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Downtown View: March Goodness

Oh, to be in Boston, now that March is here.

Because it will be cleaner. The cars will be towed. Those big mechanical sweepers will chug down our streets, and winter’s flotsam and jetsam will be sucked up and taken away starting this week, a whole month earlier than the traditional starting date.

This is happening only in the North End, the South End and Beacon Hill, but, hey, it’s progress.

One does wonder why such a basic plan for better cleanliness took so long to get implemented. How about mechanical street sweeping all year? But then one remembers how long it took before the city towed cars so the cleaning would be effective. A new and now former public works commissioner from out of town finally got down to business about that.

Some people don’t like that they must move their cars. Perhaps these are the same neighbors who dump their doggy bags on doorsteps rather than disposing of them properly. Or maybe they just like filth.

Whatever the motives, there’s an app for that. The city will alert car owners by email or text that a street is scheduled for sweeping. Sign up on the city’s web site www.cityofboston.gov/publicworks/sweeping/. It’s a bit cumbersome, since not all of us remember where our car is parked, but it’s what we’ve got.

Towing finally made street sweeping work. Those of us who make downtown Boston home don’t want to go back to the bad old days.

March is also the month when the first flowers bloom. Watch for the witch hazel in the Boston Public Garden. Two stands of these shrubs exist, one along Beacon Street near Charles and the other along Arlington Street between Beacon and Marlborough.

Witch hazel’s tiny flowers are mildly fragrant and light yellow. But you have to look closely because they can blend into the background, unlike the vivid forsythia that follows.

You also might have to look closely because a few months ago a car carrying two women charged out of River Street, flew across Beacon Street, tore out a section of the Public Garden fence and toppled the Arnold Promise, a showier cultivar introduced by the Arnold Arboretum. It was developed from witch hazels native to Asia.

There may be hope, however, according to Westy Lovejoy, a member of the horticulture committee of the Friends of the Public Garden. She said hamamelis is tough and may come back even from a stump.

Westy also pointed out that shrubs in the Public Garden are planted only along the fences to help screen out the traffic and its noise.

North America has a native witch hazel, hamamelis virginiana. It has the same inconspicuous flowers as the spring type, but it blooms in October in New England. Next fall, if you take a walk though a woods that contains thick plantings of the shrub, you’ll notice it casts a yellow glow at eye level and above in the understory.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, the plant’s common name comes from its use for hundreds of years as dowsing or divining rods, branches that were said to cross or bend when a person holding them was looking for the best place to dig a well. “Wych” is from the Anglo-Saxon word for bend. The Forest Service web site says early American settlers would probably have called the plant “Wicke Hazel.”

Then, for all you parade lovers, March offers the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in South Boston. This year it occurs on the actual St. Patrick’s Day, since March 17, 2013 is a Sunday.

Actually there are two parades, since the Allied War Veterans, the traditional parade sponsors, have for several years rejected any mention of the word “peace” in their parade and won’t let any participant identify himself or herself as gay or lesbian, etc., etc.

So, naturally, peace and equality advocates started their own parade. You knew that would happen. And even though it’s hard to compete with tanks and assorted military paraphernalia in the parade that begins at 1 p.m., the Peace Parade has its own appeal with marching bands and 12-foot puppets from the radical Bread and Puppet Theater in Vermont, according to Cole Harrison, a spokesman for MassPeaceAction, a sponsor of the alternative parade. I’m betting the second parade will be pretty entertaining.

It begins at 3 p.m. so you can make a whole day of it and maybe avoid the green beer said to be drunk in Southie, although I’ve never laid eyes on it. It sounds terrible.

Southie, though, has changed, with metrosexuals and citizens of the world moving in and demanding the good life, such as the grocery store, Foodies, which apparently stocks gourmet, upmarket goodies. And then, surprisingly, there are all those stock market companies and Republicans urging everyone to stand up for marriage equality. So the days of the old parade, in its current form, are numbered. See it while you can.

Downtown View is a regular column by Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times weekly newspaper in 1995 and served as its editor and publisher until late 2007. She also founded and served as editor and publisher of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge and The Back Bay Sun weeklies. Her column appears in those newspapers as well as the Regional Review, which serves Boston’s North End. These weeklies are now owned by the Independent Newspaper Group. She is the author of “Blue Laws, Brahmins and Breakdown Lanes: An Alphabetic Guide to Boston and Bostonians” and the co-author of “The Lady Architects,” a book about three women who practiced architecture in New England and elsewhere in the early 20th century. She lives in downtown Boston and blogs at BostonColumn.com

2 Replies to “Downtown View: March Goodness

  1. good post. there should be more towing, not less. the btd is still relatively generous in terms of now towing your out-of-town car when you’re parked in our resident spots.

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