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April 21, 2008

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Truth Fan

“The options for after school and summer are getting thin. Students find themselves gathering in parks for lack of better options, looking for entertainment in any form, he said.”

-from Teens “Unite the Ville”

“’I’m here to listen to you and to hear you,’ said Curtatone, who described his role as ‘recommending policy change’ to help resolve the problems teenagers are facing. Curtatone said the city needed ‘to create an atmosphere of hope and opportunity. You need to hold my feet to the fire,’ he said.”

-from Teens “Unite the Ville”


Well Mr. Mayor, why not a community center?

JPM

Bill,
Good idea. This would benefit the WHOLE community. Now let us look at something you said in your piece,

"Yes, we are facing the very tough budget conditions that I have been forecasting for ten years. Yes, construction costs are high. But we don't have to do the whole thing at one time, and minimal renovation could make some of the Powder House School's facilities immediately useable."

This statement is interesting in light of the euphemistically named "Responsible Employer Ordinance" which is currently under consideration by Somerville Aldermen and is supported by the Mayor. This ordinance effectively shuts out non-union small construction businesses from bidding on city contracts over $100,000 (i.e. every construction job).

Ironically, the passing of this ordinance makes it less likely thay your good idea will come to fruition, a the pols pay off their union friends at the expense of everyone else.

Community Center

Hey, "Unite the Ville" teens, ever heard of getting a good book for "entertainment"? Ever heard of volunteering for something instead? Ever heard of getting together with just a few friends and talk? It is ridiculous that you demand the taxpayers to fund your stupid and useless parties.

Also, JPM, well said, and so typical of the double talk of the people posting here. The RE Ordinance will make it clearly impossible to carry out anything like this. And all because some of their relatives and friends are employed by these Unions. An anti-corruption investigation should be started.
A possible solution at under 100K could be to make a big circus tent and have the Center there!

Joyce

I think this is a fantastic idea!!!! I have been saying this to myself every time I drive by the empty building. How about a police substation and a community center, where kids and adults can go and play a game of basketball during the long winter months. Where this part of our fair city has some place within reach to connect other than the bars and restaurants in the squares. This is a great opportunity for all of us!!!

Youth Worker

Somerville needs a community center for teens. Programming could include many options and youth could be involved in the development to ensure it meets their needs and expectations. As a Ward 7 resident, I fully support increasing resources for children and teens in Somerville, beyond my district.

Somer_in_the_City

Community Center, did you forget to take your enema today?

Bill Shelton

JPM,

As you often do, you make an interesting connection. I sincerely believe that one reason why our nation is in such dire straits is the decline of union membership from about 35% of the workforce in the 1950s, to about 14% today. Union activism provided, I believe, a counterweight to untrammeled corporate power.

Today, some unions are taking successful initiatives to recruit new members and influence public policy in the interest of working people. Others are mostly concerned with holding on to what they see as theirs.

It seems to me that the "Responsible Employer Ordinance"is more about the latter than the former. It's hard to see how it would either boost membership or improve the lives of working people who are not in the construction trades unions.

And it's hard to see how it will benefit our city's fiscal health. For an affluent city that has more money that it knows what to do with, this kind of solidarity with the building trades unions would be a nice thing. One of our next door neighbors comes to mind. I don't think that we can afford that.

Moreover, there are a lot of honest, competent, conscientious tradesmen who operate small family busisses or have been excluded from unions. In fact, as more affluent workers moved elsewhere, they became a broader proportion of Somerville's population than members of the building trades unions.

So if the ordinance will not provide a discernible benefit to the city, and if it is going to make a negligible difference in how many union workers get work for how long, one wonders why it is being proposed.

A cynic might suggest that it has something to do with donations of campaign funding and campaign workers that the mayor has received from building trade unions in the past, and how he might hope to receive more in the future.

Union Member

Bill Shelton, I agree with you, but only partially. Even though 35% of workers belonged to unions in the past, there was still the remaining 65% of workers. I'm a Union member myself, and I can see all that's rotten with Unions. Basically, workers end up taking for granted what they have. Since it is hard or impossible for employers to fire them, workers always tend to become lazier and lazier. I think that anybody who does not do their job competently should just get fired, not protected by a Union. If people are sick or have other problems, that should be taken into account and a Union might provide a necessary social net. But laziness and negligence should never be condoned and they should result in firings, Union or no Union. Finally, Unions tend to become special interests that are deleterious for society as a whole. Small groups can blackmail the rest of the country and get more than their share. There should be mechanisms to prevent that.

Bill Shelton

And I partially agree with you, Union Member. In fact, I agree with everything that you've written except the part about special interests. It seems to me that a union is a different kind of interest group.

Just as a worker, say a GE employee, has little or no bargaining power with a gigantic corporation, s/he has little or no power to influence the public policy of a gigantic government that will, nevertheless, influence his or her wellbeing. So employees come together as United Electrical Workers to more effectively represent their interest. Even still, UE has less influence on public policy than GE does.

You can bet that powerful economic interests are organized and working everyday to influence government in their own interests. So if working people don't try to do so through unions, who will do it for them? In recent decades, the Democratic Party has not been noteworthy for successful efforts in defending working people's interests.

Where I would agree with you regarding the special interest critique is this: Are unions using the political influence that they do have in support of all working people, or only their own constituents?

For example, UE, the UAW, AFL-CIO, AFSCME, and many other unions are advocating for universal health care, even though most of their members already receive health care as part of their contracts.

Somerspeak

Why not a community center? Because the Mayor already has plans to sell the property to balance next years budget. End of community center.

Citizen

Mr. Shelton,

I think that what you and Mr. Trane are suggesting would be wonderful for Somerville. I know that my kids would love it. It's hard to believe that the mayor would be so foolish as to sell the Powder House School. And why would the Aldermen, who represent the people, agree to that? They can't all be that short sighted.

Until I read your column, I had never heard of Mary Parker Follett. Could you say a little more about her?


Bill Shelton

Mary Parker Follett was born in Quincy. She was what we, today, would call a “re-entering student,” graduating in 1898, at age 30, from Radcliffe. In 1900, she became a social worker in Roxbury. She subsequently led a movement to use Boston schools as “social centers,” or “community centers.” She founded a series of community centers, starting with one in East Boston in 1911.

In 1918, she published The New State, a book about how community is essential to democracy and good government. Her 1924 book, The Creative Experience, explored creativity in the context of people interacting as a group.

Perhaps her most lasting contribution was the influential work on humanizing management. In her day, the main theorist of industrial management was Frederic Taylor, whose method was, essentially, to treat people like machines. She was a forerunner of systems theory, advocating that managers should be leaders as well, “seeing the whole rather than the particular.”

Peter Ducker, who bestrode the field of management theory during the last half of the 20th Century called her the "prophet of management" and his "guru."

Many of her ideas have become so well used that their origins are forgotten. They include the concept of "win-win" solutions, community-based solutions, strength in diversity, situational leadership, and an understanding of how good process produces good results. She coined the term “conflict resolution.” She talked about how “power with” (cooperation and participation) was ultimately more powerful, producing greater results, than "power-over.”

it *is* funny

Thanks for that information Bill. I'm going to check out her books.

Is the sale of the Powderhouse School a done deal or something we can still influence our Aldermen on? (to the extent that's possible -- I don't see them stand up to the mayor very often)

Somerspeak

Bill Selton - sorry to say I told you so. A late item at last night's BOA meeting was from the "I can't balance the check book" Mayor. It called for $$$$ to hire a consultant to tell the Mayor and its residents what the Mayor wants.

He plans to sell the Powderhouse School next year.

Bill Shelton

it "is" funny,

No the city has made no commitment whatsoever to sell the Powderhouse School. Somerspeak's information confirms that the city is still "exploring" what to do with it. Although as Somerspeak implies, this and the past administrations have an annoying habit of using taxpayer money to hire consultants to bless what they already want to do.

To sell off this asset would be a tragedy. To sell it for a use that pays no taxes would be insane. But as I said in the last sentence of my column, "Whether this extraordinary opportunity is realized will depend on the extent to which the constituencies who would benefit from it become effectively mobilized."

It will also be interesting to see whether Bob Trane will attempt to mobilize those constituencies, now that he has announced a challenge to Carl Sciorintino and, presumably, needs the mayor's help.

Great idea!

The idea of a new community center or new Recreation Center has been kicked around for quite a while in the city. I think it makes more sense for the city to sell the current Rec Dept building (which had no heat when I was taking a class there one winter!!) and make a minor investment in upgrading the Powderhouse School to use as a community/Rec center. Many surrounding towns use old schools for such purposes, for example the Arlington Center for the Arts and I think the Winchester Rec Dept are former schools. You can use the classrooms as they are, and probably the gym and cafetorium too.

As for the person who was unfairly critical of Somerville youth, the whole point of a community center is to bring people together. It could be used for people of all ages, from toddlers to seniors; anyone who wants to take a ceramics class, shoot hoops, join a chorus, learn to garden, etc.

The one problem is that Powderhouse isn't as centrally located as the Rec Dept, but I'd say it's better to at least HAVE a community center (and one on 2 bus lines) within the city than to have the dilapidated Rec Dept we have now, which has hardly any usable rooms.

Diogenes

Bill,

1. Did you know that Bob Trane was going to run for State Rep?

2. If no, do you think that he set you up to write this column?

3. Trane will need the mayor's machine if he's going to beat Sciorintino. Do you think that he'll drop this crusade for the Community Center to get it?

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