Sunday, August 28, 2011

In Boston, All Politics is SUPER Local

This is where I show my ignorance of Boston political history, for I learned last week that there was a time in Boston when all city councilors were at-large city councilors. The current city council make-up-- nine district councilors and four at-large councilors-- has been in place only since 1982. Prior to that, the council had nine members, all of whom represented the entire city.

District city council representation is vital to the city. I have written in the past about how Boston is a city of neighborhoods, and I have enjoyed meeting residents from other neighborhoods to learn about their homes, their favorite restaurants, and what conditions are like throughout Boston.

To be sure, my concerns about Boston are shared by residents in all the neighborhoods I have seen. We all care about safe streets and better schools. We all worry about economic development and jobs in the city. However, each specific neighborhood has its micro-specific issues that are unique. And that's why district city councilors are so important.

A micro-specific issue on Beacon Hill and in the Back Bay is trash. And neighbors in those areas have been very creative on how to keep streets clean. One idea being tossed around is whether certain downtown neighborhoods really need three days of trash pick up. Trash is picked up three days a week in my area of Beacon Hill, which means trash is on the streets three days a week. Considering refuse is put outside the night before pickup, that's a lot of time to have trash at the curb.

My neighbors and I see reducing the number of trash pick up days as a way to make streets cleaner by reducing the amount of time the trash is at the curb. It makes sense to us, and it makes sense to our district city councilor, Mike Ross, who has been supportive of our investigation of the issue. To be clear, Councilor Ross hasn't decided if he wants to reduce a day of pick up, and neither has the Beacon Hill Civic Association. It would be a major change for the neighborhood, so we're all still looking into it.

Removing trash pick-up days to make streets cleaner seems counter-intuitive, especially those who don't follow micro-specific neighborhood issues. Take the at-large Boston City Council candidates. At the "First in the City" City Council forum in June, hosted by Boston's Ward 5 Democratic Committee, the candidates were asked about the possibility of removing a day of trash pick up. A few of the candidates, most notably former City Councilor Michael Flaherty, reacted with near abhorrence. Mr. Flaherty said he would strongly oppose removing a day of pick-up, noting that it would be part of his efforts to keep Boston clean.

To be fair, Mr. Flaherty has not been involved in my discussions, so he doesn't understand that removing a day of pick up can actually make the streets cleaner. Mr. Flaherty has been out of the game for a year or two following his unsuccessful bid for Mayor, so he has some catching up to do. At the same time, it has to be hard for at-large city councilors to understand every micro-specific neighborhood issue in the city. One could make the argument that that's the place for district city councilors.

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