Cambridge Pols in Puerile Fit

November 23rd, 2010 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Yeah, we know a lot of Harvard and MIT types are too, too special for mingling with ordinary humans, on higher planes as they are. A splendidly comical report today from the Cambridge Chronicle shows that pretension disease has infected the city government.

It quotes several councilors as saying their city has stuff that others, like common Bostonians, would willingly steal. The illogic is worthy of BBC skits.

According to the paper, at last evening’s council meeting, several officials warned another, Leland Cheung, not to work too closely with Boston officials, including Mayor Tom Menino. Over objections from Councilors Ken Reeves and Tim Toomey, the body voted to let Cheung arrange a joint economic-development meeting with their equivalents in Boston.

Consider the silly positions of:

Reeves: You need a mayor in Boston who is a regional mayor, who cares about Cambridge and Newton and all the way out to Worcester. That’s not what the current stance in Boston is at all. It’s as narrow and myopic as you can get. I love Mayor Menino; if I was the mayor over there I might have turned into that, too. He is not a big-tent persona who is looking to hold hands.

Toomey: Mayor Menino is a very dear friend and colleague of mine, but I don’t see an economic benefit to the city of Cambridge by us sharing with the city of Boston what we’re doing. Mayor Menino has made it very clear that he’s enticing existing Cambridge companies to go to Boston now as it is. I’m not sure why we’re going to share what we’re doing with the city of Boston.

Vice Mayor Henrietta Davis: Cheung needs to be careful not to share trade secrets.

They seem totally unaware of several key ideas. First is that Cambridge is not a private corporation with a proprietary product — secret ingredients and recipe steps that only a few know. In fact, the nature of public government is just that, with open meetings and the right for the public to know who does what and how. They are far more like other cities around than they are different.

The pretext that the city is somehow magical and singular seems widespread, even among those willing to speak with those others consider arch-rivals on the other side of the Charles. As Cheung said at the meeting, “I’m not even sure how you would share the secret sauce of what Cambridge has. It’s just so unique to Cambridge. I don’t think it’s copy-able.”


Another thing the hush-hush triplets seem confused about is that there already is sensible cooperation. Consider an area where Cambridge has long held a lead, bicycling. In laws, facilities, public perception and on and on, Cambridge put Boston to shame for many years. Then when Menino got cycling religion and brought in a real professional bike czarina to match theirs, the two and their related biking communities work together.

You can hear Cambridge’s Cara Seiderman here and Boston’s Nicole Freedman here in Left Ahead! podcasts. They spoke of Cambridge’s lead in their own podcast and Freeman spoke gratefully of how Seiderman and others in her city helped her see and apply lessons they already learned. The idea was for better cycling regionally, safer and more pleasant for all, including drivers and pedestrians…working together on common goals as it were and as it is.

Amusingly, the tone of the meeting was one of schoolyard competitiveness. Bad old Boston surely must want what they have. If you give it to them something terrible must surely befall.

One would think the generally well-read Cantabrigians would be a tad more (a lot more) cosmopolitan. It’s great that Cheung has some wit about him and that he was able to rise above the provincialism. In the end, I suspect it will take only one or two benefits accruing to them to get them to claim this was really their idea all along.


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