What’s Happening on Main Streets

March 2, 2018

Thank heaven that Presidential elections and Olympiads aren’t held more frequently than in four year increments! If they were, the histrionics and hyperbole would have asphyxiated me by now. What constantly amazes me is that I find myself enthralled with such contests like bobsledding, curling, Nordic skiing, and ice dancing ‘til the wee small hours. After the medals are presented to the winners, I never give those sports another thought! Alas, we can now get back to neighborhood showdowns that animate urban life.

“Tell us your one favorite thing about Mission Hill?” asked Community Alliance of Mission Hill (CAMH) President Chad Rosner. Amending the round robin introduction commencement of the Feb. 21 gathering, Rosner’s monthly meeting seemed to embrace a different tone. The responses were as varied as the faces and ages of the 50-plus attendees. All voiced a common love for this unique little chunk of the Hub. Strong passions frequently emerge at the CAMH, and Chad’s intro was a pleasant startle and a classy touch.

As a lover of American Government, I appreciate the potency of neighborhood civic groups and their harkening back to town meetings established centuries ago on Massachusetts soil. Giving residents a chance to voice their opinions is as valid a barometer of public opinion as any other. Some in the intelligentsia are quick with a highbrow sniff at civic meetings as conferences for cranks with nothing else to do. I’ll concede that there are occasional windbags at any such gathering, but I find most people are thoughtful, caring and admirable and that most elected officials give considerable weight to thoughts expressed at these forums. Conversely, I also find it amusing that some overeager folks might regard these neighborhood gatherings as strict “edicts” to their elected officials … hogwash.

Elected leaders on all levels decide based on a wide array of considerations. I regard the difficulty in making our laws a brilliant blessing, although frequently frustrating at times. Founder James Madison spoke of the multiplicity of “competing interest groups” and the “marketplace of ideas” that provide the genius of our system. His idea of more and more voices and ideas is the best “Remedy for the diseases most incident in republican government.” The design of how our government operates was very deliberate. Like our political practice, neighborhood civic groups can seem frustrating and tedious at times but that, too, is good. Churchill’s popular aphorism that “…Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the other forms that have been tried from time to time… “ I agree.

The hot topic for consideration at CAMH was the 9 Burney Street project by Mitch Wilson and Russell Preston. The proponents wish to transform the unsightly rear parking lot behind the commercial block opposite Sheehy Park on Tremont Street and tear down the three-decker (#11) and rear parking garage and erect a 31-unit, mixed-used building, which was described on a page one story written by Peter Shanley in last month’s Gazette.

What is most noteworthy is the introduction of a “Laneway” to run through the property from Carmel Street to Burney Street. This Laneway idea is gaining popularity in hip international planning circles. The most analogous local version of this placemaking concept can be found in Roslindale Square as part of the successful Sophia’s Grotto Restaurant. The existing rear facades of the Tremont block businesses will receive new rear entryways and wrought iron porches (a la New Orleans Bourbon Street) overlooking a lengthy adaptable multi-use event space. Sidewalk café-style dining will emanate from the food establishments; Milkweed Café, Crispy Dough, a soon-to-be-announced seafood place, as well as Mike’s Donuts and Lilly’s Gourmet Pasta. The first floor of the apartment building will house a restaurant facing the Laneway as well, with wrought iron balconies overlooking from its upper floors. Architectural details gleaned from other long-established Mission Hill buildings have been incorporated to make this modern building blend in with the area.

Some research uncovered by 2016 MHMS Volunteer of the Year Alison Pultinas revealed that the 11 Burney Street dwelling was formerly the teenaged home of Mission Hill’s most renowned political figure, Gov. Maurice J. Tobin. Wilson and Preston plan to memorialize that discovery with a suitable plaque. Over the past decade the various owners of this commercial block that fronts on Tremont Street have rehabilitated and restored these facades with period-appropriate colors and other subtle improvements transforming this mini-marketplace into one of the most attractive anywhere.

It is obvious that our robust regional economy has spurred the creation of many significant buildings in Mission Hill, generating new residents and prompting other landlords to improve their properties. Advocates always present lovely project design graphics to the neighborhood. On a few occasions, the finished product has disappointed the community because corners get cut by the builders due to costs. The finished product can bear little resemblance to the proposal. The advocates for Burney Street cite Wilson’s track record (the Valor and Tremont Apartments) as evidence that his will be a first class boost for the area and he will do what he says. We all await the outcome.

The utility box mural program by the Beautification Task Force can use your input and ideas. As someone incapable of drawing anything of artistic merit, even I have a couple of suggestions for some talented artist to memorialize the neighborhood’s rich history. William Dawes’ April 1775 ride through the neighborhood warning about the movement of British Redcoats is one. Another would be to recognize the greatest athletic superstar of the 19th century; Roxbury-raised world heavyweight boxing champion Boston Strongboy John L. Sullivan who strode our very streets during his day. What are your thoughts? Contact mhb.taskforce@gmail.com.

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