Commentaries

Downtown View Throwback: Summer Problems and Pleasures

Karen is taking a break. Here is a column from 2011 about Charles Circle, one of the significant entrances to Boston. The problems are still there. Actually, so are the pleasures.

Summer problems and pleasures

We’re in the denouement of summer. New Englanders are said to eagerly anticipate this season, since after a long winter we feel we deserve it.

Does our anticipation of summer mean it can never live up to our expectations? This summer has been wonderful in one regard. While much of America has been sweltering [or drowning], we’ve had mostly lovely weather with tolerable heat and low humidity, if we don’t count about five days.

Otherwise, however, summer in Boston can be disappointing. It’s enough to make everyone succumb to that characteristic Boston attitude—grumpiness.

The first problem is that so few take advantage of the possibilities for beauty that summer brings. I don’t see this in other cities that I visit.

At Charles Circle for example, two businesses degrade the area. CVS is the first one. The trees are dying. The tree pits were planted years ago and are uncared for. The sidewalk isn’t swept. It’s a dump. The manager, when I asked him, had no idea he was part of a neighborhood. He said the landlord was responsible for taking care of the outside.

Actually, no. If a landlord agrees to do so, fine. But to be welcome in the neighborhood, CVS, you must take care of the area outside your business. CVS’s store windows are also the subject of lots of complaints I’ve heard. Banal pictures of models? How much more interesting the store would be if the windows were left open so we could see movement of the people inside. My only recourse is to not patronize the place, and I don’t. But that’s not good for the business or the neighborhood.

The second culprit is the Liberty Hotel. I love the hotel—inside. Its restaurants are fun. We take out-of-towners there to give them a thrill.

But what are they thinking about the outside of the hotel? For pedestrians the place is a disaster. Bare spots. Weeds. Tree pits, again uncared for—not even noticed in fact. The whole thing is shabby. Perhaps the hotel management doesn’t look outside and see scores of pedestrians using the sidewalk along Charles Street extension to get to the hospitals, the West End and the Science Museum. Perhaps the hotel owners don’t realize how bad things are. (I called them to tell them.) Such conditions are disrespectful of our neighborhood.

Charles and Cambridge streets aren’t much better. Charles Street merchants had to hire help to get the street swept, and even then many don’t contribute. If you’ve got a tree in front of your business, it’s yours. Water it, and plant the tree pit. The flowers will be stolen, you say? Have backups. [One business person in 2015 told me it cost her $500 to plant her tree pit and then someone took the flowers. It costs about $40 to plant a good tree pit, and that pays also for a few plants to replace ones that get stolen. She was fleeced and naïve both.]

Also, store owners, sweep your sidewalk. You don’t have time? It takes ten minutes a day. Anyone who complains about lack of business, and has a blank tree pit and an unswept sidewalk should get no sympathy.

John Corey of the Beacon Hill Civic Association set up a program to help business owners do better in their tree pits, and good for him. [And in 2015, he actually planted the pits for them.] He has more patience than the rest of us, who can’t see why the merchants don’t just do it. Why do they need direction to stick in a few plants, which they can get down the street at Top Shelf for a song?

Perhaps if I went away for the summer, as some people do, I’d be less grumpy. But little by little, I notice that not all is lost.

First, let’s compliment the Hill Tavern. I chastised them last year about the condition of their tree pits, and this year they’ve actually planted flowers. [But they didn’t in 2015.] They need about twice as many, but they’ve tried, and I’m hoping they’ll be better next year when they plant ten plants in every pit rather than three or four. Plants are cheap, fellas.

The Esplanade is another place that gets better every year. The people who founded and run the Esplanade Association have done much to give us pleasure.

The Red Sox are the icon of summer. It’s not just Jacoby Ellsbury and his winning ways. (That was then. This is now.) It’s the way the business is managed, the care with which the playing field is kept, the feeling you have when you are at Fenway Park that the owners care about your pleasure, not just about making money—which, coincidentally, makes them money.

The garden in back of my house gives me pleasure too in summer, and it’s not just the plants. A few nights ago, the weather was warm, but not oppressive. The darkness was coming on sooner than it had a month ago. Our next-door neighbor had her door open. The neighbor at the rear of our garden, whose house is on another street and whom we don’t know, was grilling up a storm. In the walkway on another side of our garden wall, the young renter was hosting her boyfriend and a couple of girlfriends in her small set up along the walkway. On a deck one story above our garden were several friends eating outside. We could hear bits of conversation and laughter from everyone.

Here we were, several neighbors, some long-term, others not, all crammed into a few square yards in the middle of the dense city that we were all enjoying. Now that’s my idea of a good summer.

Downtown View is a column by newspaperwoman Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times 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. Karen now works from her home in downtown Boston and blogs at BostonColumn.com. Please feel free to leave responses in the comments section below.

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