Waiting a New Mayor, a New Radio Show

Where’s Boston? We’re piloting a new radio show here for WBUR in Boston and puzzling about the hometown. What can you tell from the pick of the first new mayor in a century well underway?

Where’s the emergent Boston — in the old cradle of liberty that’s become a perfect example of the new inequality? Where prices keep rising and real incomes keep falling: meaning an average worker in Boston can’t afford an average home. Where’s the spirit of Boston — the Puritans’ city on a hill, ready for another Irish Last Hurrah at City Hall… when the Boston accent is fading and in fact 100 different languages are spoken in the city… where most of the people (and three of every four school kids) are black, brown, Asian or Hispanic? In the city of champions — baseball, football, med tech and higher ed… On the new bicycle paths over the ancient cow paths: where’s this reinvented Boston going?

In the land of The Last Hurrah, mayor’s races are markers of social history: James Michael Curley’s Irish wars with the Protestant Yankees in four decades of the 20th Century; John Collins and Johnny Powers and then Kevin White and Louise Day Hicks in Irish contests among themselves; Ray Flynn against the black contender Mel King in the 1980s; then the Irish eclipse through the 20 year reign of Tom Menino. And finally this year in majority-minority Boston (you could argue the most globalized immigrant city in America) we had a final choice between two very different Irish flavors: the favorite John Connolly was Harvard educated and school-reform minded, but he was defeated in the end by the trade-union lobbyist and recovering drinker from the working-class and waterfront precincts, Marty Walsh.

Our guests in the WBUR studio are: John Connolly, because so often it’s the loser who learns more in the game than the winner. Shirley Kressel, a mere housewife from the Back Bay who may be the most relentlessly informed and critical citizen in the Republic of Boston — a combination of Jane Jacobs and I. F. Stone. And Barry Bluestone, the progressive and prolific social scientist who’s had an outsider’s eye on Boston for 40 years now.

The upshot of an hour’s gab seems to be that Boston — for all the knocks — is in a spot that almost any big city in America would dream of occupying. And further, that the hero and villain of the moment is the Graduate Student, most particularly the ones from “away” and “abroad.” It’s those graduate students who (for want of dormitories) are sucking up the three-decker apartments built for workers back in the day — at the same time they’re confirming Boston’s attractiveness and conceiving its future.

Our question — “Where’s Boston?” — was the title of a brilliant little bicentennial film collage of pictures and voices of Boston as of 1976, almost 40 years ago. It makes you wonder: do we still sound that interesting?

Thank you to Cambridge Seven Associates and Executive Producer Peter Chermayeff for the”Where’s Boston” video.

Guest List
John Connolly
candidate for mayor of Boston, city councilor, and former teacher from West Roxbury
Shirley Kressel
a citizen, an urban designer, and an advocate for 'good governance' in Boston.
Barry Bluestone
professor of political economy and dean of the School of Public Policy & Urban Affairs at Northeastern University.

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  • Shaman

    Good start, Christopher. Thanks for revisiting “Where’s Boston.” It is memory lane and a great marker in its way.
    Great conversation on the powers of the Mayor’s job and the implications of big-business pushing the buttons in Boston.
    I’m looking forward to more great broadcasts.

  • Jake

    “The favorite John Connolly”

    The voters thought otherwise.

  • Frank

    Shirley Kressel did a terrific job on this podcast. Connolly was a joke. Here’s why you lost, buddy: nobody’s buying this “empower wealth creation” crap. Lydon asked you repeatedly if you’d tax the Daddy Warbucks of the Beantown economy to get some basic services to the poorest, and you kept demurring.

    You wouldn’t even sign up for DeBlasio’s 0.5% (that’s ZERO point FIVE, half a percent) tax on people making over $500K a year? (And hell, why not 5% on people making over $2.5 million a year?). You DESERVED TO LOSE. Go have lunch with Elizabeth Warren and learn something about progressivism.

  • Kate McShane

    This was interesting, given that in 2010, after 38 years, I moved back to Philadelphia. It brought back so many memories and I wish I could say they were good, but, no. Mainly, no. I moved there in 1972, 25 years old, at the request of Miles Mahoney, who ran the Philadelphia Housing Authority, where I worked as a tenant advocate. He’d accepted a position as Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs. Frank Sargent was Governor and made a deal with Kevin White to reject an urban renewal project if White didn’t run as governor. It meant, among other things, that we would all lose our jobs in 9 months. My first impressions about Boston then — racism that felt worse than Philly’s racism. My first visit to Southie at the invitation of a woman I worked with — little kids getting drunk during the St. Patrick’s parade, kids talking about how their fathers had shotguns and hand guns in their cars “to kill the niggers”, and a 6 foot sign in spray paint, “Hitler was right.” The classism everywhere. I didn’t know about class until I moved there, and I was in the wrong one. One of the best things — Frederic Law Olmstead’s Arnold Arboretum,, and Jamaica Pond, the most beautiful place I’d ever been, I spent every day there in 2005, when I was becoming homeless because of lousy jobs, lousy pay, and horrifyingly high rents. I lost everything in Boston. I did really enjoy my time at Boston College, where I finally finished my B.A. in 1982 and I LOVED the time I spent writing on the ROS site, and hanging out with Radio Open Source staff. That was a very hopeful time for me and I loved all of you. You can’t imagine. I’m excited for your show. I guess I’ll be able to stream it. I love you guys.

    • Kate McShane

      OF COURSE!!! I wrote about that a little recently in the comments about your show with Donal Fox and (I forget his name, Elie?). Some of the nicest times I had were with you guys when we went to see Sonny Rollins, Eddie Palmieri, and once, with Garrett, Donal Fox.

  • chris

    Dear beautiful Kate McShane,
    Whatever else you do, don’t forget that night with Sonny Rollins at Symphony Hall in the Spring of 2007, with Garrett Zevgetis, aka “nother.” And know that we love you, too, now and ever. Grateful to hear, Chris Lydon

  • Potter

    It’s relative. From my perspective, coming here from New York City in the late 60’s when it was still kinda nice in that city ( Mayor Lindsay’s city), I felt Boston to be an amazingly more humane place to live. New York was a bit much for me, “the rat race”. I moved out to the suburbs here after a few years moving around in Boston, the lovely burbs,,or the more affordable exurbs, to garden and fire my kiln and raise our son (not in that order, the school system was uppermost). That was my first Spring ever. I felt I was progressing.

    Thank you for posting “Where’s Boston?”. I remember it. But the feeling then was that the show went at a dizzying pace, too much to absorb, too many screens going. Now it seems mild. And the title was always and still is puzzling although now, as you put it, it makes more sense: where are we going? ( a la Gauguin).

    I read the news today (oh boy) NYTimes (Kimmelman’s article) about the intrusion of new skyscrapers, the luxury apartments for those who can afford the millions on the 40-somethingth floor overlooking Central Park. The other day there appeared an article about the shadows they cast, the light they block ( not to forget the wind tunnels they must cause) from the older apartments below. More building for the wealthy on an already dense Manhattan. Boston is not Manhattan ( or any of it’s boroughs), I don’t think comparable. But Boston always looks to New York City.

    I was moved by, riveted to, the huge article on the homeless in New York following the young girl Dasani. Bravo to the NYTimes for this and thanks for mentioning it.

    We just came from San Francisco, a city that has changed dramatically with a rush of skyscraper building, booming for business. I felt disappointed, I think there has been a selling out.

    I hope that Boston remains cautious about building high and densely, keeps it’s balance.

    This was an excellent discussion. I love the honesty and sincerity of the participants, folks that can trusted. Shirley Kressel is amazing.

  • dave bernard

    I’d argue that the machinery to help people who come here ‘with empty pockets’ is much more invisible and permeating than the BRA. Add to that incalculable impact on our social infrastructure by those who are befuddled by the protocols of life in a World-class metro scene. It would be laughable if I complained about not getting my space in Dover or Weston; Yet, there’s this ineffable mandate I hear on this program to elevate obsequiously selected individuals to the express lane.

    Right after the Boston Mayoral primary, I heard a stomach-turning remark on W R C A Radio questioning what ‘the community’ (sic) is going to do with ‘a couple of Irish guys’ to choose from. That’s Bostons’ living racism fifty years later.

  • nother

    The hard evidence tells me we have a long way to go – Newton High School is built for a cool $200 million and you wonder why they don’t have the absenteeism rate of schools such as East Boston High School?

    But there is anecdotal evidence that tells me things are changing. For instance I remember last year seeing this big black dude standing in downtown Boston, he was in his late thirties, a burly look’n guy with a strong accent from the islands. He stood there calm, proud, and defiant, right in the middle of a bunch of middle to upper class white people, and he loudly proclaimed something I’ll never forget. He said, “This is our fucking city.” He said “our” and right then and there the identity of our city changed!

    His name is David Ortiz, and I’m pretty sure Bill Russell never came close to getting on the mic at the Garden to talk about “our” city.

    But it wasn’t just David that that felt he belonged, for the first time in my life, this was my fucking city! It would take another whole show to discuss this – and I hope that’s coming down the “pike” – but I honestly don’t think you can have a conversation about Boston without mentioning those bombings.

    I’m elated about the new horizons for ROS. Upward and onward my dear friends, and love and luck to you all of you in the New Year.

    Let’s do this!

    Your friend,

    P.S. Hi Kate! So nice see your sweet name. What a night that was…

  • Kate McShane

    Garrett, I’m so glad to be back. I always love your comments. Recently I wrote a comment on an old show about Donal Fox (maybe 2009) and I talked about how good you were and how grateful I felt when we went to hear Donal, and how badly I felt for all these years that I never got to pay you back. I’ve heard about your film and I hope it’s going well. I think of you often.