The Boston Globe plays “hero” today with an editorial about a case of class-warfare going on in the South End. Or so they would lead you to believe.
If you remember, I blogged about an article appearing in the Globe this weekend profiling Mario Nicosia, who runs GTI Properties. He has done an admirable job of improving the South End, specifically the area known (ugh) as SoWa. Beyond the name, it’s a great neighborhood with clean, renovated buildings full of residents and office workers, and a smattering of artists and creative types, as well.
One of GTI’s executives was quoted as saying something pretty nasty, which implied that the area’s homeless people were less than human:
“There’s no question about it, [Harrison Ave] ain’t pretty,” said [John] Kiger. “Like any urban area you have to watch out. It’s not Wellesley. We’re in the business of turning the lights on. You create a reason for people to come here, like the galleries or the restaurants. Then you have people walking around. For lack of a more interesting metaphor, when you turn the lights on, the roaches scatter.“
With that one statement, any goodwill GTI built from the article was lost.
So, the Globe responded today with an editorial about the quote. It ends up being more about the South End and the changes it’s gone through over the past half-century.
I have issues with what they are saying.
To start off, the Boston Globe didn’t just sit idly by while the city’s homeless were cast out into the streets over the past fifty years; it actively participated in it, by editorializing against the low-income, single-resident-occupancy “flop-houses” that existed for much of the first half of the century.
The South End was abandoned way before the growth explosion of the past twenty years. The Globe makes it out to be that developers and wealthy home-buyers drove the homeless and nearly-homeless out of their homes.
That’s not accurate.
Around the turn of the century (1900), Harrison Ave was a cesspool of housing. Overcrowded tenement homes full of filthy, diseased people. Prostitutes and criminals roamed the streets with no fear of being incarcerated.
The area cleaned out only when the area was abandoned. After that, the street was reborn as light-industrial. Jordan Marsh had a massive storage facility down there, Gibbons Electric came later. Many buildings were torn down and lots cleared.
Then, owners including GTI Properties bought up the remaining buildings and restored them over the years.
Then, developers stepped in to build on the empty lots. First came Laconia Lofts between Washington Street and Harrison Ave, then Wilkes Passage and Rollins Square, and finally Gateway Terrace, among others.
The two things may have happened – the rise in homelessness and the arrival of developers, but there is no causality.
And, it’s not as if the South End existed in a vacuum. Just about every other neighborhood and every other city encountered the same situation – a healthy city neighborhood was abandoned due to the flight to the suburbs of the middle class, due to urban blight caused by lack of investment by private industry and government made worse by urban riots which led to decay.
It’s not GTI Properties (or any other person’s) responsibility to take care of the homeless that live down the street at Pine Street Inn, anymore than it is your’s or mine. To be so bold as to suggest (as the Globe did) that GTI Properties donate housing for the homeless … mind your own business! The Globe is on Morrissey Blvd, only half a mile from Pine Street Inn, how about they do the same?
The “SoWa” neighborhood is so vastly improved over what it was ten or twenty years ago.
No one has suggested, nor do I think anyone even considers the idea, that Pine Street Inn should be moved or that it isn’t an integral part of the neighborhood. (They should take down the scaffolding around the tower, btw …)
The Globe is too quick to judge, in this case.