limits should have the same fare (as in $2.10).

DePaola rejoined that 50 rail stops were within the distance of the farthest Boston-limit distances from South Station, so that would be a big deal. If Boston gets that, then everyone will want it. Whaaa.

My sense of the hearing (and speakers) was that we might be headed to another, bigger trial. That might mean after more headings and sloth-like action by the T bureaucracy, stations like the four in West Roxbury and Roslindale might get Fairmount-style tests. If lowered fares bring in more riders and fuller parking lots, the T gods just might nod approving on the peasants.


Alter kakers, moms to the polls

November 8th, 2015

Last week’s Boston election was a flapping wrinkle at least, while not a revolution. No ballot questions or major offices (mayor, governor, legislature, Congress or POTUS) lured the curious or civic-minded. However, we did revisit the 13 City Councilors.

Lackaday, only 13.63% of the city’s registered voters showed, according to the posted results. I could lament the lack of participation. Yet, it was right in the narrow range the MA Secretary of the Commonwealth predicted. I could also feel a barely justifiable pride that my precinct (18-16 in Hyde Park) more that doubled the city rate, at 28.08%. We had 1572 in our book and 442 cast ballots.

I’m the warden there, the minor official in this big pond with many inlets, as in 254 other precincts.

Instead, I noticed a few trends in my nearly 15 hours there. Election workers get to the polling place at least an hour before the 7 AM opening. We leave after breaking down, putting away, checking each ballot for write-ins, and accounting for each civically-sacred ballot.

It is no exaggeration that we are accountable for each ballot — received, cast, spoiled, or provisionally marked. We count them all day long, cross-reference the check-in and check-out books, and go a final great bookkeeping of them after polls close at 8 PM.

We’re on Fairmount Hill, a sub-neighborhood of Hyde Park rife with oldsters (including me) and breeders. Those are the sets that always vote and seemed to dominate again on Tuesday last.

Years ago, I was first inspector, then clerk (effectively middle management), then warden at the Woodbourne Apartments in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood, 19-12. There are many disabled residents of that building, and many of those said that voting is a highlight each election day…solid participation, coupled with the rest of the precinct.

The seniors in 18-16 really believe in voting. Like I, they surely had both civics classes in school and expectations from parents that they had to participate in democracy.

In addition, we had a steady beat of babies and toddlers all day in 18-16. Actually that’s not precise. The moms (almost no dads voting with wee ones) were not queued up before 7 with their charges. Nor did they rush in before 8 and closing.

However, many 20-, 30- and 40-somethings came in with one to up to five kids on food, in carriers, in strollers (up to triplet). There were some grandmothers with several kids as well.

As my three did as little ones, most kids seemed to love the event, perhaps for its rarity and newness. Surely adults could say it was a joy disproportionate to the actual task. I did my nefarious part as well, keeping a steady supply of Halloween treats in bowls by both check-in and check-out tables for the taking. While adults grabbed the Reese’s Cups and 3 Musketeers bars, the kids who were allowed to pick almost invariably chose lollipops. I kept the handles within view and those went fast.

Some of the preschoolers also favored the other extra, the I VOTED stickers. As odd as the power of a parent counting down, stickers have their own magic.

Keep the kids coming. They are another reason for some to get to the polls. They are are spots of pleasure for the poll workers, with cuter and less dour, New England faces from the youngsters.



Wee Beests to Boston

August 28th, 2015

After a very unsatisfying and crowded first go at the Strandbeests last weekend, we had a much closer, leisurely and just better time when the small versions arrived in downtown Boston today.

They brought the same pair of relatively tiny TinkerToy-style, wind-in-sail driven models as at Crane Beach. I write tiny because the videos and promo material for Theo Jansen’s fantastical constructions show titanic versions. Sure it makes perfect sense that they would not try to lug and reassemble the biggies everywhere. Just as sure, it’s disappointing to see 7-foot tall models rather than major-motion-picture-scale ones.

Nonetheless, I grew up on construction toys and bought more elaborate ones for my sons, ostensibly for my sons that is. What follows are some shots from City Hall Plaza this afternoon. Geeks and nerds only need look.


Don’t let the legs and feet fool you. They are under the Strandbeest to stabilize it. These are sail, wind-driven toys. Beest1
beest7 Dutiful intern types do quick assembly on Jansen’s critters, then pull them to a starting area and wait for a good breeze.
beest4 beest3
beest6 When top and side sails fill up and get some oomph, the beest takes off, the feet and legs churn, and it seems to be walking even running.
The legs and feet really do rise and fall as the beest races along. The illusion is of locomotion beest2
beest5 The worker bees are ever at the ready to do quick repairs (frequently needed) and if necessary to pull the beests back for another run and another wait for a breeze.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

Hyde Park coffee, plants and pols

June 3rd, 2015

walshcliapSure, it’s not Eton, but the playing fields of Hyde Park are dear to Bostonians. This morning’s long, varied and elaborate ceremonies at the Iacono Playground and its newly dedicated (tot) playlot saw local pols and staff outnumber the residents.

Ostensibly this was another year of the later Mayor Tom Menino’s coffee with the mayor meet and greet. It was the same and different.

Among the same:

  • Dunkin’ provided coffee and Munchkins, and Whole Foods fruit in cups
  • Boston’s city greenhouses brought 100 or more pots of red geraniums to disperse
  • The Mayor and District Councilor glad-handed all

Among differences:

  • The new Mayor, Marty Walsh, (right) has a strong Dorchester-recognizable accent, but not the gently risible speech stumbles of Menino
  • Walsh also did not insist on personally handing out the flowers, and showing he knew each of our names and family connections in the process
  • While the former District Councilor, Rob Consalvo, appears now as deputy director of Walsh’s Home Center program, his replacement, Tim McCarthy is not the humble font of endless municipal-improvement ideas
  • At-large Councilor Steve Murphy (also from Hyde Park) was a key player. He both helped Walsh dedicate the impressive tot lot to long-time owner of the Hyde Park Pharmacy Richard “Richy” Ferzoco. He also was the originator of DERO (the Diesel Emissions Reduction Ordinance) in Council.
  • Walsh used the event to announce that this signing would be one of many outside of City Hall. Instead of quietly pushing ordinances into effect, he intends to sign more in affected neighborhoods, expecting residents to understand and talk up the good work.
  • This go drew lots of local media, plus heads of numerous Walsh departments, like Public Works, Park and on.

Black smoke

murphymugLest it get lost in, if you pardon, the smoke, DERO is a pretty big deal. It mandates retrofitting diesel vehicles owned by the city and its contractors to modern air-quality standards. According to Murphy (left), this makes Boston the only Eastern city to do this. Also, it seemed close to Walsh’s heart; he said he tried but failed to drive it through the legislature when he belonged in pre-mayoral time.

Murphy cited a 300% above national average childhood asthma rate here, which he attributed largely to diesel emissions. He and other speakers noted this ordinance holds the city and its contractors to a higher standard. It should, for example, mean retrofitting 120 of 400 city vehicles.

In another wise pander to a citizenry still staggered by the last dreadful winter, Walsh bragged about heading toward real snow removal. Instead of blocking driveways and moving the snow and its onus to the residents, he said Boston was buying two elaborate snowblower type of equipment. The idea is that the massive machines transfer snow from the streets into dump trucks, which in turn haul them away instead of blocking intersections, drives and sidewalks. Money well spent I predict.

Finally, Walsh said the city has planned $20 million in renovation for parks and recreation. He said it was the largest increase in Boston’s history for this purpose. Here too this crowd-pleasing decision should resonate, or as Walsh put it, “Parks can be used by the little guys, the seniors, and everyone in between.”



Passing of the Torch Light Switch

November 30th, 2014

Even if our longest-serving Mayor Tom Menino hadn’t died so soon after leaving office, today would have been strange. His replacement, Marty Walsh, threw the light switch on  the Christmas tree in Logan Square.

LoganlightingThat’s in Hyde Park, Menino’s part of Boston (and mine). As a city councilor, then mayor for so long, Menino was the tree guy. He loved the square, the event, the happy kids, the young step dancers and other performers, greeting the constituents, and showing off his phenomenal memory of our names and details. One year when he was ailing, his wife Angela, stood in and up for him, but this was different.

A tree lighting without Tom Menino is a shock to the HP psyche.

Let me note that Walsh did well. I don’t know if he has it in him to be as charming, as avuncular, and as jolly as Menino. I can leave it for others who did business with the city to haul out their favorite vignettes of how Da Mare could, would and did figuratively break their knuckles in negotiations. As a constituent I never experienced that in my decades of dealing with him.

Pix clix: Click a thumbnail for a larger view. If it opens in the same window, use your browser’s back button or command to return.

License note: All pix are Creative Commons-Attribution. Do whLoganhorsesat you want with them. Just give Mike Ball credit once.

Walsh is a passable pol. He got elected and reelected to the MA House then the mayoralty. Oddly enough though today in Logan Square, he seemed to get a lot more pleasure out of high fiving the kids than he did glad-handing the voters. Could the new Mayor be shy?

The crowds were also passable. I estimate that half to two-thirds as many who showed as in previous years. That was surprising in that we had relatively balmy 4:30 PM weather. It’s gotten to be a very localized joke that the event brings snow, sleet, bitter cold and strong winds.

However, as always, the kids had a good time. There were silly rides for the littlest ones, fried dough and cotton candy for the shameless and those with strong stomachs, and draft-horse cart spins about.

LoganfaceOh, yes, and the face painting occurred in the Logan Square Barber Shop. That’s where I get what little hair I have trimmed. I found it peculiar that while the barbers were not doing the deeds, kids adults alike were in the three chairs getting done up like tigers or with Patriots’ logos on their cheeks and foreheads.

On the dais, we had the usual suspects — Santa, Rep. Angelo Scaccia, District Councilor Tim McCarthy, At-Large Councilor Steve Murphy. the commander of the local police precinct and such. In no surprise, I kept overhearing the lament of no-Tom-Menino. That’s certainly not Walsh’s fault, but he has a lot of history against his back.



A Bigger Boston? Yes, Says Mayor Walsh

October 15th, 2014

At the less dewalsh1pressed and threatening Dudley Square, I elbowed into the jammed-to-sweating announcement this afternoon. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh opened the first of three outposts of his Office of Financial Empowerment. (Click the link to catch key details and the players.)

The big idea is that many of what our Sen. Elizabeth Warren would say are living on the ragged edge of the middle class (her fave expression and an apt one here) don’t have to be. They can learn smarter ways to manage money, particularly with:

  • financial education and coaching
  • credit counseling and “repair” of credit score
  • workforce development, education and training
  • job search support services
  • tax prep and earned-income tax credit guidance

Most of the funding for the effort comes from the United Way and LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation). Boston isn’t the first to get one of these. Locally Lynn, Lawrence and Chelsea already have the the program should open a total of 10 here. Cities in other states have theirs working.

What caught my attention most though was Walsh’s comments about growing our static burg. We’ve hovered around 600,000 for several decades, recently edging up to maybe 636.000. Note that 60 years ago, the population was above 800,000.

Walsh would like to see the actual city above 700.000. He said today that a big factor there would be providing more and more affordable housing. That would be 50,000 to 60.000 units to support the growth.

It’s no coincidence that a couple of candidates whom Walsh defeated in his mayoral run proposed similar goals and figures. The fascinating part of today’s gathering was that he has not backed away from the goal.

I’ll try to get him to come on Left Ahead again to detail his plans.

Waiting for God-Snow

February 8th, 2013

Extrapolating to the looming blizzard, I think power outages past.

In our former house of 21 years in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood, we had numerous localized blackouts. Some were a few hours, but an annoying and inconvenient number were days, up to five.

In the new place of four years, we fare much better.  It appears that the newer above-ground equipment, as well as the suplier — NStar rather than National Grid or Keyspan — have much to do with that.

Over in JP, transformers regularly got shorts, lightning strikes or taken down in tree falls. Those are very rare up here, long timers tell us.

cablesThe oddment is Boston’s blind acceptance of the ugliness, inefficiencies and even dangers of the power and comm cables everywhere overhead. Like in so many cities, we simply don’t see them. They are like the dreadful snapshots folk take and only notice later that there are poles appearing to grow out of someone’s head or the garbage truck as a background.

Facts are that keeping these cables up high has benefited the utilities and other providers financially…at stupid penalties for all of us. Boston keeps a third-world infrastructure by inertia.

In contrast, places like Manhattan recognized the perils of this and protected most underground. We saw the benefits when superstorm Sandy was so destructive. Repair and rejuicing the thin, long island was much quicker and cheaper than where the transformers and wires were on poles.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, it costs to put the cables under the street, but some cable TV/net/phone providers got it, sucked up the cost and have vastly higher uptime than the creaky alter kaker companies. If it costs, the provider should pay most or all of it, getting an ROI from longer maintenance and install outlays going forward. They can probably scam cities and states into letting them bump their rates, just slightly, to recoup some of that. Boo, but OK.

Sorry if this alters your perception. No, I’m not. People here from the pols to us ordinary folk should notice how hideous the poles, cables, boxes and cables covering our streets are.

Bury ’em!

Sandy just bruises us a bit

October 30th, 2012

Here’s best hopes and wishes for those in Sandy’s path. We had comparatively little damage here. Our flooding, lost power, and tree-on-house destruction would normally be sources for self-pity. With this monster storm though, we feel lucky.

Here are a few snaps of our hill in Boston’s Hyde Park neighborhood.

Well, there was that tree. This 40 to 50 foot pine fell without creaking or other sound, suddenly blocking the road. The car normally in its path was not and it fell both away from our house and short of the neighbor’s.
Everyone, his brother and niece seemed to have called the city. Plus a Public Works big shot lives nearby. They told us they didn’t know when they could get to it, but were there within a half hour. They took about half the tree but used a loader to move the rest off to the sides so folk could drive through.
Pre-Sandy old coot (and weatherman/woman) wisdom was it would be a waste of time to rake before the storm. That was partially true. Here is our formally totally clear patio after the blow.
On the other hand, we got trash, recycling and yard-waste pick up all on Monday. So 16 big bags or cans of leaves went to the city compost piles.
A neighbor’s R.I.P. Halloween tombstone ended up in the gutter flood of leaves and water. I retrieved it and one of the downed-tree gawkers recognized it, taking it off to the rightful owner.
Our several maples were denuded by the big winds. The three big basswoods in the back haven’t even bothered to turn color much less give up their foliage. This dogwood held on to about half its covering.
The skies still misted and more rain is allegedly coming throughout the day. Yet, early this morning, the sun tried to peak and promise.
With the big winds gone and guts down to 20 MPH, the political yard sign went back up.

Pix Notes: You’re welcome to anything useful. They are Creative Commons, so just cite Mike Ball once.

We know numerous chums who lost power and had water damage both here and in New Jersey. I hear that my WV buddies and getting a foot or two of snow as well. However, Sandy was relatively kind to us and Boston did a fine job.


Big Tree in Small Town of Hyde Park

November 27th, 2011

I know small towns and attended a lot of parades, tree lightings, and speeches in childhood. This afternoon’s tree lighting in Hyde Park’s Logan Square had that feel.

Yeah, yeah, there was Boston’s Mayor Tom Menino on stage with Police Commissioner Ed Davis, state Rep. Angelo Scaccia, Councilor Rob Consalvo, Council President Steve Murphy and a local bank head. Fact is though, it was pretty small town…and delightful.

HPTM Da Mare loves this stuff. He’s at his best working crowds and going one on one with present and future voters.
An unusual appearance by his shy wife, Angela, got her a reward of a posy. HPmeninos
HPtree This was the 31st lighting of one of the few living Christmas trees on Boston property. The 45 footer was grown from its original 8 feet. Who’s counting, but the MC read that it has 1200 lights.
The one-way guys, Murphy, Consalvo, Menino, Scaccia HP1wayguys

Pix Notes: These are far and without flash. You’re welcome to anything useful. They are Creative Commons.

Several hundred HP’ers milled around the stage when they weren’t at the kiddie rides or grabbing fried dough. It really was a small-town event.

The steps and plaza of the municipal building had maybe 100 kids from elementary through high school. There were carols and Broadway holiday tunes, a local version of the Rockettes, and sincere singing all around.

The minister giving the invocation went oddly on and on about 9/11 and the hopes we retained afterward. It ended up not being so strange.

The local tie-in was when the emcee and the mayor spoke of Mark Bavis, a local hockey player who grew up to be a pro hockey scout and who died on Flight 175, which hit the South Tower on 9/11. His mother, Mary was on stage, next to Angela. They presented her with a large framed image of the tree.

In a very nice, very Tom Menino touch, he had her pull the  lever to light the 1,200 bulbs.

He is mayor of Boston, but he’s also the unofficial mayor of our shared neighborhood.