Downtown View: A Modest Proposal

The noise is always a surprise. Your cab stops in the street to let you out. The driver can’t pull over because parked cars line both sides of the narrow street. A short time passes while you pay and get ready to climb out.

Before you have time to count out the money for the driver or swipe your credit card, the guy in the SUV behind you lays on his horn. With him, it’s me first, all the time. Who are you to stop in front of him? Who do you think you are to delay his trip?

You know who you are because you live here. You know that streets must be shared. This means sometimes we have to wait, and we usually do it willingly because we understand the situation.

The guy laying on his horn in his gas guzzler is probably from the suburbs and doesn’t know how to behave in a city, you think. That’s the most insulting thing—being from a suburb, the “S” word—that long-time city dwellers can think of. It’s obvious because we know in the city, we must share all kinds of things, including time on the streets.

But there has been good news recently on the sharing front, on the behavior that says, “not just me first, but everyone that is in this with me.”

Take the World’s Greatest University, as a Boston Globe writer used to call it and others still do. A couple of weeks ago Harvard said yes to its dining hall workers, agreeing that all should make at least $35,000 a year, that their health care costs will not go up and that the university will provide compensation for workers laid off in the summer months when fewer students need a dining hall. Whew.

Perhaps Harvard capitulated to its dining hall workers because it looked in its heart and saw it was the right thing to do. It is also possible that it couldn’t take the criticism after the world learned that its portfolio managers were earning from $5 million to $8 million a year for performances well under those of their counterparts at other wealthy universities. Whatever the reason, Harvard shared.

The MBTA isn’t doing so well at sharing. Janitors at its stations have faced reduced hours, which not only means lower pay but also reduced health and other benefits. Privatization may reduce costs for government, but it can also end up making life miserable for employees.

I’m not defending the MBTA’s counting house privatization, since it seems as if workers there were not up to the job. But the janitors seemed to be doing their jobs just fine.

When we cut spending, does it have to be on those most vulnerable? What if we simply took a lesson from Harvard and shared more?

For example, that playspaces on the Esplanade are beautiful. The Esplanade Association and other local people raised the money to have those places built, and they were sorely needed. Good for them.

Wouldn’t it have been nice, however, if, as they raised funds for the Esplanade, they also raised funds for a playground in some park in the DCR system that is not surrounded by wealthy residents who can build their own playgrounds?

The Friends of the Public Garden could also afford to share. They have done a superb job of supplementing the city’s efforts to keep the Common, the Public Garden and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall in fine shape. They are a lovable organization. Taking care of other parks is not their mission. A newer organization, the Friends of Christopher Columbus Park, is also a lovable, successful organization that has become good at raising funds and caring for a park.

But there are 157 park friends’ groups and 331 public green spaces in Boston, according to parks spokesman Ryan Woods. What if the more successful friends groups partnered with a friends’ group with fewer resources? It might be in work days. It might be sharing funds. If contributors knew their checks would be going, not only to the park next door to them but also to a needier Boston park, it might increase fund-raising for the more successful friends’ groups. Some people probably don’t write the biggest check they could, figuring that downtown friends’ groups have many resources already.

The idea of pairing an entity with more resources with one with lesser came from a series of meetings a couple of years ago with local parents who were trying, still unsuccessfully, to get a new school for downtown kids.

They seemed excited about mixing it up with kids of all races, ethnic origins and income levels. They asked, why not pair a successful school with an unsuccessful one and see if the two together could make headway in giving all children a fine education? They were ready to give it a chance, putting kids together and busing them between schools because they thought that kind of busing would be worth it. So far nothing has happened.

This could be Pollyanna talking. But after today, when this hate-filled election will be over, we should reach for something more, something that speaks to our better selves. Sharing is a good place to start.

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 Please feel free to leave responses in the comments section below.

19 Replies to “Downtown View: A Modest Proposal

  1. Blaming the driver from the suburbs in his gas guzzling SUV & using the “S” word? The problems in this city are caused by the residents of this city.People aren’t coming into the city from the “S ” areas & double & triple park on our streets.Have you ever walked or dove on Hanover St.? People aren’t coming into the city to dump their trash on our streets the blame belongs on the people who live in Boston.

  2. Karen: I agree with your sentiments re: horn blowers! In the North End, there is an unspoken rule — do not blast horns. Once on Salem, in front of the Old North, tourists were crossing, following the Freedom Trail, and a man leaned on his horn. I bent down, and spoke to him thru window and stated that they were visitors and most people honor our system of ‘waiting’. Where are you from, I asked. He growled, “The North End”.

  3. More often than not the cab driver or Uber (aka, “clueless”) driver can easily find a better spot to pull over so that the selfish rider does not have to make the whole world stop just for them. I see it happen everyday and every night. You don’t see that sort of thing in NYC, where people have better sense. I’m sorry, but you have your description backwards.

    1. Fr: Are you talkin’ to me? I lived in Manhattan for 8 years, so don’t talk to me about NYC. You cannot simply pull over in the NE. Pull over to where? Sidewalk with pedestrians? Cafe Tables? P L E A S E

      1. I suppose I’m talking to everybody. If you lived in NYC then I’m sure you’re aware of the unwritten rules that most cabbies in NYC seem to abide by. For instance, I’m sure you know that you always use the curb-side door, so that you don’t obstruct the flow of traffic or God-forbid get hit by a car. On a similar note and under the same logic, in the North End it’s really not that hard to simply drive 50 feet further and pull over next to a fire hydrant, or onto the curb, or into the Fire Engine spaces just before most street corners and THEN let someone out. It really isn’t. I do it all the time when I’m dropping someone off or if I’m in a cab. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt since I sense you must not have a car in the NE. I just can’t bring myself to be so rude, inconsiderate and oblivious to common sense as to make the cab stop in the middle of the street, block traffic, incite all the horns, and make the world stop for me – so I have the cabbie drive just a bit more (or less), and we find a place to pull over and let traffic go by “because I live here. I know that streets must be shared.” This means sometimes I do things a bit differently because I don’t want to be a part of the problem. I don’t want people to “have to wait” just because of a selfish act on my part. I do what I do “willingly because I understand the situation”.

        People with the selfish “me” mentality are part of the problem in the neighborhood. Whether we are talking about trash, or noise, or traffic, etc, it’s not a matter of old world vs new world, “yuppie” vs old-time northender, suburban vs city people, etc – The problem is the “me, me, me” mentality, which transcends background.

        I’m also having a hard time visualizing the “café tables” are you talking about.

  4. Horn blowers in Boston? This is new? I always tend to see the comedy in it. See the guy who’s locked in gridlock among a 1000 other cars just leaning on the horn. I really laugh out loud wondering what in his mind does he expect will happen?

  5. Sarah, let me enlighten you about the history & origin of the “unwritten” rule of not leaning on your horn in the NE. I wasn’t born or have ever lived in NY I’ve lived here all my life.So here goes if you were driving thru the NE and came across a vehicle stopped in the middle of the street and someone was leaning in the window carrying on a lengthy casual conversation or conducting an illegal activity [Prince St was notorious for this} you could not beep your horn or yell out lets go for fear of ending up in the trunk of a car in a sleeping bag. That was the “unwritten rule”

    1. Michael: ‘ LET ME ENLIGHTEN YOU’……that’s a pejorative statement, Never say that to another person. Let ME enlighten you….it’s very rude.

    2. Actually since you mentioned Prince St. Honk the horn? I would have put the car in reverse and backed down to Commercial St.

  6. Sarah, is probably the rudest an most condescending person here. It is difficult to find the more annoying know-it-all who, laughably, doesn’t have any idea what she is talking about.

    By the way you are a teacher who loves to correct everything and everyone, if I’m not mistaken? “The NE”?

    How bout them apples?

  7. Mike, it wasn’t my intention to be rude [which by the way I wasn’t I replied to her post about the “unwritten North End rule” of not leaning on the horn.I was trying to point out that the “rule” had more to do with fear & intimidation than being courteous to others.

  8. Michael, Sarah is just a very blatant bully. It would be really hilarious to see her lean into a car and give her lecture about 30 years ago, or better yet in the 60s. I’d be laughing my butt off reading that police report.

    As far as fear and intimidation… I’ve been thinking about it for the last few years. Specifically, with respect to living in North End. Somebody has to enforce the existing laws. If police and mayor are not willing to do it, it’s not surprising that certain groups did it for years in North end and Southie, for example. And, oddly enough, many people preferred that. Now, I’m not at all advocating that this was right. But complete lack of enforcement in Boston is puzzling.

    NYC, for example, with Giuliani as a mayor, managed to somehow rain in their traffic issues (blocking the intersection box, double-parking, blocking the street by taxis, etc). They also took care of the armies of panhandlers, little social things like taxis ignoring and not picking up minorities, etc. Why Boston is not doing this is beyond me. Again, I’m not advocating being NYC. I dislike it, to put it politely, even though I’ve lived there for a time and been spending time there for 30 years now. But not enforcing simple laws and being “me, me, me” society full of sarahs, who are convinced that they know what others should be doing at any given moment in any given situation… well, that leads to pushback. Which, incidentally, the same “me, me, me” people are protesting now. Again, hilarious.

  9. Mike, I’ve written here many times asking why laws are being ignored & go unenforced & with all due respect to the late Mayor Menino it started on his watch & has only gotten worse under Walsh.As for Sarah or other people who post here about how life was in the North End 30 or 40 years ago even though some of them were not born yet or never lived here during that period I find that hilarious.

  10. Micheal, I don’t think the issues started with Walsh either. But it surely is not getting any better.

  11. Mike, what bothers me most is the “hands off” approach to the junkies who brazenly peddle their poison in broad daylight in parts of downtown Boston.

  12. Sarah, I don’t understand your post’s when you write in English. Plus isn’t it “RUDE” to write in a language that others cant understand?

    1. Michael use Google Translate Sarah said….
      “Judge not lest ye be judged”
      this is rich coming from one the most judgmental and condescending people who post on this blog

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