To the Board of Aldermen:
The Somerville Board of Aldermen must balance the big picture needs of our city, our region, and our planet on the one hand, and the minutiae of individual neighborhoods on the other. At the biggest macro level, we have a climate crisis that we should respond to by encouraging transit-oriented, rather than car-oriented, living patterns. We have a regional housing crisis demanding more housing, especially near transit nodes. And we have a city that needs taxpaying residents and workers to continue to fund its ongoing operations.
Last night, at a community meeting about a small project, I saw a small group of neighbors standing up to oppose all of those things. “You people,” said one of them, pointing at the only person of color in the room, a man representing a business based in Somerville, “come into our city, and build things that look like projects, and ruin what we have.” The “we” in this statement was about twelve white property owners over the age of sixty. “This neighborhood has never changed,” she continued. “It has always been like this. And I don’t like the changes that are happening in my city.”
“Not in my yard,” said another, demanding that detailed professional snow removal plans be written into the building’s condominium documents, and asking for a third-party specialist to determine whether shadows would cause structural damage to his walls.
The participants imagined that workers would vandalize their homes in retaliation for parking tickets; they imagined that pickup trucks would be too large to fit down their narrow street; they imagined that the residents of their street who were minorities agreed with them even though they were not present and hadn’t been asked; they imagined that a slight change in lighting would cause mold which would destroy their siding. They could not imagine a neighbor who did not own a car.
When I spoke up to note that transit oriented development is better for the world and for our community, I was told “go back to Prospect Hill.” Living as I do just a five minute bike ride away, I was deemed an outsider with no stake in the matter, trying to apply out-of-touch abstract principles to support greedy developers.
I go to a lot of these community meetings. At most of them, I see older, whiter, wealthier residents opposing all kinds of changes for all kinds of reasons. But this meeting was the most explicitly racist one I’ve been to. I am ashamed that I did not push back harder against the racism and xenophobia I witnessed last night.
I hope that the board will acknowledge that the concerns of the dozen or so opponents of the project are based entirely on irrational fear of change, and that they will allow a totally normal, entirely reasonable project to move forward.