Sunday, April 25, 2010

Images From Boston Shines 2010

Sara Eskrich and Michelle Snyder from City Council President Mike Ross's Office chat with State Representative Marty Walz during the post Boston Shines pizza party, which was held at 74 Joy Street.
Beacon Hill, Boston
April 24, 2010

A nice group from Suffolk University volunteered during the cleanup, and they even had their own t-shirts!
Beacon Hill, Boston
April 24, 2010

City Council President Mike Ross surveys Phillips Street Park.
Beacon Hill, Boston
April 24, 2010

The group of volunteers from Suffolk University, along with a couple of Phillips Street neighbors.
Beacon Hill, Boston
April 24, 2010

A Clean(er) Beacon Hill

The "Green Machine" on Phillips Street
Beacon Hill, Boston
April 24, 2010

Yesterday was Boston Shines, the annual citywide cleanup organized by Boston Mayor Tom Menino's Office of Neighborhood Services. I have been participating in neighborhood cleanups on Beacon Hill since I moved here back in 1999. I got behind the wheel of my Honda early Saturday and delivered brooms, trash bags and a variety of other tools to three volunteer stations around the neighborhood. Then I helped get volunteers started at the Phillips Street Park, before doing some cleaning of my own.

When I started, I noticed something quite striking. The streets around Phillips Street Park were fairly clean to begin with. Certainly cleaner than during other Spring cleanups. There are a couple of reasons for this. In my opinion, the biggest reason is the increased effectiveness of street sweeping, and the effectiveness is because of the strict enforcement of posted street sweeping signs.

You leave your car on a Beacon Hill street when that street is posted for street sweeping, and your car will be towed. Period. As I have said many times before on this blog, you have to remove the cars in order for the street sweeper to be effective. I pointed out to the residents I saw yesterday that the towing was the reason streets felt cleaner than they have been in the past. Just a few months ago, before street sweeping started again on April 1, the streets were a mess.

A second reason---and one that cannot be overlooked---is the ongoing, consistent efforts of neighbors to clean up their own streets. Current and former members of the Beacon Hill Civic Association's City Service Committee, including Jack Fitzgerald and Keeta Gillmore, were out and about yesterday.

A few volunteers got to witness my obvious excitement yesterday when Beacon Hill was visited by the infamous "Green Machine." It's smaller than a normal street sweeper, and it has been patrolling downtown Boston streets since 2005. Pictured above, the machine is a welcomed site. My friend Kim Jennings noted, "That thing can move." Simple pleasures when one is wrapping up a Spring cleanup day.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Nervous Watching Jeopardy!

Screen shot from Jeopardy
April 12, 2010

It's the only time in my life that I was nervous watching Jeopardy!

My high school friend Amanda Lahan competed in the legendary game show this past week. Well she actually competed a few months back, but the show aired on Monday.

I am so proud of Amanda, because she put up a good fight. She finished in positive territory and even got the Final Jeopardy! question correct. She fared far better than I did... My only confident moment was when one of the clues was a picture of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

Unfortunately, Amanda drew a tough lot, as she was forced to challenge the legendary Morgan Saxby, the returning (and as the game would play out, continuing) champion. I have no idea, really, if Morgan Saxby is legendary--and Amanda told me he's actually a pretty nice guy--but with a name like Morgan Saxby? Come on.

Congrats to Amanda on a fantastic performance!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Making Beacon Hill Shine

Working with Mayor Menino's Office of Neighborhood Services, the Beacon Hill Civic Association (BHCA) is coordinating "Beacon Hill Shines" on Saturday, April 24. The flier is above, and you can click on the image to read more.

It's a great event. Each year hundreds of neighbors hit the streets and help make neighborhood streets sparkle. The BHCA is participating alongside volunteers from neighborhoods across the city.

Beacon Hill Shines takes place from 9 a.m. to noon on the 24th, and neighbors can pick up supplies at the Phillips Street Park or in front of Charles Street Supply. After the event, the BHCA is hosting a pizza party for volunteers at 74 Joy Street.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why Casinos are bad

I really hope my state representative, Marty Walz, votes against the casino bill that is before the Massachusetts House this week. And should the bill pass that legislative body, I hope my state senator, Sonia Chang-Diaz, will vote no if she's given the chance.

Casinos are bad for local economies, and I base my opinion on personal experience. I was born in southeastern Connecticut when what is now Foxwoods was merely a bingo hall. In the early 90's, the region bore the brunt of that time period's recession.

While a young kid, the defense industry fueled much of the economy in southeastern Connecticut. The sign across the Thames River in Groton still reads, "The Submarine Capital of the World." Problem is, you don't need submarines in a post Cold War era. And you don't need the parts that supply them, either.

In the midst of the economic malaise that affected my friends and family, there arose a wonder in the Connecticut woods. Foxwoods promised jobs, and it brought them. Make no mistake about it, casinos do produce jobs, and Foxwoods created them at a time when they were so desperately needed. Sound familiar?

Except I don't live in southeastern Connecticut today. To put it frankly, there isn't much happening there beyond the casinos. It took a herculean effort a few years back by the region's U.S. Congressman to save the U.S. Sub Base along that same Thames River. Many argued that its shuttering might have been a final economic straw for the region, and I agree with them.

The problem with destination casinos (which is what the Governor and others are arguing for) is that they try very hard to be destinations. I did a report when I was a senior in high school that discussed, in part, the psychological manipulation on display within Foxwoods. There are no clocks. There are few windows. There's a lot of bells and whistles (literally), generating excitement and adrenaline. The whole atmosphere is intended to do one thing---keep people there.

And Foxwoods and nearby Mohegan Sun have succeeded. Between the "wonder of it all"---the restaurants and live entertainment and sporting events and all those darn chances to win---it's no wonder that those that go decide not to leave.

One of my friends went to Foxwoods late last year. She explained how to save cost, she was going to stay in nearby Mystic, rather than on the grounds of the casino. Now, I love Mystic. My parents live there. My brother operated a marine business there, and his wife works there. Mystic is a great Connecticut town, and prior to the opening of the casinos, it was the main tourist attraction in the region. Not any more.

Someone asked my friend where she was going to go to dinner when she was in Connecticut. "I don't know," came the reply. "Probably somewhere in the casino."

To which I suggested: "Why not go out to dinner in Mystic?"

The story of my friend best exemplifies why I don't like casinos. From an economic perspective, casinos do not to contribute to the surrounding communities, but rather take from them.

The wonder in the Connecticut woods still is the wonder contained to the Connecticut woods. The nearby city of Norwich, economically depressed since I was born, is still economically depressed. It's downtown is as empty as when I was a kid. The restaurants of Mystic still receive their best business during the summer from out-of-state beachcombers, not from casino traffic (this is based on a first-hand interview with a waitress). It pains me to write this; Connecticut will always have a very special place in my heart.

Speaking of "wonders," I wonder what we all could have come up with to help spur economic activity over the past three years had we not spent so much time worrying about casinos. My concern is that a casino in Massachusetts will have the same effect as Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. Why would a visitor to a casino near Boston want to go into the city? Why would they want to peruse shops on Newbury; visit an historic site downtown, or experience the city's varied neighborhoods?

For non-economic reasons, my dad hates gambling. He doesn't even buy lottery tickets. I have gambled from time to time, and I have had a great time visiting Las Vegas with friends on a couple of occasions. Notwithstanding, I am sure my distaste for casinos is somewhat influenced by my dad. Regardless, my opposition to casinos in Massachusetts is driven largely by what I experienced as a kid. I think my reasons are economic. And beyond the jobs casinos can create, I worry that the economic consequences of Massachusetts casinos would be harsh.

*** UPDATE: I heard from Jamie Hellen, Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz's chief of staff, that she will vote against any bill for expanding gambling. Yay Sonia!

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Church's Big Day

Trinity Church in Copley Square
April 4, 2010

Happy Easter to those that celebrate on this beautiful day in New England. This morning at Trinity Church in Boston, performers were on hand outside to keep occupied those waiting in line for services. I took the picture above as I was leaving the 8 a.m. service; the queue was for the 10 a.m. service. It made me wonder if the clergy is nervous on Sundays like this one, when so many current and potential parishioners attend. It's a day off or me, but not for them!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Make it a Census Competition

So today is census day. The 2010 census is supposed to take a snapshot of the total U.S. population, and who is living where, on this day. The form actually asks each household to enter in the names of people who, as of April 1, are living there "most of the time."

One of my favorite books is Freakonomics, which applies economic analysis to human nature. One chapter talks about human motivation and concludes that peer pressure---more specifically, the fear of embarrassment---is the most effective motivation. Without giving the chapter away, suffice it to say that guilt is a far better way to encourage parents to pick up their children on time at daycare versus fining those that are tardy. (Yes that was the actual way the book's authors studied the issue of motivation.)

For that reason, I applaud the U.S. Census for setting up a way to track, in real time, what towns, counties and states are winning the census race. As of writing this blog post, a little more than half of U.S. households have mailed back their census forms (I sent mine back over a week ago). A neat website set up by the census lets you see how various parts of the country are faring in terms of their response rates.

Map of Downtown Boston and Environs
Taken from
April 1, 2010

In case you can't see it clearly, the map above is of downtown Boston, and the shades of blue and green indicate the range that each shaded area falls into based on how many households have returned their census forms. The green shades represent areas where the response is better than 50 percent, and the blue represents areas where the response is below 50 percent (As response gets better, the shades will turn yellow and orange, per the key at the top). It's kind of neat. In the spirit of the Freakonomics chapter, I might encourage my neighbors to mail their forms back, so we can beat Cambridge!


I don't understand why anyone would tell people not to mail back their census forms. Some anti-government groups are urging citizens to refrain from participating in the census; they say the government is out to get too much info on all of us.

An editorial I read in today's New York Times notes how Michelle Bachmann, a Republican Congresswoman from Minnesota, is part of the crowd telling people to "Throw it out" instead of "Mail it back." As the New York Times points out, if Bachmann succeeds, the only thing her disciples will gain is less federal funding and a scaling down of other benefits, which are allotted based on the census results. Heck, if she's really successful, Minnesota could stand to lose one of its allotted congressional seats. Perhaps Representative Bachmann would then get redistricted out of Congress?


Editor's Note: Editorial mentioned above is "The Real Census," The New York Times, April 1, 2010; page A20.