Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Which Brookline are we Talking about?

I've been doing a lot of head shaking and wondering out loud lately. Wondering how is it possible that seemingly well-intentioned people could just not get it. Take the case of our illustrious Commissioner of Public Works who seems to think the farmer's should be made accountable for the opportunity cost of the parking revenue the town would have got if we could only park cars instead of host a farmer's market!,+Brookline,+MA
+02446&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=42.310334,77.695313&ie=UTF8&z=16&iwloc=addr&om=1. That market adds so much good for the citizens of this town on so many levels it would be worth it if we had to pay the farmer's to come sell us their produce! Then there is the Economic Development Advisory Committee who seem to be under the impression that three sites in Coolidge Corner should, will and must be developed to their absolute maximum income generating potential even if this means building at a scale exceeding current limits by four times. Why bother drafting plans, involving the community in a lengthy process of identifying goals and objectives and having ordinances if at every turn these guidelines and rules are overrun and ignored as they have been time and again? The list is growing longer, the St Aiden's project , the ZBA handing out variances for the asking, lax building code enforcement, and more isolated, bloated one-off development proposals on the drawing board that will bring in a few more bucks but don't have a lot to offer the community in the long run.

Meanwhile, we have yet to articulate a vision for a truly prosperous Brookline in the future. What will assure out continued success as a community is investing in those public amenities that young families look for, like farmer's markets, arts organizations, parks, developments that create usable and attractive public spaces, pedestrian amenities and retail establishments that are a mix of the useful and practical and fun and unusual. All supporting an environmentally responsible, non-auto dependent lifestyle. We have the basic structure already, it would not be difficult, but we could make some major mistakes and ruin our chances.

Brookline is a desirable place and we don't need to go begging to developers to get growth at all costs just to pay for needed services. Where is our self-respect? Developers will tell you that it is not so much regulations that they object to. What is worse, is long drawn out open-ended negotiations, where no one can say what it is they want just what they don't. Change happens and it would be a lot better if we were prepared for it. Instead, we get various committees, working at cross purposes, coming up with proposals which are not part of a long range vision for a vibrant, vital Brookline of the future. We should ask, what will this add to the quality of life of our citizens? They seem to be working on mandates that come from.... where?

How is it that our elected and appointed officials and municipal employees keep getting it wrong? How is that they seem to completely not understand the necessity to nurture and support those things that are critical to maintaining and enhancing the quality of life for Brookline's citizens? I have thought about this long and hard and I think it comes down to this. They live in a different Brookline. Their Brookline is a lot more like a typical suburban community. Single-family homes with yards, a garage, a quite street. They drive their car to Coolidge Corner, they don't walk through crowded neighborhoods or try to sleep though yet another student kegger next door. They do not understand that for those of us who live in the denser parts of town, those public amenities like parks, the farmer's market and the senior center are our yards, porches, living rooms and vacations. The public realm is truly that, a shared space that makes occupying a small condominium bearable. If they understood these experiences perhaps they would have understood from the beginning that tearing down a historic Kennedy family place of worship, heritage trees and a reasonably spacious yard and replacing it with a massive towering stack of subsidized housing was too much to ask. We love the same things about Brookline that they do, only for us they take on a much greater significance in our daily experience. Being able to safely cross the street on foot in Coolidge Corner should matter more than moving a few more cars faster.

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