A look at the Hub’s points of relative pride
Last week, I acceded to my colleague Chris Faraone’s request that I write about what’s wrong with Boston. So this week, as promised in that piece, I’ll join him and folks he recruited via social media to discuss what’s right with Boston.
Yeah. All that epic rightness. So many things going right. Rightily right right right. That big list of rightitude, just begging to be enumerated by an enterprising columnist on the go like myself. But how best to capture it?
I mean I could take the full-on sardonic approach: “Boston may have a huge homelessness crisis, but at least we don’t have the absolute worst homeless crisis in the nation! Boston may be incredibly racist, but we’re (probably) not the most racist city in the US! Boston’s going to be half underwater much of the time within 30 years thanks to flooding from rising sea levels due to global warming, but at least it doesn’t flood much right now!”
Yet that would be wrong. Best to think happy thoughts and play it straight.
Like some stupid sixth grade essay:
What Is Right About Boston
By Jason Pramas
Boston is wicked awesome. We have both hot and cold weather, and our accent is just atrocious. I learned atrocious for the Achievement Tests. In closing, I like the girl in the third row, but I don’t think she likes me. The End.
On second (well, third) thought, I think I can manage something a bit better. Half sardonic, half appreciative, that’s the ticket! Here goes…
It’s often stated that Boston is the closest thing that America has to a European city. And there is some truth to that. Our populace isn’t as willing as Europeans are to stand up for their political and economic rights, as I inferred last week, and Bostonians don’t have the kind of robust (if swiftly diminishing) social safety net that many Europeans still enjoy. But there’s a lot of money coming here from all over the world. In part because we have so many universities, though mostly because we’ve been a commercial hub for almost 400 years… since British colonists grabbed the land from local Native Americans and became our original ruling class.
All that treasure allows our rich to continue getting richer while allowing our city, state, and federal governments to provide Bostonians with better public infrastructure and social benefits than most other Americans have. Almost reaching European standards by some metrics (like the presence of big universities, national historical sites, and significant architecture). Which isn’t nearly as helpful as it should be given how stratified the Hub remains by race and class—and how much lower tax rates are on the (still largely white) ruling class of today than they should be. Reminding us that the Boston of 2019 is not the Boston of the recent past. It’s much worse for working people than it was within living memory when corporations and the wealthy were taxed more appropriately.
But yes, Bostonians can stand up with pride and shout to no one in particular that “Boston doesn’t suck nearly as much as Detroit!” A comparably sized city that was killed nearly dead by its own racist white ruling class decades ago. Whereas our city has been only partially killed by our racist white ruling class. So we’ve got that going for us.
And there’s more. Most Americans have little access to public transportation, and most American cities and towns are sprawling barely walkable tracts of strip malls and atomized housing developments. Places where, if you don’t at least have access to a car some of the time, you are well and truly screwed. But in Boston, we have some (crumbling and woefully underfunded) public transportation, and we have a city that’s small enough to walk across in a couple of hours in some places. Pretty cool, right?
Also, most Americans don’t have much to do where they live—when they’re not working, going to school, or playing video games—beyond the malls (most of which have given up any pretense of providing noncommercial spaces for any social purpose), sports facilities, and houses of worship. Boston does. Our private universities and major cultural institutions are supported by the rich, so there are all kinds of events and entertainments happening at them all the time. Some free or cheap to attend. Not that all Bostonians are necessarily interested in availing themselves of such (shall we say, melanin-challenged) opportunities or feel comfortable attending venues like Symphony Hall or the Museum of Fine Arts, but those venues are there nonetheless.
Unfortunately, the arts and music scene outside of the well-funded private institutions is suffering the death of a thousand cuts as smaller arts institutions and venues close down in the face of declining government support and increasing operating costs—and the creative people who make them go leave the region as rents continue to be pushed skyward by greedy landlords while wages remain stagnant.
As those developments transpire, Boston Public Library staff does a great job of upping the city’s cultural game with sadly limited resources. Boston parks have many activities of interest to offer despite budget limitations. Boston K-12 schools labor mightily to give public school students educations on par with the private and charter schools nipping endlessly at their heels (and budgets)—including providing a variety of extracurricular cultural opportunities. And public colleges UMass Boston, Roxbury Community College, and Bunker Hill Community College do the same with similar austerity budgets.
All of those public institutions join with key private cultural institutions in making Boston a better, more interesting place to live. Plus we have lots of cafes and bars—though fewer clubs than we used to. Pretty much every conceivable kind of sport is played and cheered on somewhere in the city. And some interesting shops continue plugging along in the face of internet-driven retail doom. We have the malls and houses of worship that the rest of the country has, too. All of which is to say that we still have a lot of things to do compared to most of the country. And we have some attractive public and private spaces to do them in.
So don’t get me wrong. I love Boston. Not just because I was born here and have lived in and around it for most of my life to date. But because there are super fascinating people here—natives and transplants from across the globe alike—and lots of intellectual and cultural ferment results.
That’s wonderful for those residents who can participate in that ferment. But the large number of people stuck in poverty and near-poverty here have a much harder time doing so. And too many of them no longer get the help they need from any quarter to have much possibility of living their best lives.
However, our elected and unelected leaders continue to call Boston great. Even as it teeters on the brink of several disasters—political, economic, cultural, and environmental. And I can’t get very excited about its positive points until there are far fewer negative ones. Meaning you shouldn’t expect more glass-half-full missives from me for the foreseeable future.
Apparent Horizon—recipient of 2018 and 2019 Association of Alternative Newsmedia Political Column Awards—is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s executive director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2020 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.