Saturday, December 8, 2007

Ellsbury sees himself in Boston

The World Series is long over, but baseball season never ends for the players. Rookie sensation Jacoby Ellsbury took some time to reflect on his first season in the bigs, the World Series, and his future.

BostonNOW: You haven't even officially started your rookie season yet and you've already won a World Series. What other accomplishments do you look forward to?
Jacoby Ellsbury: Going into the offseason, I've learned just through playing a Major League season, what my goals are, you know. Keeping my body healthy and things ... that are going to prolong my career. I want to have a long career.

BN: You've been compared to Johnny Damon. Is this something you welcome?
JE: Johnny's a great player. To be [compared] to someone of his caliber, especially this early in my career, is great. At the same time, I haven't really tried to pattern my game after him or anything like that.

BN: Are there any moments in the postseason that really stick out, where you feel like you really shined?
JE: After [Game 3 of the World Series] where I had the four hits with three doubles, that was a pretty special moment. And that last pitch of the game to win the World Series. Actually the last nine outs. My heart was pounding and I was just counting down the outs. Eight outs, seven outs, six outs to World Series Champions...

BN: Where do you see yourself in the future as far as Major League Baseball is concerned?
JE: I see myself with the Red Sox, having a long career ... It's the only team obviously that I know, being drafted in 2005, coming through the minor league system, so it would be nice to stay with the Red Sox for a long time.

To hear the interview in it's entirety, go to

This article appeared in BostonNOW on December 7, 2007.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Festive scents add joy to home

There is nothing better than walking through your door and catching a whiff of an array of holiday scents. Pine, sugar cookies and various intangible aromas associated with the winter months make the home welcoming and luckily, they can all stay in the air throughout the season without having to bake or produce a new wreath weekly.

Candles are key
Nothing spells fragrance like a high-quality candle. Don't settle for cheap ones from the pharmacy either. Yankee Candle offers the best bouquet for your buck, as they burn longer and give off delicious scents. Although there are dozens of sprays available, canned scents don't live up to their waxy counterparts and while bagged potpourris are often natural and visually appealing, they also tend to fade in strength quickly.

Consider the room
A fresh-cut apple scent is great, but doesn't necessarily make sense in a bathroom. But some rooms don't have any limits. The den should be welcoming - which any pleasant fragrance can be - and smells greeting guests at the doorway are universally heartwarming this time of year.

This article originally appeared in BostonNOW on December 6, 2007.

Big traditions, little wanderers

On Nov. 28, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and WCVB-TV's Liz Brunner kicked off The Home For Little Wanderers' Gift Drive and Online Auction with a reading of The Night Before Christmas to more than 20 children in the home's Jamaica Plain location. Although it is the auction's third year of fundraising, the home's gift drive has been a Boston tradition since 1865.

The drive, then called "ThanksgivingInGathering," called upon the community to give to those less fortunate. "The Sunday before Thanksgiving," recounted Heather MacFarlane, public relations manager of The Home For Little Wanderers, "[The home] invited people to bring food, but also toys, clothing, and all types of things" for children in need. The community answered the call, and has been doing so ever since.

"People come in and say 'my mother or my grandmother came here and used to give, and I want to as well,'" said MacFarlane. "We had our kick-off last week, people from the neighborhood were coming in immediately when the sign went up."

The drive, MacFarlane emphasized, is not just about toys. "We call it a 'gift drive' because things as simple as toiletries to gift cards are important to these people," she said. "The simple items that we take for granted are things these kids really need."

In addition to giving, supporters can also receive. Gifts ranging from a spa package for six people at Emerge Spa & Salon on Newbury Street to a chance to meet celebrities such as Stephen Colbert and Ellen DeGeneres are being auctioned off on the home's website. According to MacFarlane, celebrities have been more than willing to support the cause. While some of them are sought out by the home, many celebrities, such as local comedian Jay Leno, "have a relationship with the home, and they donate every year."

The gift drive will run through Dec. 21, with drop-off points at the home's Toy Room at 161 South Huntington Ave., as well as all Bernie and Phyl's Furniture or Coldwell Banker locations. Toys can also be donated online at The online auction runs through Dec. 16 at

Article originally appeared in BostonNOW on December 6, 2007.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Stay safe while decorating

By this point, you should be pretty much out of cold turkey. That means it's time to roll out of your food coma and get decorating for Christmas. Here are some ideas for a safe holiday.

Inspect your lights. Old strands can wear out over the years, and cables can get cut in storage. Make sure all your bulbs are in working order and that there are no exposed wires to avoid setting a yuletide blaze.

Keep hazardous decorations secure. Did you know that mistletoe makes cats sick? That chocolate kills dogs? That your 4- year-old can swallow ornament hooks? If you can't avoid using harmful decorations and foods, make sure that they stay out of reach.

Get a fake tree. Some people think it's blasphemous, but the fact is that trees and candles are the leading causes of fires during the holidays. If you must have a real tree, keep it watered, or within a few days you'll have Christmas kindling in your living room.

Go around and check everything at night. Did you unplug all the lights? Blow out the candles? Turn off the oven? Common sense doesn't get a winter break.

This article originally appeared in BostonNOW on November 29, 2007.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Invest in a clutter-free desk

Sick of your 9-to-5 job? Want to prioritize your day by what you think is important? Feel like working in your pajamas? There are endless reasons why Americans want to work from home. According to WorldatWork, a human resource company that specializes in employee retention, 12.6 million Americans work from home at least one day a week.

According to Moira Allen, editor of, workspace is the key to efficiency at home. "I found that the most important feature in my home office was a layout that gave me a sense of pleasure in 'coming to work,'" she explained. "If your office is awkward, or dark, or poorly laid out, or just plain ugly, it can be a deterrent." She recommends quality furniture and a comfortable chair.

Function is also important. If you can dedicate an entire room to working, you'll be much more able to block out the world and focus on your work. As an added bonus, you can also write a home office off on your taxes. If this isn't possible, try for a dedicated section. Make your workspace off-limits to family members, and set up a system to inform them when you are working and not to be disturbed.

Finally, have the tools of the trade readily available. "Things that you use less often can be stored in some other part of the house," Allen said. "But you don't want to have to jump up and run to a closet every time you need to load paper in the printer. Eventually you'll sort out those things that need to be close at hand, and those that don't."

This article originally appeared in Boston NOW on November 15, 2007.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Pair wine with holiday fare

The date of your holiday party has arrived, and you need to find a seating arrangment for 25 of your friends and relatives in a dining room that a realtor would call "intimate." You feel stressed, and yes, you could use a drink with dinner.

There are plenty of alcoholic offerings this holiday season that will compliment a variety of traditional holiday fare.

From the vine
Martignetti Liquor in Boston's North End offers an excellent array of wines to accompany your turkey dinner, including Chalone Vineyard's Pinot Noir. This dark red, priced reasonably at $15.99, offers a "beautiful fruit flavor," says Bob Goodwin, Martignetti's resident wine expert, with a "soft, very nice finish."

If you're serving ham, Goodwin recommends McLaren Vale's Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne. This Australian blend enjoyed a 90-out-of-100 rating from Spectator Magazine, and costing under $20, Goodwin called it "an elegant wine at a reasonable price."

Treats on tap
For those of us more partial to drinks of the grain-and-hops variety, turn to Boston's local beers. Harpoon's Winter Warmer is an excellent holiday brew. It pairs well with pies as well as poultry, and somehow manages to taste just like Christmas.

Harpoon's Munich Dark is also delicious. This Munchen Dunkel style beer has a chocolaty flavor with a slightly bitter, hoppy finish that is reminiscent of a porter, but a bit more crisp.

Don't forget the Boston Beer Company's Samuel Adams Winter Lager. This modern day classic offers a strong but manageable cinnamon and ginger taste, with an underlying citrus flavor uncommon to winter beers.

Originally published in Boston NOW on November 12, 2007.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Go fall with fiscus

Leaves are falling off of the trees, and in no time flat, the multicolored view from your windows will transform into multiple shades of grey. With depressing seasonal color changes en route, now might be a good time to start considering house plants.

Although some plants are difficult to grow in the cold season, you have numerous options for your indoor garden, the simplest including the rubber plant. The Ficus elastica is easy to maintain, but make sure to care for and prune it, because it can grow up to ten feet tall if you're not paying attention.

Ivy is another good bet. Those frosty windows can be cheered up immensely with lush, green leaves and vines growing around them. These plants also grow fast, though, so be sure to pay attention.

A more challenging plant is the poinsettia. This holiday favorite is still relatively easy to maintain, but temperature is key. Although these beautiful red blossoms are associated with Christmas, temperatures below 60 degrees is bad news.

These simple plants, like many others, can be easily maintained by watering regularly and giving minimum sunlight. Keeping a temperate climate at home is important, so make sure not to have your heat shut off. The end result is a fresher air, and a fresher looking home.

Originally published in Boston NOW on October 25, 2007.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Rebuilding Plan Draws Criticism

An artist's rendition of the proposed construction. Image supplied by Forte, which is responsible for the design.

JAMAICA PLAIN — A community meeting to discuss the proposed construction of 615-619 Centre St. drew a dozen neighbors to hear and voice their opinions of the building’s additions.

The single-story building, which was victimized by arson last summer, will maintain its current footprint, but will add a second story if owner Christ J. Stamatos gets what he wants.

Some neighbors expressed their concerns at the meeting, held at Stamatos’s Century 21 office at 660 Centre St., last Wednesday, ranging from blocking the sun to adversely affecting their property values.

Perhaps most impacted by the proposed construction would be Michael Tang, the new owner of 609 Centre St., Unit 2, who would have a side of his condominium, which currently enjoys large amounts of natural light, come within three feet of a wall, should the second floor be added. Stamatos hopes to reach a compromise with Tang, in which both parties will be "reasonably unhappy."

Neighbors of the building on Centre Street and Pond Street, which is behind the building, seemed aggravated that Stamatos approached the meeting without much wiggle room.

"I think people are generally supportive of redeveloping this block," explained Laura Vanderleeden of 2 Pond St. to the property owner, "but I’m not hearing a ton of flexibility from you." Another neighbor echoed the sentiment, saying, "It’s interesting that the zoning laws [prohibit this type of construction], because they seem pretty logical to me." Zoning regulations for the property currently allow for a two-story building with only 3,500 square feet of floor space. Further, any new additions on the right side of the building must be at least ten feet away from the neighboring building. The first floor, which is grandfathered into its location, is only three feet from the neighboring building. The proposed structure would maintain the outside of the building as is but would change the interior of the first floor, in addition to the second floor, which would serve as extended office space for Stamatos’s Century 21 office. The office had resided in the building, along with a clothing store and nail salon, before the fire. Permission from the city’s zoning board is required, due to the proposed building’s proximity to its neighbors as well as its square footage being increased to 48 square feet. Stamatos, who owns numerous other properties in the neighborhood, can still go ahead with construction, if the plan is not approved, but will have to comply to zoning requirements. He worries that if he complies with those requirements, the building will be aesthetically unappealing while the newly created space won’t be cost-effective.

"It will cost me just as much to add 2,400 square feet as it would to add 1,100," he said on his plan’s behalf. "I’d rather put up a nice looking building." Stamatos and his architect, Edward P. Forte, are scheduled to meet with the Boston Zoning Board in November, and in the meantime, will continue to discuss possibilities with neighbors as well as the Jamaica Pond Association.

This article originally appeared in The Boston Bulletin on September 27, 2007.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Give Life To Your Bottles

Containers can be expensive, particularly glass ones. Regardless, people fork out loads of money on glassware made to look like spaghetti jars while filling their recycling bins with the real thing.

Instead, make a habit out of keeping those glass containers, like salsa jars and liquor bottles. You can use them throughout your house for storage, which will not only save you money, but it will also add some color to your kitchen compartments.

While some containers have paper labels that take some elbow grease and steel wool to remove, other bottles and jars, like those from higher-end products, have well designed labels, which are often painted onto the glass. This can look even better than a blank bottle because it gives you the opportunity to color coordinate the food being stored with its packaging, or to purposely clash colors to draw more attention to the objects.

Bottleneck containers, particularly wine bottles, are excellent for dry goods that you will need to pour, such as rice or popcorn kernels. Although it would be a good idea to invest in a funnel to put the foodstuff into the containers, the bottle's design allows for slow, easy to control release.

And you can alos use old, label-free bottles for serving purposes. A wine bottle is a classy container for water, and an old Jack Daniels bottle can shift the image of your discount barbeque sauce from cheap to chic in no time.

This story originally appeared in the Abode section of BostonNOW on September 6, 2007.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Spruce Up Your Porch

Sure, Greater Boston is one of the greenest urban areas in the country. The emerald necklace cuts through us like a botanic knife, and all but the most developed parts of town have at least a patch of grass on properties.

But there's always room for more, and in an age that begs for more eco-friendly and self-sufficient lifestyles, a porch garden can add a nice, economical touch to even the most run-down triple. Kristina Johnson of Allston has turned her porch into a garden oasis. With $100 and a lot of work, she purchased a dozen pots and plant containers to grow both food and decorative plants.

"Both me and [my boyfriend] have found ourselves getting up earlier, just to come out there, read and enjoy the garden," Johnson said.

And although she chose plants that require cultivating, plants requiring less effort, such as aloe and ficus trees, are relatively self-sufficient and can add a lot to the wood and iron flats just outside your door.

Garden Tip
Although fall is around the corner, you can still plan for next year. Also, with your entire garden in pots, you can survive the harshest part of the year - moving season.

This article originally appeared in The BostonNOW weekend edition, in the Adobe section.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

There is a You in BzzAgent

Everything at the tips of your fingers. It has been the promise of the digital age, expanding the voice of the people – your voice – into virtually every facet of American life. But in this new, more people-powered world, can the market itself be democratized? And if so, can the democratization of the market turn a profit? David Balter certainly thinks so, and he’s got the company to prove it.

An internationally recognized founder of the Boston-based word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing firm BzzAgent, Balter has taken it upon himself to harness the cultural mainstay of insisting to your friends that you know what’s cool, and packaged it into a guerrilla advertising strategy that is more effective than a cartoon character on a lightbright.

Functioning under the understanding that 80% of consumers trust WOM more than any other kind of communication, Balter’s BzzAgent has enlisted thousands of volunteer agents to simply try some free stuff out. The catch – if you like it, you have to tell your friends – a small price to pay for free food, fragrances, and other fineries.

The Direction in a Directionless Youth

David Balter didn’t know what to do with himself when he grew up. To the contrary, his future plans as a child changed from day to day. “I went through all these random phases,” he recalled. “I remember one time I wanted to be a chef, and my parents bought me this crepe machine. I practiced making crepes for family events.” He also dabbled in hotel management, writing, and others. “As a kid I just wanted to do everything. I had a different passion every year.”

The whirlwind of goals led him somehow to a BA in psychology from Skidmore College, a period in his life that “most people try to forget,” and in entering the work force, he decided that he’d make for a career in cellular phone technology. Realizing that the industry might not be for him due to an acute lack of knowledge of anything phone related, he fell into an accounting job at an entertainment promotions firm, Retrofit. “Had I gotten an accounting job with a farming company, I probably would have become a farmer,” he joked, confessing that his involvement in Retrofit brought him into the marketing industry.

But marketing appeared to be a comfortable fit for Balter – he soon bought and eventually sold the company that employed him, moving onto the almost ill fated online entertainment marketer, 360 Merch. A beneficiary of the nineties online boom and a victim of its subsequent fall, 360 was a sinking ship when Balter unloaded it to a competitor. “I actually called up five competitors offering to sell, and four of them promptly hung up the phone on me, and the last one said ‘really, I’m coming right over.’ I really lucked out on that one.” Able to escape from the doomed vessel, Balter also earned his marketing sea legs, completing the first part of his unlikely journey to become a marketing pioneer.

Something to Buzz About

The idea for BzzAgent came to Balter at work one day when he was about thirty, when a co-worker came to his desk raving about some great book he’d just read. “It occurred to me then,” he said of his epiphany, “how much time people are willing to give to tell you about products that they like.”

With the basic idea of trying to harness WOM, such as he had experienced at work, the young entrepreneur approached five companies, attempting to sell his marketing idea. “They politely declined my offers,” he admitted. Undeterred, he built the initial website platform and went back to the same companies that had previously rejected his offer, proposing them the same service again – but this time for free. Most of them said no. One of them said yes – Penguin Publishing Group.

Taking on the Penguin book “The Frog King,” a novel about working in the book industry by then freshman author Adam Davies, Balter’s infant BzzAgent had its first crack at creating a –well – a buzz around a product. The book’s projected sales for the first year were met within two months of Balter’s marketing experiment. Balter was surprised by the immediate success, and more importantly, so were the folks at Penguin.

But “maybe you guys got lucky,” they told Balter. “Maybe it was just a good book. Do it again.” Rising to the challenge, Balter was given “The Art of Shen Ku,” a book that had flat-lined in sales. The ultimatum – if you can make it sell again, we’ll start paying you. And sell the book did. The previously bottoming out travelers book tripled in sales following Balter’s bzz. Penguin is now a regular BzzAgent customer.

Spreading the Word (of Mouth)

BzzAgent’s initial success with Penguin back in 2001 led to a foundation for the company to build. Currently harnessing the input of over 250,000 volunteer agents all over the country, and recently expanding into the United Kingdom, Balter’s company has worked with over 150 companies, including Energizer, Sun Microsystems, Ralph Lauren, Tabasco and many more, on over 350 campaigns.

But sometimes the buzz isn’t necessarily a good thing. While Balter insists that BzzAgent does create quite a stir about many products, assigning BzzAgents products is not a sure-fire way to make a product all the rage. “Sometimes the product doesn’t meet expectations for the agents, and they don’t activate. But that’s just part of the natural equation of what we do. You can’t make someone like a product.”

The negative buzz can be just as useful to companies as the positive though, in that they learn about a product’s shortcomings. “The client can learn where the products have issues, and why people aren’t talking about it.”

Past and Future

As the company grew, Balter’s role has changed. He’s thinking about the future, and promoting his vision. He still does much of the daily grind, though. “I feel that I have to know the pulse of how [BzzAgent] works.” He still reads reports, meets with clients and strategizes about new markets.

Often shocked about his company’s success, he also sees a bit of inevitability in what BzzAgent is doing. “It’s up to people now to define what companies do,” he declared. “It’s time for companies to pay attention to what people want and what they want to do.”

This article originally appeared at, an online magazine about young entreprenuers and college students, on August 23, 2007.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bike Community Considers "Guerilla" Approach

Gathering for their second informal meeting, a group of concerned cyclists met on Sunday at MIT’s Riverside Boathouse to discuss safety and awareness in the community for bicycle riders.

Spearheaded last month by Jaffney Roode, a Boston bike courier, and organized this month by Brookline cyclist Veronique d’Entremont, the group discussed different ways to make Boston a better place to ride and "create some empathy between bicyclists and non-bicyclists."

Citing disappointment with the city on the bike issue - the city-sponsored "bike week" was referred to by the group as "depressing" - activists discussed a number of ways to approach the mounting problems Boston cyclists face including radio public service announcements, bike safety pamphlets, erecting "ghost bike" monuments for every bike-related death in the past ten years, and putting up street signs and erecting bike ramps for curbs where necessary. The latter approach, referred to by Jeff Ferris of Jamaica Plain’s Ferris Wheels Bicycle Shop as "guerrilla actions" favoring bike safety, garnered the most immediate support from the group. While Ferris and others have already constructed and placed a number of ramps on and off curbs throughout the city, a small committee from the meeting has been set aside to brainstorm for this angle specifically. According to the group emails since the meeting, the intention of the group is to put up high-quality signs around the most dangerous streets, such as Massachusetts Avenue, depicting a cyclist and encouraging drivers to share the road and inform them more clearly about cycling law. While attempting to inform others of the rules of the road, some of the group voiced concern regarding the legality of their own activities. Ferris quickly defended the ultimately accepted idea. "We are cyclists putting up signs because nobody else is," he said. "If the city is going to come down on you for putting up a ‘be nice to bikers’ sign, well... who looks like the bad guy?"

According to Massachusetts law, bicycles are considered vehicles, and are thus permitted an entire lane on roads that do not have bicycle-specific lanes. The proposed extralegal strategy of the group seems to stem from city government disinterest in helping cyclists. Roode had unsuccessfully attempted to contact Allston-Brighton City Councilor Jerry McDermott to discuss the recent death of cyclist Kelly Wallace, while other group members expressed concern that city planning ignores cyclists. Expressing aggravation with cyclist rights, Boston bike commuter Jacqueline Genetti said "there aren’t enough bike lanes, there’s not enough awareness, and whenever something happens, it’s always the biker’s fault." Echoing a similar sentiment, Ferris declared, "In my mind, Boston is actively making itself worse for biking."

The group, although not yet finalizing a date or time, has committed to continue meeting on a monthly basis, with smaller action groups meeting on off-weeks to implement the ideas that the core group comes up with and refine them. Although avoiding any type of formality as an organization, and at one point referring to themselves as something of a "dinner club" the advocates have allied themselves rather closely with the non-profit bike advocacy organization, MassBike, who can be reached at

This article originally appeared in The Boston Bulletin on July 19, 2007.

An Allston Icon Mourned

ALLSTON — For more than three decades, Harold Madison Jr., better known as Mr. Butch, walked the streets of Boston. A staple in the Kenmore Square area from the 1970s until gentrification forced him towards Allston in the 1990s, he had since become a part of the community’s experience, a homeless beat philosopher with a smile that people can’t stop talking about, known in equal measure for his panhandling, drinking and guitar-playing.

Mr. Butch was a familiar sight and one that, since last Thursday, has been sorely missed, following a motor scooter accident early that morning.

Toni Fanning, owner of Ritual Arts in Allston, and a long-time friend of Mr. Butch, has been helping assemble a memorial service for the fallen Allstonian. Somberly talking about her homeless friend, she tried to articulate Allston’s "tremendous loss."

"People expect to see his smile," she said. "They expect Mr. Butch here. He’s part of this neighborhood."

An outpouring of sympathy for Mr. Butch has cropped up all over the Internet, where thousands of funny and friendly tales of Allston’s de-facto mascot have been posted. One site went so far as to campaign for the placement of a memorial statue in Mr. Butch’s likeness.

"You couldn’t imagine what it was like here the day it happened," recalled Fanning of the depression overwhelming Harvard Avenue.

Butch panhandled regularly in the neighborhood, and numerous people donated to him upon every encounter. Remembered by friends as "good with money," he had local merchants hold his savings in various "banks" at their stores. When he was low, he’d go to friends and pick up his money. Ultimately, he had saved enough to purchase a Vespa motor scooter. It was that purchase that ultimately led to his death.

Fanning, like many in Allston, didn’t immediately strike a bond with the mercurial Mr. Butch.

"When I met Butch, I was intimidated," she recalled. "Here was this big, black man — he was much bigger then — and I wondered ‘why would people idolize this homeless guy who seems to be mooching off of everybody?’"

Her lack of understanding didn’t last long. By the time Butch made his way to Allston, Toni accepted him as a friend and neighbor.

"He wasn’t anyone to be afraid of," she said. "He was here for happy days. He looked out for people. I wish I had the guts to live [like him]."

Audrey Valmas of Allston, another employee at Ritual Arts, also has fond memories of Mr. Butch.

"I saw him here all the time, probably at least three times a day," she said. "He was always pleasant, always smiling. He just had a charm to him."

"There was nothing traditional about Mr. Butch," Fanning added. "Oh, he loved living in the streets, and he just didn’t want to go into housing. He considered the whole city his home — maybe even the whole world... His cousin said he could live ten lifetimes and never know as many people and achieve the notoriety Mr. Butch did. We’ve gotten calls all over the country asking about him."

Fanning, as well as other merchants and Butch’s family, have assembled a memorial service for him on Sunday, July 22. The "parade" to celebrate Butch will start at the intersection of Harvard Ave. and Commonwealth Ave. at 7 p.m., and will feature a "New Orleans-style" brass band, as well as friends and family. A church service will be held at 8 p.m. at the International Community Church on 557 Cambridge St. in Allston.

A memorial featuring Mr. Butch’s possessions is currently in the window of Re:Generation Tattoo at 155 Harvard Ave. Donations for his service are being accepted at that location.

(Bulletin reporter Lydia Mulvany contributed to this story).

This article originally appeared in The Boston Bulletin on July 19, 2007.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Community Challenges High-Rise Land "Swap Scheme"

NORTH END — A large contingent of North End residents came out Monday night to the North End Waterfront Neighborhood Council’s monthly meeting to hear a new proposal about the future of 585 Commercial Street, a waterfront property currently flanked by community tennis courts and the Steriti Memorial Skating Rink.

A proposal by Byron Gilchrest, president of the development firm Gilchrest Associates, would move the tennis courts, which are on state- owned land, next to the skating rink, allowing for an 800-plus unit condominium high-rise to be built on the corner of Commercial and North Washington Streets.

Although the "swap scheme," as Gilchrest called it, would cost more to build and would require him to give up more valuable land than he would receive in return, he argued that the new proposal, his third on the project, would be most beneficial to the North End, allowing for clearer views of the Old North Church from the Charlestown Bridge as well as a more direct view from Hull Street to the water.

In addition, Gilchrest added that he would create a third walkway to the waterfront from Commercial Street and build a handicapped-accessible ramp from North Washington Street to the Waterfront and build a new marina to replace the rather ailing fishing pier currently off the coast of the park.

Community activists overwhelmingly opposed Gilchrest’s proposal, primarily due to his interest in building a structure that would be as high as 95 feet at its tallest point. The lot is zoned for only 55 feet, and Gilchrest is asking the city for rezoning.

"The rule is 55 feet," declared Robert Skole of the North End. "Why can’t you follow the rules and let us live in peace?"

Accused of exploiting the North End for profit by angry residents, many of which were shouting out of turn, Mr. Gilchrest responded, "Yes, profit. It is more profitable for me to build a 95-foot building than it is to add a floor to the existing building." The existing building on 585 Commercial Street is 46 feet. When further challenged about the rarity of buildings in the North End and waterfront exceeding 55 feet, Gilchrest quickly shot back. "The building we’re in [The Pilot House] is 90 feet."

Against the public outcry of setting a precedent for tall buildings in the North End, "building a wall around the neighborhood," said one concerned neighbor, Gilchrest addressed how much red tape he needed to go through in order to succeed in his proposal. For the land swap alone, he would need a two-thirds vote from the state legislature and a signature from the Governor - not an easy task. Regardless, it still seemed too easy for members of the community concerned with effects on their fast-growing neighborhood. Sheila Ross, another member of the community, declared that "if this one goes through, there will be more."

The units themselves also drew criticism from the community. The new structure, which would house one- and two-bedroom condos exclusively, would also not include any affordable housing on-site. Although, according to Gilchrest and his lawyer, William G. Ferullo, 15 percent of the development will be affordable housing; it will be "off-site," and built simultaneously somewhere else in the North End. This particular effort to accommodate the community's demand for such housing, Gilchrest admitted, had no precedent that he was aware of in the city.

Although there was no resolution regarding the proposal at the meeting - no vote was scheduled - opposition vowed to organize against the swap scheme as well as the entire project to build a 95-footer. The North End Waterfront Neighborhood Council, which was brought under fire by residents at the meeting for not asking tough enough questions in regards to the project, has also appointed a subcommittee including council members Matthew Black, Bill Musto and Jay Kuhlow. Their next meeting will be held on September 10 at The Pilot House on Lewis Wharf.

This story originally appeared in The Boston Bulletin on July 12, 2007.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Spinning Their Wheels for Safety

Rattled by a spike in recent bicycle-related deaths in Boston, cyclists from the Boston area came together on Sunday at the Democracy Center in Cambridge to discuss bicycle safety. Participants focused primarily on possible legislation and education efforts that could be implemented city and statewide to protect cyclists as well as pedestrians and drivers from injury and death.

Organized by Boston bicycle courier Jaffney Roode, almost two dozen riders discussed a number of issues facing the cycling community. In part, the gathering was inspired by the death of Kelly Wallace, a young woman who was was killed on May 6 when her bike was hit by a car in a crosswalk near the intersection of Cambridge Street and Harvard Avenue in Allston.

"Cyclists are really upset and feeling disempowered," Roode said, explaining the forum’s objective.

Passing around an inner tube of a bike tire, which signified that it was your turn to speak, the group had an impassioned discussion about bike rights, laws and etiquette, ultimately focusing on how to educate new riders about the rules of the road.

Although often ignored, cyclists throughout the city have long noted the dangers of riding in Boston, which has been sited by some trade magazines as one of the nation’s most dangerous cities for cycling.

Because of the perception of bicycles as toys, many of the group testified, and not as vehicles, many bike accidents go unreported in Boston. Coupling that with the city’s apparent unwillingness to release bike-related accident statistics was used to explain the lack of understanding of the issue that has silently plagued the city for years.

"To raise an issue," said Diane Akerman, a cyclist that commutes downtown daily, "you need to prove that there is a problem." Without hard statistics, though, that becomes a difficult task.

This was not to suggest that all bike injuries are the fault of drivers. The consensus of the group was that it is the ignorance of road rules by both car drivers and cyclists that has led to many accidents.

"It’s not that people are just jerks that just want to see cyclists crushed under wheels," argued Mike Gintz of Somerville. "It’s that they just don’t know. To cars, [cyclists] are pedestrians that should be on the sidewalk, [which is illegal], whereas pedestrians see us as blobs of steel that should be on the road."

In light of this, Gintz and others feel that bikes "need to be legitimized as vehicles with laws."

And although the Romney administration vetoed the MassBike-endorsed "Bicycle Bill of Rights and Responsibilities," almost identical legislation, now titled "The Bicycle Safety Bill," was recently reintroduced into the state legislature and was voted on Wednesday, June 13, three days after the meeting.

In addition to advocating for pro-cyclist legislation, the group emphasized responsibility for themselves, suggesting bullet-point handouts to give to both cyclists and motor vehicle operators to inform them about the cohabitation of the road by cars and bikes. MassBike Advocacy Associate Nadav Carmel also highlighted that MassBike, a non-profit bicycle advocacy group, offers classes to new city cyclists taught by volunteers to help people adjust to Boston’s difficult cycling environment.

Complaints about inadequate, or inaccurate, information given at college orientations was also raised. While many colleges in student-swelled Boston don’t mention cycling rules at all, it was reported that Boston University encourages their students to ride on the sidewalk — an act legally prohibited in Boston.

Another bicycle safety issue risen at the meeting included recklessness by MBTA bus drivers, who many feel have no respect for cyclists on the road.

Fundamentally, though, it was the goal of the meeting to change people’s habits — both cyclists and those around them. To do that, the group emphasized that bikes need to be looked at as vehicles.

"We need to be acknowledged more in the community," explained Akerman. "Laws will help that. Drivers need more education, and bikers need more education."

This article originally appeared in The Boston Bulletin on June 14, 2007.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Helicopters buzzing over Franklin Park are no flight of fancy for many

Helicopters buzzing over Franklin Park are no flight of fancy for many

Community activists and residents from Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, and Dorchester converged in Franklin Park’s Golf Clubhouse Tuesday night for a public hearing, sponsored by the Boston City Council’s Aviation and Transportation Committee, regarding fears that a helicopter landing pad has been proposed for the area.

The rumored helipad in question would cover a substantial part of Franklin Park’s flat surface, which is currently set aside for athletics.

City Councilors Charles Yancey, Chuck Turner and John Tobin heard testimony from Boston Police Department Deputy Superintendent Rafael Ruiz, BPD Superintendent Robert Dunford, Parks and Recreation Department Commissioner Toni Pollack. The testimony from all three indicated that there is not now – nor has there ever been – a plan to build a helipad within Franklin Park or any of Boston’s other green spaces.

Concern over the helipad arose following newspaper reports suggesting the proposal. Speculation further escalated after a state police helicopter landed in Franklin Park to pick up a Boston Police Department passenger during a homicide investigation.

According to Dunford, there have "only been three landings ever" in Franklin Park – all of which were for the purpose of State Police helicopters picking up Boston Police Department "observers." When questioned about why Franklin Park was used for picking up these officers, Dunford cited "convenience" as the primary motivation.

Yancey didn’t think convenience was a good enough excuse for landing a helicopter without permission from the parks department, the Franklin Park Zoo or any other organization involved with the Emerald Necklace. It was a sentiment echoed by Councilor Turner, who requested a guarantee from the BPD that Franklin Park would not be used in the future for helicopter landing without express permission.

Although the prospect of a helipad physically being built in Franklin Park was dismissed as hearsay at the meeting, community leaders were unable to get a promise from the police that helicopters would not land there in the future. Although, at one point, Dunford stated that helicopters would land in Franklin Park "only in the case of an emergency," he also defined the situation in which a Boston Police officer was picked up by State Police for the aforementioned homicide investigation as an emergency situation.

Christine Poff, director of the Franklin Park Coalition also spoke at the hearing. Explaining the regular use of Franklin Park for sports and community activities, she declared, on behalf of a supporter, "I would support landings [in Franklin Park] only if they do an equal amount of landings in the Boston Public Gardens."

Poff then cited Article 97 of the Massachusetts State Constitution, which states, "the people… have the freedom from unnecessary noise," which helicopters would make in the neighborhood, and further added that, "Lands and easements taken or acquired for such purposes shall not be used for other purposes or otherwise disposed of except by laws enacted by a two thirds vote, taken by yeas and nays, of each branch of the general court." Poff said she assumed that no vote was taken and, as such, the park couldn’t be used for helicopter landings.

Although the prospect of a helipad in Franklin Park may have been stamped out for good (Yancey found no funding for helipad construction anywhere in Boston in the annual budget), the meeting opened up the larger issue of helicopters over the city.

While police insisted that there would be no regular helicopter patrols of Boston’s neighborhoods, citizens complained of the persistent use of helicopters in their communities.

James E. Gilbert, Jr., a lifelong Bostonian of 95 years, testified that "helicopters are much more disturbing than planes," due to their being closer to the ground.

Eisa-Maria Mahta, a Los Angeles native who now resides in Boston, also complained of the noise.

"There was no peace where I grew up," she said of LA, where helicopters patrol the city daily. When she came to Boston for college, "there was peace" – a peace now disrupted by both State Police and media helicopters.

The council’s committee has adjourned its meeting until Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis gives them, in writing, a statement regarding the department’s future plans for helicopter landings.

This story first appeared in The Boston Bulletin on May 3, 2007.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

"Willfully Forgotten" - Historians, Rabblement Tar and Feather Revisionist History

In 1775, the Essex Gazette published this account of a fatal Tory assault on Boston’s Liberty Tree: “Armed with axes, they made a furious attack upon it. After a long spell of laughing and grinning, sweating, swearing, and foaming, with malice diabolical, they cut down a tree because it bore the name of Liberty.”

For years, the tree had served as a flashpoint for all manner of incendiary violence and insurrection, both before and during the Revolutionary War. The mildly terrorist Boston Tea Party was organized in a tavern that stood in its shadow. While the destruction of the infamous elm put an end to the tarring, feathering, effigy-burning ruffianage the Sons of Liberty perpetrated around its massive bole, it only inflamed Boston’s revolutionary fervor.

In 1825, the Marquis de Lafayette stood at the Liberty Tree site and said, "The world should never forget the spot where once stood Liberty Tree, so famous in your annals."

But despite de Lafayette’s injunction, all that now marks the site where the tree once stood is a plaque near a rundown Boylston Street sidewalk, alongside the China Trade Center and the nearby RMV.

A small mob of historians and museum employees wants to change that. Spearheaded by radical historian Alfred Young and the Bostonian Society, the coalition is pushing to revitalize the site of the historic Liberty Tree, and spice up the staid Freedom Trail with some violent egalitarianism.

Young argues that a long period of historical self-sanitizing led the tree, and the extremism it symbolized, to fall out of fashion. "The outdoor events of the American Revolution are too radical,” he says. As such, they were “willfully forgotten" just a few years after the revolution’s completion, as part of a "selective remembering that is tied to our political culture."

By the time of the Freedom Trail Foundation’s inception in 1958, the very premise of radicalism in the American Revolution—never mind in the shade of the Liberty Tree—went unspoken. King’s Chapel got love, and the smoldering effigies at the base of the Liberty Tree got the shaft.

Advocates seeking redress feel that they’re getting close. An invitation-only April 23 meeting between representatives from historic sites, universities and city officials will attempt to cement plans for a proposed Liberty Tree Park.

Still, it’s no surprise that many in Boston’s historical community are guarding their optimism—serious proposals for rehabbing the Liberty Tree site have been flying back and forth for over a decade now. Young recalls hearing about proposals for something commemorating the historic tree back in 1997; Ken Crasco, chief landscape architect for the Boston Parks and Recreation Department, saw an official proposal in 1999, and took part in community meetings to vet the park throughout 2000.

According to Crasco, movement toward establishing Liberty Tree Park came to a halt for a number of reasons—predominantly financial. “The project is now estimated to cost around $800,000,” he says. Only about half a million dollars is currently in the Parks Department’s hands.

Crasco says the remaining funding for the park, as well as “stewardship and maintenance of the park after it’s built,” will be coming from Kensington Place, a new condo development on the opposite side of the China Trade Center. The Boston Redevelopment Authority has yet to sign off on the Kensington money.

Despite the lengthy process, Crasco is confident that the park will get built. “It will happen. I’ve seen the agreements,” he insists. “Like anything downtown, there are a lot of parties involved.” In addition to the BRA, Boston Parks and Recreation, and a slew of historians and historical organizations, the project must also go through Boston Public Works.

The more pressing issue seems to be whether the park, once completed, would be accepted as a Freedom Trail site. Young sees the Liberty Tree’s radical history as a possible deterrent for recognition on the famous trail, but he insists that it must be included. “If you want to recover the popular revolution in Boston that ordinary people were involved in,” he says, “you need to take care of these outdoor sites.”

Brian LeMay, executive director of the Bostonian Society, captures the challenge more succinctly: “The politics of the Freedom Trail—as I understand them—are complicated.”

In its 49-year history, the Freedom Trail has never added a new site. But according to Mimi LaCamera, president of the Freedom Trail Foundation, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. “The decision [to add a site on the trail] is made by the Freedom Trail Commission, which the Foundation does have a seat on,” she says. The commission has half a dozen other members, including the commissioner of the Public Works Department. LaCamera does maintain that the story needs to be told. “We are fully in support of this project,” she says.

This story originally published in The Weekly Dig on March 28, 2007.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Boston Area Activists Unite Across Neighborhoods To Protest War

Activist organizations from across Massachusetts have united under the umbrella March 24 Coalition to organize a demonstration against the war in Iraq this Saturday.

In addition to protesting the Iraq War, organizers intend to spread awareness on the war in Afghanistan and the possibly pending invasion of Iran.

Featuring prominent speakers such as nationally recognized anti-war activist and military mother Cindy Sheehan, best-selling author and Boston University Professor Emeritus Howard Zinn, as well as Eljeer Hawkins, Klare Allen, and Rostam Pourzalt, the demonstration also promises an eclectic mix of musical acts and a “peace and justice fair,” which organizers claim will provide children with entertainment as well as anti-war education through puppet shows, games, drum circles and literature.

The March 24 Coalition formed following a call to action by the Greater Boston Stop the Wars Coalition, and the March 24 demonstration has since been endorsed by over 40 activist groups, including United for Justice with Peace, Boston ANSWER, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and SEIU Local 1199. Organizers of all stripes and ages have signed up for the cause.

Stop the Wars co-founder and demonstration organizer John Harris of Chelsea intends to keep the momentum going.

Veteran activist and organizer Elisabeth Leonard of East Boston concurred. Having marched on the Pentagon during Vietnam, Leonard said she sees light at the end of the tunnel.

“I think more and more people are opposed to this war,” she said, “and it’s building. People I never would have thought would oppose it are doing 180 degree turns - my family, people I’ve known for years.”

Leonard expects an excellent turnout at the event.

“We’re hoping for 5,000,” she said, “and I think we can do it.”

How? The protest itself has changed, Leonard said.

“I’ve been with Stop the Wars and we’ve put on three or four of different demonstrations like this, and it was usually young people and lots of noisy bands,” she said. “There weren’t as many older people. This one is a lot more integrated.”

The integration comes from the difference in theme. Unlike the usually politicized speeches, followed by a march, this rally will include a plethora of events within itself, some of which Leonard insists will be “pure entertainment.”

Elaborating on how they intend to draw new faces into the process, Leonard said, “I think the fact that we’re having a good program and that we are having a peace and justice carnival kind of thing is going to be very exciting - including kids for the first time. I think that’s really exciting.”

And if the turnout isn’t what they hope for, Leonard and her colleagues insist that the very process of organizing is a victory for the cause. Throughout the entire meeting, everything was ultimately agreed upon by consensus.

“That all of us are working together is very good,” she said. “We haven’t even voted on anything.”

In addition to the protest, the Coalition has schedules a fundraise for on March 23 at the Central Congregational Church in Jamaica Plain, which will feature speeches by Cindy Sheehan, City Councilor Felix Arroyo, and 2006 Green-Rainbow Candidate for Governor Grace Ross.

The fundraiser starts at 8 p.m. and costs $10. The subsequent protest will take place on Boston Common the following day, March 24, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

This story was originally published in The Boston Bulletin on March 22, 2007.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Easton's "Anderson" Makes Splash in Boston Comedy

The city of Boston, at present, is not known for its comedy. Although at least a temporary home to comedic icons such as Denis Leary, Andy Kaufman, Dane Cook, and David Cross, the Hub’s roll in entertainment virtually begins and ends in the city blocks that Emerson College and its surrounding theaters occupy. But a few Easton natives and their friends are looking to change all that. They do video, they do live, and they’ll do any room that will have them. They are Anderson.

Founded in 2003 by Eastonians Rob Crean, Shakir Shibli, Rachel Berman, and Nick Lymberopoulos, along with Walpole native Jaffney Roode and Connecticut-born Adam Haut, the Anderson Comedy group has been making a splash in the greater Boston comedy scene for years now. And if any of them tell you anything different, “it’s because they’re wrong and have bad memories,” insists Shibli.

Although the first meeting occurred in a kitchen in Jamaica Plain, MA in 2003, members hailing from Easton have known and worked with each other for many years. Crean and Lymberopoulos, old school friends, have been making comedy shorts since 1997, when they filmed the never screened “Weeksville” short fresh out of Oliver Ames High School.

“It was free-form – mostly improv,” recollected Crean about their first project. “The basic idea was that it was a kid that was really privileged, but thought his life was really hard. It was a character we were really familiar with because, you know, we’re from Easton,” implying how common such a juvenile plight is in the community.

With comedy germinating in their hearts and in their futures, the troupe formally came together years later with the intention of making “honest” comedy. Says Shibli about Anderson’s motivation, “I would love to be huge but I don’t think that any of us as artists are concentrating more on fame than art. If you lose sight of the art and concentrate on things like getting huge, you have to water yourself down and cater to certain people. Something I will say about Anderson is that we are very honest with ourselves as artists. We do what we think is funny.”

The comedy troupe’s honesty has won them applause citywide, from an almost sold out performance at Brookline’s Coolidge Corner Theater last year to a regular monthly show at the Middle East Corner in Cambridge, which is in its second month now. And how’d they get there? Hard work and ambition, it would seem. “We’ve played a lot of bad shows,” testified Crean, with Shibli’s approval. He recalled one show at a sports bar in the Fenway district that the headliner had cancelled, where they performed in front of about twelve people, and botched the performance pretty badly. “It was one of those shows,” he joked, “where very few people showed up, but you wished fewer had.” They recalled an equally bad experience at the Lucy Parsons Center, a radical bookstore in Boston’s South End, where some of their more offensive material made for an uncomfortable climate. “After our performance, we just stood there in the room and everyone avoided us,” recollected Crean. “It was awkward.”

But it is just that awkwardness that has also gained them ground. At their landmark Coolidge Corner performance, a skit featuring an anti-Semitic can of spray cheese almost caused a riot when an angry Jewish man caused a scene mid-show – standing up and yelling at the group about how unfunny he thought it was. His outburst prompted many from the packed theater to respond that if he didn’t like it, that he should just leave. Crean, holding Lymberopoulos away from the man, frantically searched for a solution, and offered to let the can of cheese defend itself. After a heartfelt speech riddled with the troupe’s trademark saying “y’follow” throughout, the man was ultimately appeased and led in the can’s standing ovation.

The joke? The man responsible for the outburst was a plant – and the father of half-Jewish member Rachel Berman. This Kaufman-worthy moment of turning the crowd on itself is just the sort of thing that the group aimed for.

With five out of six original members still in the group (Roode departed a few months ago), and the recent additions of Gretchen Gavett and Katie McCarthy, Anderson is still moving forward. They have produced, according to Crean, over four hours of video skits, and have performed comedy clubs, theaters, and rock venues, with stand-up groups, improv groups, and musical acts from across the spectrum. And though they don’t necessarily see Anderson as a career for themselves (Crean, when asked whether his parents foresaw his making a living in comedy as a child testified, “I don’t think that they foresee it now) it is hard to imagine them going anywhere but up.

Anderson performs monthly at the Middle East Corner, 480 Mass Ave, Cambridge, MA, on the last Tuesday of the month. More information about them, along with their DVD, is available at

This article was originally published in The Easton Buzz on March 2, 2007

Thursday, February 8, 2007

JP Protester - From D.C. to Boston

Jamaica Plain – As protesters from all walks of live converged by the thousands in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 27, very little was certain.

Was the conflict winnable, or is the United States policing a civil war?

And perhaps the most heated of arguments – how many people actually showed up on the streets of the nation’s capital? While crowd estimates ranged from 50,000 to 500,000 attendees at the march, one thing was definite – the Boston area was well represented. Whether traveling with unions or activist organizations, attending individually or with family and friends, Greater Boston turned out in high numbers to tell anyone who would listen that they had had it with the war in Iraq.

One such person was Jamaica Plain resident Jacob Bor.

A 23-year-old Harvard graduate and current MIT student, Bor flew down to Washington to meet with friends the night before the rally, and to stand up for his belief that the war was wrong. Athough new to protests against wars, having only been an adult in the midst of major conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bor had defined his position against the war in Iraq.

“I’m something of a pacifist,” he explained over a cup of organic coffee in a locally owned Jamaica Plain pastry shop. “So, it made me pretty sick to my stomach as soon as Sept. 11 happened. I got this nauseous feeling that we were going to start World War III.” Bor saw the unilateral invasion and subsequent build-up as a bad sign. History, he reasoned, was not on the United States’ side.

“If you just look at [the United States’] record since World War II, and what we’ve been involved in – it’s not good,” Bor said. “You would like to believe that we can go into something with good intentions, but I just don’t believe that.”

Bor questioned contracts between the United States government and corporations such as Halliburton.

“Looking at companies profiteering like that,” he said, “it’s pretty hard not to be skeptical.”

Although many anti-war activists are depicted as being much like Bor – young students, and often considered detached from the mainstream, he was far from alone on Jan. 27.

Sixty-two-year-old Arlington activist and nonprofit manager Marilyn Levin echoes his skepticism.

Levin described herself as “an old radical.”

“I think the whole vote in November signified a referendum on the war,” she said.

Levin protested not only against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also against the Vietnam War. And although she sees differences in the protest movements of today versus those of the 1960s, they are predominantly technological, with the message and the movement maintaining the same type of conviction.

“Technology is different,” Levin said, “ which in a lot of ways makes organizing much easier and faster. It’s easier to get the word out.”

Bor and Levin had differing opinions of what the movement was, and where it was going, but both seemed optimistic about the future.

“I was kind of hoping they’re be more people there,” Bor said. “There were definitely not 500,000 people there. I thought there was somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 people. That was my unofficial estimate, counting how many people passed by in 15 seconds, multiplying that by… something!”

“This wasn’t just a protest,” Bor continued. “Some of the organizers had this lobbying day on Monday [Jan. 29]… that kind of targeted organized lobbying – targeted advocacy – that seems to make a lot of sense to me.

This kind of protesting, where activists actually lobby Congress, made Bor wonder if “this form of protest is the way of the future in terms of anti-war organizing.”

Bor said he hopes the newly elected Democrats in Congress can be effectively targeted as a vehicle for change on war policy.

“There is a bit of a crisis going on right now about how to get leverage,” Bor said. “Bush isn’t going to change his mind on this. That’s hopeless. That’s lost.”

“I love my country,” Bor continued, “but I think we’re moving into a time where patriotism is becoming a thing of the past. But if you want to talk about what patriotism is, to me it’s what’s for the good of the country, and I would simply argue that this war does not seem to be good for the country. To say that, I think is anything but unpatriotic.”

This article was originally published in The Boston Bulletin on February 8, 2007.