THE ECONOMIC CLEANSING OF CAMBRIDGE

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traveling on a Runaway Bus

I’ve been asked to speak about the need to elect a progressive city council. Whichto do thatrequires us to replace at least three of the folks shown in the photo belowideally from the back row(I’ll speak later about the criteria that leads me to say that)

City councilThree years ago, like most of you, I was totally ignorant of what was happening in our city. Totally ignorant of the city’s addiction to development, or the wheels that had been set in motion to virtually rubber-stamp any project that came before the Planning Board or our City Council.

But then I discovered a staggering fact. In the last few years, more than HALF the development projected for the next 20 years in Cambridge had either been built or permitted. Most of it without the guidance of anything I would consider real planning. 

Well, that woke me up and once it did I saw we were all traveling on a runaway bus with no one at the wheel. A bus that was throwing off passengers—my neighbors and yours—as we merrily careened on our way. 

Ever since I’ve been struggling, along with others, to grab the steering wheel and slow down the bus. I guess that’s why I’m here today.

If I can paraphrase from a far greater orator than myself…

Friends, neighbors, Cantabrigians, lend me your votes! 

come to shake up the city council, not to praise them.

For the deeds these councilors do will live long after they’re gone.

As will their unfortunate zoning decisionsand lack of foresightchip away at the foundations of our beloved city.

Make no mistake, we are now drawn to an epic battle to preserve all that is most precious to us in Cambridge—our quality of life, our economic and racial diversity, our sense of community identity.

The next city council election may well decide the future of our city; and whether there’s a place for any of us in that future. 

Many of us rail against the city council for their kneejerkreactions to complex issues. For the speed with which they approve almost any proposal that hides behind claims of protecting our most vulnerable citizens. 

No matter that their political war chests are brimming with donations from developers

No matter that they vote for zoning changes that award millions to developers while potentially displacing the very people they profess to care about

No matter that they have failed to insist on thoughtful planning for our city’s growth

Most of these councilors voted down the Carlone Petition, the one tool they could have used to protect our city from misguided mega-developments like the Sullivan courthouse

And though they agreed to a Master planning processthey cynically placed it under the control of the very agency whose lax planning and arrogant behavior led to the outcry for a master plan in the first place.

That’s like sending a mugger out to protect his latest victim.

Over and over, they trumpet their concern for the families and poor people flushed out of Cambridge on a tsunami of development, but they never insist on an analysis of the real impacts of all this unbridled development.

And so I’m here today with two missions: first to call for right-thinking individuals to run for city council. We need candidates who will stand up to the pro-development cabal that threatens the fabric of our communityIt only takes four votes to stop up-zoning and spot-zoning in its tracks. Just four votes to send proposed 19-story luxury towers back to the drawing board.

We believe we currently have three such enlightened councilorswho’ve shown they can see beyond the false arguments, who won’ttrade away our city’s future for a fast buck(This time I direct your attention to councilors in the front row of the photo.)

Secondlythe Cambridge Residents Alliance will be endorsing a slate of candidates in the next election, and I humbly ask you to vote for that slate. Or at least not to vote for anyone in that photo who voted against the Carlone Petition, or who supports the status quo, takes money from developers, or naively claims the city is doing a good job planning for its future.

Your vote in the next City Council election may help decide who gets forced out of Cambridge, and who gets to stay.

That’s all I have to sayexcept I‘ll see you at the polls!

Thank you.

—————————————–

A recent speech of mine. I was asked to speak about electing a progressive city council at a recent forum on affordable housing put on by the Cambridge Residents Alliance (CRA). By progressive we meant men and women who would put the interests of the citizens of our city over the interests of developers and the Chamber of Commerce. For more information about the forum itself or about the efforts the CRA is making to protect our city and to advocate for those with too little political clout or who can’t advocate for themselves go to CambridgeResidentsAlliance.org.

THE DEVELOPERS’ REPUBLIC OF CAMBRIDGE

Something smells rotten in Cambridge.

The city is experiencing runaway development and explosive growth that critically endangers its character, diversity and quality of life. So say a growing number of city residents and neighborhood groups.

“Not so!” say city “planners” and “leaders” who, far from planning or leading anything, are goose-stepping to a tune played by Cambridge’s pro-development cabal.open space

“Not so!” say a majority of City Council members who consistently vote to allow unfettered development and who recently turned down an opportunity to take responsibility for projects too large (over 50,00 square feet) to be trusted to a Planning Board that never learned to say “No.”

Those same City Councilors cynically—or perhaps ignorantly— hide behind the urgent need for low- and middle-income housing to justify their support for developments that will spike local rents and most likely displace the people they profess to be helping.

If they truly worried about displacement they’d ask the Community Development Department or the City Manager to report on the net gain/loss of affordable units through the special permit process.

But why ask a question whose answer you don’t want to hear?

Or perhaps they realize what most of us already know— that we can’t trust any of the city’s administrators when it comes to dealing honestly with the problems of wide-scale unfettered development.

Can we trust Susan Clippinger, Director of Traffic and Parking, who has never found that a proposed development significantly added to traffic problems, not even in Alewife? Of course, in her rush to approve projects, Ms. Clippinger consistently resists the temptation to measure the combined impacts of developments.

Can we trust Susanne Rasmussen, Cambridge’s Director of Environmental and Transportation Planning, who publicly states “The amount of traffic on the street in Alewife has been pretty flat over the past 15 years.” This of course the same Suzanne Rasmussen who made a presentation to the Central Square Advisory Committee citing 40% available capacity on the Red Line during rush hour; who also cited “50% of residents within a ¼ mile of the T as having no cars.” I don’t dispute the numbers, only the fact Ms. Rasmussen neglected to mention her survey population included student dorms.

Can we trust a City Manager who responds to a groundswell of anger against the Planning Board by appointing new members, all of whom appear just as beholding to the development community as their predecessors?

Not exactly rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, but close.

Can we trust a city council that no sooner agrees to a Master Planning process than puts it under the direction of the planning agency whose lax planning and arrogant behavior contributed to the public outcry for a master plan?

Speaking of Community Development, can we trust a planning agency that seems intent on ramming through zoning changes and creating de facto zoning policy? Brian Murphy, Assistant City Manager for Community Development recently announced to the city council that CDD would not put forth zoning recommendations developed by the K2C2 committees and would instead deal with zoning changes on a project by project basis, thus shutting out the council and the city’s residents from any hope of a coherent, transparent zoning process.

In the last four years, Cambridge has seen almost HALF the construction projected for the next 20 years either built or permitted. Far from creating a growing sense of community through our zoning process, we are growing our city chaotically, almost totally driven by market forces which, left to their own devices, will gentrify our city, expunge our racial and economic diversity and create something far different than the Cambridge we love.

Yes, something smells rotten in Cambridge. And if our “leaders” and “planners” have their way, the smell will only get worse.

A Cheer-Up Note From Rosie

Dear Sister:

I just had to write when I heard the news about you and Frank. Figured you might need some cheering up.

What can I say, Sis? You and Frank separating; who would have thought it! You just never know.

Like with my Sal. He was such a sweet guy before he lost his line manager’s job at McDonald’s. The loss didn’t hurt his disposition—not much! Remember what a pain he was last Thanksgiving when he kept complaining the gravy wasn’t thick enough and the cranberries were staining his teeth?

Well that was a hard time to get through. There were days I felt like telling Sal to take his crybaby face out of the house. He was depressing the kids, for heaven’s sake!

But then, thankfully, Sal got himself a government job and everything changed. At long last, we were standing again on solid ground. Pray the Lord, Sister, you never find yourself relying on unemployment checks for the food on your table.

Sal's new bosses at the office.

Sal’s new bosses at the office.

From the very first I noticed Sal’s lighter side start to return, and it became a lot easier to be around him, even in the mornings which is his toughest time. Of course having a fulltime job, Sal wasn’t around so much and that helped too.

Sister, the new job with its regular hours and government benefits was a godsend. Our only complaint was the money. Sal’s new job is a Grade 10 which is entry level and definitely underpaid. The position is listed as “Intelligence Extractor” but everybody knows that means Sal works for the government as a torturer. Actually Sal is ranked lower than a fully qualified torturer. More like a torturer-in-training.

Can you imagine Sal a torturer? Honestly, it makes me laugh. Sal can’t complain to a waitress about cold oatmeal, how’s he going to join the Spanish Inquisition? I asked him if he had to wear a black mask and he laughed.

But Sal didn’t laugh any about his Grade 10!! It ticked him off, as well it should. He thought his years at McDonald’s entitled him to a higher grade, I’m not sure why. Otherwise, the job is pretty good. I mean the benefits are great and Sal likes the people at the office. Says they’re pretty laid back when they’re not performing their torture specialties. (It’s weird but Sal can’t tell me if he’s working for the CIA, NSA or FBI. “Big secret,” he says, adding he’d have to kill me if I find out. Then he laughs like he’s making a joke, hah, hah!)

Like I said, Sal seems happier and much like his old self. Of course, every once in a while I notice him staring at strangers on the street and I can tell he’s sizing them up like they were future ‘clients’.

Sal says he can’t help it. He says he can’t look at anyone these days except as a potential client. That includes me and the kids, which is very stressful, but Sal says they told him the problem will go away. Once he finishes his training.

And talk about stress, Sal’s training program has been nothing but stressful! There’s a shortage of torture-eligible prisoners to practice on, so trainees like Sal are forced to double up. Sweet Jesus, don’t let the war end before Sal completes his training! (just joking)

The one thing I can’t decide is what to tell the kids. Tommy, Tuppence and Bradbury are only 4,8 and 10, you know. I told them their daddy works in the front lines of the War on Terror. What else could I say? How could I be honest about their daddy’s employment when they’re not old enough to understand that torture in defense of freedom is a noble profession?

Anyway, Sister, I just wanted to write and tell you how sorry I was to hear about you and Frank, and to cheer you up a bit. I have to run now. We’re going to a church supper tonight once Sal gets home from work.

We’re bringing the beans.

Hugs and kisses,

Rosie