Money, Money, Money: The Three-legged Stool Of Cambridge’s Mad Dash Towards Gentrification

cambridgeOnly in Cambridge would a city invest $350,000, two years of hard work and untold citizen hours in a planning study for Central Square then abandon it abruptly—without explanation—in favor of the piecemeal development the study was meant to eradicate.

Only in Cambridge would all this happen behind closed doors with most of the city’s governing body totally unaware of why the C2 study was abandoned.

Only in Cambridge, as if by coincidence, would a developer come along at the same time and propose spot-zoning for a development that greatly exceeds the controversial height and FAR limits originally proposed by the C2 committee.

Only in Cambridge would most of the City Council almost immediately start wagging their tails to welcome this new development which claims to offer a large percentage of mixed income units when it actually offers fewer lower income units than required by law.

Only in Cambridge would this development be put on a hyper-fast fast-track, once again without the agreement, knowledge or understanding of most of the city council.

And only in Cambridge would the claim of increasing the stock of affordable housing so blithely excuse and obfuscate a bald attempt to wrest millions of additional profits for a building that will have two main impacts on its neighborhood. Those impacts being, first, its luxury unit pricing will send a ripple of rent increases into the outlying area, ultimately chasing out more lower income people and families than it will ultimately house. And secondly, its massive size and scale will block the sky, gin up the winds and wall off the Area IV neighborhood from Central Square while serving as a precedent-setter for future development.

Only in Cambridge can developments that drive out today’s residents in favor of wealthier future residents be foisted on its populace as an emblematic savior of those most vulnerable citizens.

Only in Cambridge can a housing shortage throughout the metropolitan Boston area be used as a shield for gentrification in our city, as if building more units in Cambridge could ever reduce the area-wide demand that reduces Cambridge to the status of a desirable Boston neighborhood.

And only in Cambridge could city councilors whose campaign chests are filled with donations from developers and related business interests get away with failing to look beyond the false assertions of developers and pro-development city agencies.

What we need right now in Cambridge are three commitments on the part of our city councilors…

  1. TO REFUSE any donations from developers, their employees or relatives, or from anyone whose business is directly involved with development, and that includes lawyers who represent developers.
  1. TO REFUSE to vote for a single up-zoning petition until the city manager forces the Community Development Department to provide metrics that quantify the impacts of gentrification. What value does it bring to our city to receive 11.5% of inclusionary units in a development if it turns out we are forcing out more people than we are housing?
  1. TO LEASH the dogs of development. It’s time to turn down the heat on rampant development. Laws and regulations that were enacted fifteen years ago to promote development have succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. Those laws are now fueling the fires of gentrification and displacement. City boards and agencies such as the Planning Board, the Community Development Department, the Traffic Department, and the City Solicitor must all be given a new set of marching orders, more in line with protecting our city rather than offering its jewels to the highest bidder. In effect, we must take down the FOR SALE sign visible to anyone coming into this city we all love.



















To You Who Are Different

File this under Paul Steven Stone’s Greatest Hits. “To You Who Are Different,” an award-winning anti-bullying video I wrote, directed and produced three years ago that features teenagers speaking to teenagers about the beauty and worth of being different. Kudos to my co-producers Sheara Seigal and Mona Rosen who put a lot of love, sweat and tears into the production.

Mitt Romney To Run Again For President—This Time As Democrat!

Washington, D.C. Who said America’s favorite BFF (Billionaire flip-flopper) was washed up; through with politics?

Mitt laughingly explains his latest political stance.

Mitt laughingly explains his latest political stance.

Having resolutely declared his exodus from American politics (“No, no, no, no, no, no…!”), Mitt Romney appeared to once again dip his toe in Republican Presidential waters. Ultimately finding the temperature too cold, especially with Jeb Bush putting a lip-lock on the party’s biggest donors, The Mittster yet again shocked the political world by declaring his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States.

“Yes, you heard that correctly,” Romney declared while the crowd of reporters erupted into an unruly chorus of shouted questions. “The Democratic nomination!” he repeated, with a deep-throated hyena laugh, then turned to his wife Anne for reassurance that this was, in fact, today’s political stance.

This was a morning few political junkies will ever forget, Mitt Romney stepping out of the closet and declaring himself a “full-blooded and full-throated Democrat.” No sooner had he pulled his hat out of the ring in the Republican race for the presidency, than he was signing up to challenge Hillary Clinton for the nomination of his newly-adopted political party.

“I’ve always been more progressive and more of a Democrat than Hillary,” Romney declared. “Heck, I was more progressive than President Obama, for Heaven’s sakes! Remember, RomneyCare came first, ObamaCare came second.”

Romney went on to explain, “I’ve always been a Democrat at heart, no matter what I may have said at stuffy Republican fundraisers. We Democrats take care of the poor and the middle class. And the seniors! Don’t forget the seniors! As a Democratic President, I won’t let Republicans cut or kill Social Security, that was all Paul Ryan’s agenda, not mine. On my watch, nobody falls between the cracks. Gosh, first thing I’ll propose as president is an increase in taxes for the wealthy. Who knows better than me, how much more the 1% can afford to pay. You’d be shocked how much money’s left sitting on the table.

When asked how he could just walk away from conservative positions he’s been avowing for years, Romney smiled sheepishly, asking “Why not, they were pretty stupid positions, weren’t they? All the time I was pretending to hate poor people, threatening to nuke the Middle East, and working to demolish the middle class, I was really chafing at the bit to declare my love for my fellow man.  When I promised to dismantle Obamacare on my first day as President I was not in my right mind, sharing a stage at the time with Rick Perry, John McCain and Sarah Palin. Besides that’s old business. This is the new Romney. And this Romney can’t wait to debate Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and others of my fellow Democrats.”

When reporters questioned more recent Romney comments condemning President Obama’s performance, the former Massachusetts governor appeared rattled. “Well, what would you expect?” he shot back, “The man took four whole years to turn around an economy that was sacked, gang-banged and left for dead by the Bush administration. What the hell was he doing all that time, playing basketball? Nor does it matter that he rescued the American automobile industry. Anybody in his place would have done the same thing. Hell, if you thought I was heartless in strapping old Seamus to the top of our family wagon, how does that compare to Obama walking away from Health Care Reform without putting a public option in place? Everyone knows the insurance industry will make hash of any real financial reforms without the presence of a public option.”

Speaking about the danger of once again being called a flip-flopper for jumping political parties, especially at a time when Jeb Bush’s fortunes were rapidly rising in his former party, Romney declared, “What if I promise voters this is the last time? Today—and forever—Mitt Romney truly believes women have a right to make decisions about their bodies. That humans are the cause of Global Warming. That Darwin was a scientist and not the anti-Christ. Yes, and the new Mitt Romney believes America lost its way when we attacked Iraq without a clear reason, or when we tortured prisoners and called it ‘enhanced interrogation.

“And lastly,” Romney continued with a sheepish grin, “I have to admit that corporations really aren’t…well, you know…people. Definitely not people! That sounded so lame not even Fox News reporters could repeat it without breaking into laughter.

“So in summation,” Romney concluded, “I hope Democratic primary voters will forgive my shifting affiliations and contradictory positions. As Emerson once said, ‘A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.’ And, please, remember, I may have dated Conservatives and Tea Partiers, but I never actually slept with them.”

“No, no, no, no, no, no…!”



I hope my readers and, of course, Mitt Romney himself will forgive me if once again I return to the bottomless well of Mitt’s presidential ambitions to fish out an easy laugh or two. In all honesty, I felt the need to hear the sound of laughter instead of snow plows and apparently did not have enough character or willpower to resist.


When Jesus said “For ye have the poor with you always,” he wasn’t talking about Cambridge. Not these days anyway.

Not that Jesus could envision a progressive democratic community that would sacrifice the well-being of its current residents for the expensive tastes of those who will come later.

Gentrification is gentrification, no matter how much you hide it behind an inclusionary zoning formula that does little except ensure sub-market rents for a few lucky units while sending out ripples of rising rents to an entire neighborhood.

gentrificationThis 19-story residential tower foisted on the city by Twining/Normandy is the project that intends to blast away any and all resistance to piecemeal project-based planning for Central Square. At the same time it would also bestow the city’s blessings on sugar-coated gentrification for the near and foreseeable future. “Sugar-coated” gentrification because it is gentrification sweetened by a paltry amount of affordable housing sprinkled lightly throughout the project. More than two-and-a-half times as tall as current zoning would allow, so massive you might wonder if their internationally renowned architect had chanced upon renderings for Hitler’s bunker, this project is unworthy of a city just waking up from the realization it’s been on a development binge.

This is the project that may end up proving how stupid and gullible our leaders can be. Irrefutable proof that repeating the same “affordable housing” mantra can safely allow a councilor or Planning Board member to vote “Yes” and further erode the dwindling sheet of ice our poorest residents are standing on.

Speaking of which, It was shocking to see three black ministers recently shepherded into a City Council meeting to validate Twining’s incomprehensible affordable housing set-asides. Has anyone explained to these gentlemen that their congregants are directly in Twining’s line of fire? That it won’t just be shadows from the sun this project will cast, but the shadow of eviction and neighborhood dislocation?

Ministers, Councilors, Neighbors, Fellow Cantabrigians, please! Developments like the Twining/Normandy tower are not the solution to the affordable housing crisis. THEY ARE THE CAUSE. Look at the trends, the number of families and school-age children in Cambridge are on the decline. As are the percentage of 3- or 4-bedroom “family-sized” apartments included in our newest residential complexes.

Our councilors and Planning Board can find no adequate justification for approving spot-zoning whose massive height and density set such dangerous precedents. Why would we accept such a grandiose grab for wealth at the neighborhood’s expense? What are the community benefits that might begin to offset the project’s massive size and negative impacts?

Not Mass and Main, as the project’s cheerleaders have named it, but MASSIVE and Main—in audacity, scope and profit!

If we can agree that a flood of market-rate housing units exerts upward pressures on the price of housing, and the result is a citywide purging of the least-advantaged and most vulnerable members of our community, then we should be able to see the danger inherent when inclusionary housing serves as a free pass to massive development and up-zoning giveaways like the Twining/Normandy tower.

And so, if we’re to prevent the Economic Cleansing of Cambridge, we must insist on a few rules going forward.

  • First, that City Councilors or candidates for the council take NO political donations from developers or development interests. Not a penny, not even a free lunch! How else can we expect them to honestly perform their duties, without bias or external influence, when voting on zoning issues?
  • Second, that the City Council or Planning Board NOT approve a single special permit or zoning variance UNTIL the Community Development Department quantifies displacement caused by gentrification. In simple terms, how much displacement can we expect from different sized developments? Why would we blindly approve projects without understanding the damage we are doing? Even the dumbest soldier knows to wait until the line of fire is clear before firing his weapon.
  • That the City Council increase the inclusionary zoning formula and contributions by commercial developments toward the affordable housing fund to a level commensurate with percentages charged in other ‘desirable’ communities.
  • That the City Council consider building 100% affordable apartment complexes on city-owned land. With the city retaining the deeds in perpetuity.

Who can say whether there’s enough time and civic will available to stop the Economic Cleansing of Cambridge? Or if circumstances will allow us to alter a path that has been deeply carved and resolutely followed by those who have been recent stewards of our city?

What would Jesus have said?

Assuming he earned enough to live in Cambridge?















Eulogy For My Mother

For My Mom, Gertrude Stone Rubin

Her name was Gertrude Rubin. Most people called her Gert, a few called her Gertrude, her mother, my grandmother Sarah, called her “Gertie!” but to me she was always Mom. In her later years I would greet her with ‘Hello the Mama!’ don’t ask me why. And she would offer back happily, “Hello the Tata!”

Mom with her "Treasure Island," my brother Bob.

Mom with her “Treasure Island,” my brother Bob.

Those who knew my Mom, loved my Mom. Many of you know why. She cared, she listened, she was all heart and steadfastly true to herself. She never lied. She never jumped to make judgments or spread malicious gossip. Mom was little Switzerland, at war with no one, at peace with the world. She was always ready to dance, even if she happened to be in a wheelchair. You could pin Mom’s body to earth, but never her spirit. Especially if you played the song “Y.M.C.A.,” and whisked her back to memories of her disco days. And oh those hot pants! Mom, please!

Mom was a hot ticket, always eager to laugh, sometimes surprisingly witty on her own. One time I was on the phone with Mom who was then in her late 70’s, kind of creaky and near blind. I was berating her for crossing Atlantic Avenue by foot, a dangerous 8-10 lane thoroughfare, especially after specifically telling her a number of times not to cross that dangerous and accident-prone road. Not even for a corned beef sandwich. “Why would you do that?” I questioned angrily. “It’s so dangerous. We’ve talked about this before. Why would you do it?” I pursued. “Can you tell me why?”

To which my mother answered sheepishly, “To get to the other side…?”

My mother was the one who stood up for the ugly ducklings and social outcasts. Immensely popular herself, down in her Florida retirement community, she would refuse to attend a movie, a girls’ night out or a mah jong game unless her friends, some of whom were social outcasts, were also included. “If Lillian’s not invited, then I don’t think I can go!” she’d insist. If Gert was your friend, Gert was your friend.

These last few days I’ve heard over and over that Mom was someone who listened. But listened with care and interest. My best friend Davey remembers Mom sitting with him as an eight year old when he was alone at his father’s funeral. It’s the little things we hold onto. Mom buying me presents when I was sick. Mom racing frantically to make it onto a subway train before it pulled out with me already on board. Mom also rescuing me, at age two or three, when my leg got stuck in a hot radiator. Mom always laughing when I clowned around. Mom painting my half-painted bedroom during my college days, the room left shabbily incomplete because I had lost interest in the project. Mom in her 40’s learning to cook, developing world class rigatoni that all of us still hungrily crave, not to mention a killer pot roast.

But first and foremost, Gertrude Rubin was a mother. In her final weeks, when she was mostly babbling to herself and to God, I heard her pleading with the Almighty to “keep an eye on me, her younger son, and to help me be successful…finally!”

Well maybe not in those exact words, but you get the idea.

Years ago, we three siblings, Bob, Mona and I, were talking about who was Mom’s favorite. And each of us thought we were the one Mom favored over the others. Well, she might have favored us equally, but I was the one Mom worried about. I was the one, in her eyes, most at risk. Perhaps because I was the one who, as a young boy, regularly stood up to my autocratic father; perhaps because I was the one whose marriage broke up; for whatever reason, Mom could not stop worrying about me. Was I keeping my job? Was I earning enough? And what was it I did, anyway?

The only reason Mom had been able to stop smoking years ago was because she made a pact with God about my finding a job. She would stop smoking, she firmly negotiated with God-in-Heaven, “if He would help her son Paul, her weak and most vulnerable child, find himself a job.”

Then, of course, I found a job. And suddenly Mom was trapped! Trapped between her cravings to smoke again and her fear of jeopardizing my new job. Obviously God wouldn’t stand by his end of the bargain if she abandoned hers.

And so I kept my job, and my dear mother stopped smoking.

Time for me to say, “Thanks” to my dear, sweet mother, who will always be with me. And “Thanks” to whatever cosmic forces helped make this wonderful lady my Mom. If it’s true, as I’ve been told, we actually get to pick our parents before we’re born, then you have to admit I did a damn good job.

Godspeed Mom! I love you! Thanks for everything!

And stop worrying about me. I’ll be fine.


The above eulogy was written for my mother Gertrude Stone Rubin and read at her funeral at Mt. Moriah Cemetery, on February 5th of this year.