National Crisis but Local Impact

I’m sure that every community large or small has similar issues.  Development is stalled, often in the midst of construction.  This is what the credit crisis has done to all of us.  Yvonne Abraham writing in today’s Boston Globe articulates what I think many have been feeling.  She calls her piece “Holes in the Heart.”

A lot of people are mighty mad about the giant pit where Filene’s used to be, and rightly so. Ditto the fenced-off disaster that was to have been the South End’s Columbus Center. The stalled megaprojects are ugly gashes in the heart of the city.

But there are other holes in Boston that are just as damaging to the city. They lie at the center of lively and struggling neighborhoods. They are not high-rise luxury hotels or ritzy condos. They are less ambitious than that and more important.

Much of the development she writes about is housing and small commercial space in actual neighborhoods.  I drive by at least two of the sites she writes about several times a week.  They are all large vacant lots in mostly residential neighborhoods.  The housing was mostly designed to be affordable rental housing in a city where many – even those who work for the City – have problems finding places to live.  All are developments my city agency is working with the community organizations to create.  We’ve put in our federal money as has the state.  Now we wait for bank loans and tax credits.  The projects are in all parts of town, but here are the two I see most often.

On Centre Street in Jamaica Plain, plans for the site of the old Blessed Sacrament Church are also stalled. That project was a huge victory for the local community: locals rallied behind a project that would give low-income residents housing and the neighborhood a place to gather, instead of pricey condos in a primo location.

The development, which was supposed to be underway last summer, will include 81 affordable rental units, 16 condos for first-time buyers, and places for 29 formerly homeless men and women.

The JP Neighborhood Development Corporation, which heads the project, is also developing the corner of Centre and Lamartine streets. But those 30 affordable units are also frozen, a yellow earth mover stranded atop a mound of dirt in a fenced-off lot.

Why are they all stalled? Large chunks of the funding were supposed to come from tax credits, which the federal government gives to developers of affordable housing. The developers then sell the credits to profitable companies looking to reduce their tax bills. But the companies’ profits went away, and so did the market for tax credits. It’s a different side of the economic meltdown that has frozen the luxury condos across town.

…Vacant lots make communities feel gutted. Stalled renovation projects leave residents feeling abandoned. Trophy buildings like Filene’s and Columbus Center get ink and outrage, but this is where the real hurt is.

Mr. Robinson Wins the Pulitzer

Washington Post editor and columnist, Eugene Robinson, has won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for commentary for his columns about the 2008 election. 

One of his best was A Special Brand of Patriotism from July 4, 2008.  It begins

Anyone who took U.S. history in high school ought to know that one of the five men killed in the Boston Massacre, the atrocity that helped ignite the American Revolution, was a runaway slave named Crispus Attucks. The question the history books rarely consider is: Why?

Think about it for a moment. For well over a century, British colonists in North America had practiced a particularly cruel brand of slavery, a system of bondage intended not just to exploit the labor of Africans but to crush their spirit as well. Backs were whipped and broken, families systematically separated, traditions erased, ancient languages silenced. Yet a black man — to many, nothing more than a piece of property — chose to stand and die with the patriots of Boston.

Barack Obama had been criticized for failure to wear a flag lapel pin.

It is not common, in my experience, for sitting U.S. senators to be questioned on their love of country — to be grilled about a flag pin, for example, or critiqued on the posture they assume when the national anthem is played. For an American who attains such high office, patriotism is generally assumed.

It seems that some people don’t want to give Obama the benefit of that assumption, however, and I have to wonder whether that’s because he’s black. And then I have to wonder why.

Three Tuskegee Airmen -- from left, Charles McGee of Bethesda, Howard Baugh of Petersburg, Va., and Roscoe Brown Jr. of New York City -- stand for the national anthem at a memorial ceremony in Grapevine, Tex., in 2007.

What’s unpatriotic is pretending that the past never happened. What’s unpatriotic is failing to acknowledge that we’ve struggled with race for nearly 400 years. What’s unpatriotic is relegating “black history” to the month of February when, really, it’s American history, without which this nation could never be what it is today.

My father, Harold I. Robinson, served in the Army during World War II and has lived to witness this transformative moment of possibility. My father-in-law, the late Edward R. Collins, was a sailor who saw action in the South Pacific; he rests at Arlington National Cemetery. I have no patience with anyone who thinks that patriots don’t have brown skin.

Congratulations, Mr. Robinson.