City makes it clear: North End curbs are for car storage exclusively

City makes it clear: North End curbs are for car storage exclusively

I wasn't able to attend the in-person only meeting at which the City announced there would be no curbside dining in the North End. I was having dinner with my kids at Rocco's and my wife was out with a friend. I did attended the previous meeting on the subject though - the one that was organized by the Resident's Association and held jointly with the Neighborhood Council. At that meeting, I listened to twenty or so residents express their shared concerns. "Parking is too hard"; "I got bumped by a server"; "Congestion", "Trash". Its debatable whether those concerns were valid. What's not debatable is whether the twenty or so people who spoke are representative of the neighborhood's 9,000 residents: they are not.

If they were representative, they wouldn't have universally complained about street parking - because less than a quarter of North End households store cars on the street (in fact, more than half of North End households don't own a car at all). If they were representative, at least one of the two dozen people I spoke with the morning after the announcement would have been happy about the news. None were.

It doesn't matter now because the city has announced that there will be no on-street dining in the North End going forward. A lose-lose.

Make no mistake, the City made this decision based on the spurious complaints of the loud super-minority. They can claim that it has to do with increased traffic, but how could closing a one-way tunnel towards the North End result in more cars? Almost as absurd is the City's claim that this has something to do with the North Washington Street Bridge project - which has dragged on for years and has nothing to do with Hanover Street. And what if it did? How is moving where a few dozen people store their cars impacted by any of this? It's not.

Some are calling out the mayor and a perceived feud with the restaurant owners. Perhaps. But I find it much more likely that the City listened in the only way they know how: to loosely organized mobs brought together by a shared love of privilege.

In mid January, two neighborhood groups - the Neighborhood Council and the Residents Association - organized a public meeting. It was in-person only and at dinner time - the same as last night's meeting. It was filled with the same people who have the luxury of attending most of the in-person only North End meetings. Mostly over 50. Mostly car owners. And completely non-representative.

Segun Idowu, the City's Chief of Economic Opportunity and Inclusion, also attended. He was new to this office and had recently been put in charge of the City's new permanent outdoor dining program. Mr. Idowu spoke of growing up on the other side of the City and recalled how he developed a distrust for the City as representatives repeatedly promised one thing and did another. Or, worse, disregarded input from residents altogether. Mr. Idowu returned to this narrative several times throughout the night - vowing to do better.

He heard the message from this small group loud and clear. The decision was made. Then the City put a spin on it - claiming some nonsense about traffic from a closed tunnel.

I chose to not write about that meeting at the time. While it was organized by neighborhood groups, there was no vote. There wasn't any debate. It was more of an airing of grievances. No resident who didn't agree with the posted message (there was a bulleted list of positions hung behind the speakers) would have felt comfortable speaking up (I spoke with two after the meeting). One of the three restaurant owners who did attend tried to debate but was shut down. It's unfortunate that the City took what they heard there as a representative voice.

I'll miss stopping to chat with friends sitting outside at Rocco's after baseball this summer. Or having a pizza at Locale on a warm night. I'll also miss the glimmer of hope that we were moving in some small ways towards the right direction for this city and neighborhood - away from prioritizing car storage at all costs in one of the most walkable and historic neighborhoods in the country. I hope that the vocal minority enjoys this victory. But I don't see how it's a win even for them. We all lose.

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