CAMH hosts Durkan for moderated discussion

By Michael Coughlin Jr.

At its monthly meeting in March, the Community Alliance of Mission Hill (CAMH) had a special guest: City Councilor Sharon Durkan, who participated in a moderated discussion with the group that touched on several important topics in the community.

As part of the discussion, the moderators explained that a list of questions was organized to ask Durkan and some of these topics included constituent services and development.

To begin the discussion, Durkan introduced her team and said she was honored to attend the meeting. “I think a lot of conversation needs to take place,” she said.

Before taking questions, Durkan discussed the decision to pause Mission Hill’s Problem Properties Task Force.

Durkan acknowledged the group has not met in months and said, “We felt like it was just a check off of a box, like institutions were attending a meeting, and we didn’t feel like the community, or our office, or the institutions were getting much out of that meeting.”

In the Task force’s place, Durkan says they have met with or are scheduled to meet with institutions with students living on Mission Hill. Further, she revealed that from the meetings that have already occurred, it has been determined that the ride-along system has not worked for a while.

She continued, saying that the ride-along process and how it has been tracked changed when civilians were removed from ride-a-longs in recent years, which Durkan theorized was for liability reasons.

Durkan continued, saying she advocates for four-hour type one details on Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday and that they should start earlier at night.

While one of the moderators wanted to keep the discussion on track and proceed with the pre-developed questions, Durkan said she wanted to explain why the task force was paused.

The first question posed to Durkan concerned what the neighborhood means to her and her vision for the future.

“Mission Hill is incredibly important to me,” said Durkan, who then talked about her time getting to know the local businesses and neighbors through her personal life and running campaigns in the area.

Further, she spoke about the difficulties residents have faced with the institutional growth in the neighborhood, the challenge of staying in the area, and how that should be combatted legislatively.

“I understand the needs of a lot of Mission Hill residents because I am living by myself and trying to hang on in the city just like a lot of the folks who are living here,” said Durkan.

Durkan was then asked to follow up about how the community can contact her and what she thinks are realistic community requests.

In response, Durkan said, in part, “I think what you can expect is that when you reach out, I read your concern, we respond to your concerns in a timely manner. Our office is dedicated to constituent services.”

The discussion then turned to a more broad topic — development — in which Durkan was asked about her office’s role concerning development in the neighborhood.

Durkan indicated that as a City Councilor, it is her job to keep track of projects in the districts she serves. She also described what she looks for in projects: affordability since it was a platform she ran on.

She also spoke about general jobs she can do in her role, like requesting comment periods be extended.

Durkan was also asked specifically about what impacts she looks at for projects. She gave an example, such as a project situated close to a park, but said, “It’s so individual to the project and to the community.”  

Institutional Master Plans were also discussed. Durkan spoke about how she testified in favor of developing a Northeastern dorm in Roxbury as a way she thought she could support the neighborhood. She also talked about ensuring the community benefits from the master plans are delivered.

A moderator also asked if Durkan could communicate her positions on things like development proposals to residents ahead of time so they have time to digest and respond to them. There was a larger discussion of Durkan potentially operationalizing that.

She was also asked if she would support her constituents over the city or other entities in situations of disagreement.

In response, Durkan spoke about the vast diversity of the five neighborhoods she serves and said, “Just know that if I’m taking a position, I have heard from some people that agree with me, and then also that sometimes there are internal values.”

Constituent services and how Durkan can help deliver these services to residents were also discussed.

Specifically, she talked about doing things like a walk-along with community members to identify potholes in the area, get them filled, and more.

Durkan’s responses to constituent service inquiries were also requested to be more substantive. While she acknowledged the feedback, she also mentioned that she is reaching out to the proper channels to resolve the issues when responding to these requests.

“If someone feels unheard by my response, that is enough to change the way that something is done because the whole point of city government is for people to feel heard or respected and for something to be done,” said Durkan.

Eventually, the constituent service discussion evolved into a conversation about the neighborhood’s quality of life and how residents suffer from noise, problem properties, and more.

Durkan spoke about sending out a survey and holding a community forum to help gather some of the issues Mission Hill residents face.

Moreover, she acknowledged the issues Mission Hill residents have endured and talked about the importance of creating an environment where these issues are addressed before they happen, not while they do.

As the discussion wound down, the Problem Properties Task Force was addressed again, along with Squares + Streets, the Boston Planning & Development Agency zoning reform plan.

Regarding Squares + Streets, Durkan indicated she has spoken in support of the initiative and generally favors zoning reform.

However, she did emphasize, “If this comes to Tremont Street, there will be a very robust and long conversation about what people want to see.”

When the conversation wrapped up, an attendee commented that there should be a continued dialogue between CAMH and Durkan.

Ultimately, Durkan thanked CAMH for having her and said, “It will not be the last time you see me. This is the first of many conversations that we’ll have.”

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