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June 26, 2007


Cedar Street Crunk

Bill --- have you ever ingested psilocybin mushrooms? I only ask because your vision of Somerville's past is far different from mine.

Somerville resident

Cedar Street C, your entirely uninformative "rebuttal" suggests you may be the one who has ingested mushrooms. Come on, Bill wrote a serious and intelligent piece. Share with the rest of us your alternative "vision" of Somerville's past (and how it differs from Bill's), instead of keeping it a secret.

it *is* funny

I think it's an oversimplification to say that those with kids in Somerville schools are more likely to get involved in local politics. I don't have kids in the schools but I'm very well-informed, and much of that came from meeting my Alderman and being invited to be a citizen rep on a task force.

Once I did that, I started paying more attention to the BOA meeting agendas and eventually I found this website, the SomJournal website, and the Davis Square community. Through those sources, I found more and more opprotunities to be involved.

My main concern about Somerville is crime ... I honestly believe our city is on the brink. This is why I'm watching the Chief of Police appointment process so closely. We need fresh approaches to policing, not more lost evidence and strange conflicts of interest. I believe this is a turning point and if handled poorly, the city will be the worse for it.

My $.02.



I have to say your really a fountain of misnformation and a complete and total buffoon.

Thanks for the laughs.


Somerville Resident

Marie, thank you for the informative analysis and for clearly articulating your point of view.

Ron Newman

If you think this article is inaccurate, how about telling us what you think is wrong with it?

Somerville Resident

Bill, I found the below quite interesting (as the rest of the article):

"In their view, government should identify the key problems facing the jurisdiction, review all available evidence to craft solutions, and then work to implement these solutions as cost-effectively as possible."

Perhaps I'm close-minded, but I 'm not sure how this can be seen as just a "view"... Isn't this the ONLY way efficient government can be run? Anything based on local nepotism IS essentially corruption that damages the community as a whole (even though it benefits a few local wannabes in the short-term).


Bill, your words, while true, a presented in a way that makes people assume you are just another yuppie preaching at them. Let me break down some of your themes as I understand them:

1: The new (yuppie) residents of Somerville aren't making a dent in city hall because they are too involved in their private lives and aren't interested in their community. Part of this is because a lot of them don't have kids so they aren't as invested in the community.
2: groups in the past have gotten involved in their community and as a result are listened to by the city. Some groups, though, aren't allowed to vote or don't think they are a part of the system so they are ignored.
3: while somerville's face has changed, we elect the same people still because the new groups haven't gotten involved in politics as much. So we still get the one hand washes the other politics (all good to me, personally.)
4: and finally, things like property taxes are being ignored because the people that are being effected are getting the boot.

Good stuff, keep it up.

Less Haoufman

How about an analysis of the people who register to vote and the people that show up to vote at elections time?

You will find that it is the Unions, the city Workers, police, firemen, and anyone else on the city's and developers' dole.

Of course local businesses like the Green Cab that aint green may want to make sure that they are represented so that they can continue a monopoly without the use of hybrids!!! So their families will show up to vote.

Less Houfman

Oh, and don't forget the towing company that gets all the city contracts!

Yorktown Street

Somerville Resident, good for you for asking the question and not assuming you already know the answer. I hear people in Somerville come up with a lot of objections to the so-called rational approach:

1. Who gets to identify the key problems? The people with graduate school degrees? The people who have time to attend meetings? The people who have spent the most time living here? You'll get three different agendas, depending who you ask.

2. Who gets to decide what counts as evidence? Your facts may be my ill-informed outsider opinion, and my facts may be your parochial prejudices.

3. Should government be cost-effective by some accounting standard, or by the standards of those who know what it really, practically takes to get things done in the community?

These are not simple questions to answer, and that is why Bill described the "good government progressive" view as a VIEW, or so I believe. Bill, care to explain for yourself?

Somerville Resident

Yorktown Street, all good points. I do hope that on many issues there are core facts anybody can agree upon, after doing the research. But that would depend on the specifics of the issue. I'm very pragmatic, I'd support anybody who can solve real problems and reduce tension in the community.
On a related topic, I'm not sure where all this talk about the tension between yuppies and old guard in Somerville is coming from, but it's mostly made up. I have many friends and neighbors who are yuppies, older, retired, blue collar and whatnot. I don't see many differences on what they want, really. At least regarding the real issues.

Somerville Resident

Yorktown Street, I was thinking more about this:

"I hear people in Somerville come up with a lot of objections to the so-called rational approach"

What I'd like to understand is whether objections to the "rational approach" are mostly due to selfish agendas (i.e., a rational approach would take away certain benefits I have, even though it would be better for Somerville as a whole) or whether there are objective reasons (e.g., only local folks can get good things done locally). Perhaps it doesn't matter, but I'd like to understand whether, in the end, it's simply a "government leave me alone/grab as much as you can" mentality or whether there is some broader thought and consideration for the larger community...
But I agree, not easy questions...

a somerville developers' victim

Another thing gets new Somervillians involved with changing the city government.

The incredible pro-developer culture of the city government.

Nothing like a developer building an immense ugly building on your street, or right next to your small house to get one an education in how pro-developer Somerville is. And how little you can do about it. Sure gets one to vote against the old boy network.

Especially compared to most other towns and city in Massachusetts

One part of this is that most town and cities post the owner's name and address for each property in their on-line assesors's databases. Not Somerville - you have to trek to City Hall and check the overused paper copy.

If this data was on line for Somerville, it be much easier to trace all the connections, and favors being done. Trust the old boy network to protect their backs.

We need a mayor from new Somerville, and a super-majority of Alder(wo)man from new Somerville to even begin to turn this around.

If you want to clean up Somerville, vote for the Progressives.

Somerville Resident

Well, since you mention it... I was walking around Pittman St a few evenings ago and I saw this new massive (and quite ugly) condo building...,+Somerville,+MA+02143,+USA&sa=X&oi=map&ct=title

It's hard to believe it passed zoning laws because it's oddly packed between the tiny street and the rock wall of the hill. I can just imagine the type of congestion it will create around there.

But sure, SOME progressives make sense, as do some NON-progressives. I pick wherever the good apples are.

Bill Shelton

Thanks to all for making this a good discussion, even Cedar Street Crunk. By the way, Crunk, the last time I took psilosybin mushrooms was the Summer of 1979. I don’t think that I’ll be trying them again. The fact that you are familiar with that odd word’s spelling suggests the answer to Somerville Resident’s question about why you don’t share your own thoughts. Either that, or that you are a graduate of the Ron Newman School of Good Grammer.

Although I keep writing, I don’t seem to be getting much better at making clear what I want to say to all readers. I am blessed, therefore, to have translators like Que? and Yorktown Street.

Yorktown Street,

You do an admirable job in teasing out the subtleties of the “rational” approach. I think that the answer to each of your questions comes from Somerville Resident: “That would depend on each of the issues.”

However, making a real effort to answers those questions in the context of a city policy decision has not been supported by our city’s political culture. The cases that I know the most about are development decisions of the kind described by Somerville Developers’ Victim.” I’ve written a lot, in particular, about the decision to initiate Assembly Square development with large-format retail stores and apartments.

City government made a big show of going through a public process, and then did not respond to the wishes of the overwhelming majority of participating residents, the exhaustive evidence that they presented, or even the recommendations of the city’s own consultants. The decision was based on other considerations. There any many other examples of similar decisions on matters other than development, but I will leave it to other bloggers to describe them.

it IS funny,

Yes, you’re right that it’s an oversimplification. It is a generalization based on empirical evidence. As you suggest, there are many other ways that people find their way into local politics. Concern about their kids’ education is just the most common for new arrivals.

Mr. White

Bill, I generally agree with many of your articles, but isn't it time that the News wrote a hard hitting article/analysis of the issues with rising property taxes, water bills and the other (as ham-fisted as they are) "taxes" we're all subject to? I don't see those issues as declining.

Bill Shelton

Yes, Mr. White, I believe it is time, but it will take some time. To be fair to all, and to present incontrovertible evidence, will take a lot of work. Perhaps some of the Somerville News Contributors can collaborate on this and make a comprehensive effort.

Yorktown Street

Bill, the fact that the initial Assembly Square decision WAS based on other considerations should tell us all something. The evidence-based approach is not sufficient to convince the good people of Somerville. Your article admirably describes the cultural reasons why, and in many cases, they make sense. I applaud you for reflecting on them and for not simply saying, "My way is the only rational way." I hope that all progressives (capital P or not) will be similarly humble and learn from the experience. Otherwise, we are standing in circles talking to ourselves.

Somerville Resident

Although tolerance is a virtue, there are cases in which it is not productive and it can lead to disaster. In many cases, trusting experts who have spent many years studying a problem is the way to go. I sure hope that is the case when building airplanes and water purifying plants. Unfortunately, some people are hurt by the simple idea that some other people may be experts on a topic; for some reason, being a proven expert on a topic is seen as a sign of elitism and something to fight against, just to protect some (usually male) "ego" thing. At times, there is only one rational way, and that way is the one experts have devises after much study.

"I applaud you for reflecting on them and for not simply saying, "My way is the only rational way.""

Ron Newman

Sometimes the experts are wrong. The demolition of Boston's Scollay Square and West End resulted from a city government that listened more to supposed 'experts' than to its own citizens.

Somerville Resident

Well, I'm talking about experts, not "supposed experts": these are a dime a dozen.

Working Class Joe

Ron Newman, I think your right on this one. One of th things I have noticed about Massachusetts politics is the fact that government officials tend to already have an agenda in mind. It seems like the seek out experts who agree with them to justify their actions. None the less, no one is listening to the average citizen, especially middle class ones. Why are people leaving our cities and states and droves. Experts will say housing which to some degree is true, but they always tend to say we need to build more to lower the cost and spend millions on bribing, I mean getting companies to invest here. They never seem to take a look at other factors such as the influx of illegal immigrants who live 20 to a room, college kids who rent as apposed to living in dorms, the lack of low wage job growth compared with high wage job growth, lower taxes in NH, destruction of old neighborhood bonds, etc. Its quite apparent that our leaders are looking for their legacy, and that is building new buildings and making cities like Somerville funky and trendy and know throughout the country as apposed to a nice place to live for middle class families. Woops, I forgot, the middle class are uneducated fools who know nothing compared with the experts from MIT and Harvard.

Somerville Resident

Hmmm, but you guys elected Mitt Romney as MA Gov, first (who basically sabotaged the state). And now this Patrick guy instead of Gabrieli (an effective and decent businessman). Why do you now expect MA to attract new businesses?
Regarding the experts, the fact that politicians PICK "experts" who will support their own agenda is not the fault of the "experts". If the "experts" are bribable then they should not be called experts because their opinion is not based on expertise. So, please don't confuse the issues: People who have no technical knowledge on a complex issue are entitled to their opinions but they should not have a part in deciding on the technical details of an issue (pretty much like they should not have a say in deciding how much steel to put in the walls of a dam if they know nothing about it). Obviously, residents should have a strong voice at a more general policy level, if whatever project would affect their life, that's a given. Here, again, I'm assuming people honestly TRYING to solve complex issues, not corrupt politicians and bribed "experts".

a somerville developers' victim


for just a few of the big ugly inappropriate developments that have been forced on our city's neighborhoods

HL Menken

In this column, Bill wrote about a "favor/relationship-based" political culture and a culture based on inclusion--of as much information and as many viewpoints as possible. Political discussion in the first culture is often personal attacks based on "who is with who." Discussion in the second is data-driven and analytical, based on a search for the best policy.

The postings in response to this column illustrate the difference. Cedar Street Curnk and Stop Whining, assuming that they are really two different people, represent the first culture. Everyone else represents the second.

Preacher Bill

"From the late 1970s to the early 90s, political violence and economic hardship brought immigrants to Somerville from Central America, the Caribbean, and Brazil. Many remain ineligible to vote. Most who are eligible are so preoccupied with the daily challenges of economic survival and family maintenance that they have little attention for politics."

"daily challenges of economic survival and family maintenance that they have little attention for politics."

Sounds like a lot of people I know and they grew up in Somerville. They seem to be able to vote year in and year out.

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