Saturday, January 26, 2013

We give a little bit, we get a lot.

I bought my home in Roxbury in 2005.  There was no grass in the yard.  Even the small clusters of weeds were having a hell of a time hanging on.

The problem was the soil.  It wasn’t poisonous, just lifeless.  It had been choked and stepped on for so long, nothing much could grow.  

Every week, I gave love, and energy.  It was effortless.  

Now the soil is rich, the kind of blackened loam that gardeners would kill for.  

This coming week, I make a promise to shop here in Dudley, at least twice, in a store I haven’t yet gone.  

Naturally, I’ll get my groceries at Tropical Foods, and I’ll probably pick up a pizza at the ever-friendly Dudley Square Grille (formerly Stash's Grill), but I visit those stores all the time.

No, I mean getting to know stores that I normally don’t go.  I’m going to keep doing that, week in and week out.  

Who's with me?!

Simply put, Roxbury is our home.  Let’s help the businesses here thrive, for their sake and ours.

It can be something as simple as making sure you buy your aspirin at the Walgreens across from the Ferdinand, instead of the CVS where you work. Or inviting a friend to have brunch at the Haley House Bakery, now that they're open on Sundays.   

In my case, I’m going to buy fish for dinner from Simon's Seafood and Deli in their new location on Dudley Street, and I’ll stop in the Dudley Department Store for the some little somethings, I know I’ll need in a week.  

This is how we help our neighborhood thrive. We give a little bit, we get a lot. 

I’d go into Aga’s for a lap dance, but I’m too old for that.  And that place still gives me the heebee jeebees.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Dudley Square Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

On December 17, 2012, Jonathan Napoli, owner of The Boston Gardener, went before the  Dudley Vision Advisory Task Force to advocate for opening a medical marijuana dispensary in Dudley Square.   

Let me begin by saying that I approached the idea of a dispensary in Dudley Square with caution, neither for or against it.

Admittedly, I am pro-legalization of marijuana. Having personal experience with it, I can give simple witness to the mildness of it’s effects, lack of harmful addictive qualities, and overall “meh” in terms of it’s impact on society.  The fact that people go to jail for possession of marijuana is, in my opinion, ridiculous.

However, whether marijuana is a good thing or a bad thing is not the question.  Rather, the question is would opening a dispensary in Dudley Square be a good thing or a bad thing for our community.  

There are precious few studies on the potential impacts that medical marijuana dispensaries might have on our neighborhood.  The Rand Corp., a not-for-profit research and analysis organization, found that crime actually decreased around dispensaries in Colorado and California, due to the amount of added security.

However, I checked with a friend of mine living in Los Angeles.  His impression was overwhelmingly negative.  “Think of a liquor store times ten,” he told me.  “I have a dispensary down the end of my block and a clerk was murdered there three months ago.”

While “asking a friend” is admittedly less scientific, personal witness to the potential effects on a neighborhood are valuable, and in this case, served to check my enthusiasm for a new business opening in our neighborhood.

A few weeks of personal research left me with the impression that a dispensary, like a lot of things in the grown-up world, could be a good thing for Dudley Square...if handled correctly.  

I don’t mean just for those people who are suffering from chronic pain, who would be the customer base. I mean for the neighborhood itself, since that steady, repeat customer base, who would have otherwise no reason to come here, might well also be having lunch at places like the Haley House, and picking up some groceries at Tropical Foods.

The caveat being that a dispensary Mr. Napoli might open would have to meet stringent security regulations, equal to or exceeding the security in a bank, or face immediate shut down.

The dispensary would also have to meet and exceed every law enforcement precaution to ensure only those with prescriptions from certified doctors could get the drug.  In this case, similar to any drug from a pharmacy.

I am a fan of Mr. Napoli’s other business in Dudley Square, the Boston Gardener.  I’ve also been in The Hempest, a high end clothing store on Newbury Street, selling hemp-related clothing and accessories, that he owns as well.  Mr. Napoli strikes me as a man with flair for business and isn’t just in it for a buck.  He cares about his stores, what they sell, and he wants to do right by the community.

And that gives me optimism.     

During his presentation to the Dudley Vision Task Force, one of the committee members (who was clearly against the idea) argued that opening a dispensary would define Dudley Square as “the weed district.”  

I fail to see how opening one store would “define” Dudley Square as anything.  By that logic, Dudley Square would be an epic shoe district, because we have two shoe stores.  

It also presupposes that dispensaries have an existing negative image, which I don’t believe to be the case.  These are places where people who are in chronic pain come for relief. Dispensaries are not “drug clinics” and patients with prescriptions would not smoke or ingest anywhere in or around the store (that’s not how weed works, folks).  We can thank Colorado and California for providing examples of public safety.

Cambridge and Framingham will soon be getting dispensaries.  I think that Dudley Square would be missing out if such organizations such as the Dudley Vision Advisory Task Force failed to support Mr. Napoli in this venture. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Roxbury's Master Plan

At a recent meeting of the Roxbury Master Plan Oversight Committee, representatives of the four major construction developments around Roxbury, scheduled to take place shortly after the completion of the new Ferdinand building, gave status updates to the committee members and assembled public.

First, the representative for Barlett Place, LLC, who are planning mixed housing and retail at the old MBTA bus service yard, could report little more than discussions with BRA are ongoing, and a re-zoning of the district into mixed-income housing (rather than just affordable housing) would progress hopefully on January 17th.

Bartlett Place

The general reaction was positive from the committee and seemed to reflect their understanding that this is what the Roxbury community wanted, and was the best path forward to bring businesses to that area. 

Next up, P-3 Partners, LLC gave a positive impression of the largest project by far, the $300 million dollar large format retail/office/museum/residential space currently named Tremont Crossing, to be located across the Boston Police Station off Tremont. 

Tremont Crossing

Jeffrey Feldman, one of the P-3 reps, reported that advanced discussions with Northeastern University to take most or even all of the office space served as a red letter day for the project, since finding tenants for the office space was considered to be the most challenging (though he said this in hushed tones, as if telling a secret, which it probably is). This failed to enthuse the committee, especially Boston City Councillor Tito Jackson, who expressed something akin to annoyance, first with the lack of certainty about Northeastern, and second with the veil of secrecy seemingly shown by P-3 Partners in regard to possible tenants to fill the large format retail.

Other committee members piled on, expressing frustration with requests by P-3 to receive extensions on project designations from the BRA, since they felt the project should have gelled by this point. 

Mr. Feldman was quick to answer that until such deals were multi-million dollar deals were finalized, nothing could be said publicly, in what was still the very early stages of development. The schedule for overall design and eventual construction, he stressed, hadn't changed from the outset. No construction, or "shovels in the ground" can be hoped for until Winter 2014.

Thankfully, the update ended with the general sentiment that the committee supported the development. 

Following that, Urbanica, Inc., developer of the Melnea Hotel & Residences, which will be located across from Ramsey Park off Washington St., announced significant discussions with a higher end hotel chain, Aloft Hotel. 

Aloft Hotel

In this blogger's opinion, this is absolutely fantastic news. Aloft hotels are upbeat, very jazzy places, and definitely a cut above cookie-cutter "here's your room, now go to sleep" type hotels. Additionally, Urbanica announced discussions with Legal Seafood to possibly open a smaller, 3,000 SF restaurant, presumably on the first floor.

Last in order, but not in my heart, the Madison/Tropical, LLC representative gave a very candid and positive update on the major expansion of Roxbury's own El Tropical grocery store. This project, as much as the Ferdinand building will transform Dudley Square, as the corner of Melnea Cass and Washington St. is effectively Dudley Square's front door. Their bold design and layout expresses a notion that Roxbury won't be content with resting in the shadow of Greater Boston any longer. 

New Tropical Foods

Dudley Square is shaping up to be a mighty, mighty Boston destination.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Gain: Roxbury's Upcoming Growing Pains

It is not a case of whether or not the improvements to Dudley Square and the surrounding area will cause temporary traffic problems, inconvenient crowding, and noise, but to what degree, what duration, and how annoyed we will occasionally get.

While the Ferdinand Building is being redeveloped and the two other buildings located at 2304-2306 and 2326 Washington St. are incorporated into the massive Ferdinand Municipal Administration building (official name to be forthcoming), Boston Water & Sewer will be undertaking a long-planned separation of rain overflow from sanitation flow,  necessitating large sections of pavement to be torn up all throughout Roxbury.  Construction on the Ferdinand will be taking place during the day, while Boston Water & Sewer will be working at night.

That means orange cones, flashing yellow lights, and people in hard hats around Dudley Square, around the clock.

As if these projects weren't enough, a three-story office building is scheduled for construction directly across from the Ferdinand, on the corner of Taber and Warren, in the fall.  The MBTA has also already locked in a developer for improvements to the Dudley Bus Terminal, which means construction beginning there within a month.

Nor should we expect surcease by the end of 2013.  Just the opposite.  Development of Parcels 3 (Tremont Crossing shopping mall, on the corner or Whittier and Tremont), 9 (Melnea Hotel and Residences, along Melnea Cass Blvd.), and 10 (expanded El Tropical supermarket, also on Melnea Cass, opposite), as well as improvements to pedestrian and bike paths along the boulevard, will be just getting underway when all the original projects are winding down.

Embrace, and even encourage, the certain disasters to befall a living, breathing Dudley Square.  Roxbury can't pause while developments are underway, but make no mistake, these "problems" are the best sign that Roxbury is growing again.  We should all do our best to remember that special thing that always seems to accompany pain.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Ready Stance

The massive weight and scope of the transformation coming to Roxbury this year has yet to be felt.   Mayor Menino cut the ribbon on the redevelopment of the Ferdinand building in March and there are telltale signs of professional and determined changes happening even now. However, the readily apparent changes, such as traffic barricades placed around the parking lanes of Washington and Warren Streets to give workers and their tools the space to operate, the foundations being poured, and steel frames rising up and become part of the Dudley skyline, have yet to occur. 

They will start in three earnest.

As awesome as these changes to Dudley Square will be, they only represent the beginning of the changes to Roxbury.  With the recently announced news that the development of "Parcel 3",  the 8-acre plot of land directly across the Boston Police Headquarters, into a massive one million square foot shopping and residential center (currently entitled Tremont Crossing) has been proposed for fall 2013, combined with the invigorating development of Parcels 9 and 10, which could begin as early as fourth quarter 2012, it is safe to say that the Roxbury will be changing very, very quickly.  

Purple: Tremont Crossing, retail & residential (2013)
Green: Melnea Hotel, restaurant, gymnasium (2013)
Blue: Expanded El Tropical & residences (2013)
Red: Dudley Municipal Building (2012)

Tremont Crossing proposal:

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Loss of an Eyesore?

I use a mark of question rather than one of exclamation at Green Ink Development's renovation of 124-126 Warren Street.  This formerly grand three-story white house has grieved the neighborhood since before I moved to Roxbury in 2005.   So obvious is the owner's lack of concern, or lack of ability, to maintain the structure, it cast a pall over everything from Dudley Square up to Martin Luther King Blvd.

For seven years, I've seen renovations start, stutter, and stop. In 2010, one side of the building was painted. At that rate, the renovations will be complete just before our sun goes supernova.

I do understand that sometimes an owner isn't able to make necessary repairs in a timely fashion.  I had a 60 foot tree die in my backyard last year, and I had to leave the barren thing teetering precariously while I saved up the $1,500 to have it removed. side painted in seven years?

I am also loathe to invite the neighborhood to pass judgments on the aesthetics of any particular house, whatever the reason.  When I first started house hunting, I viewed some homes in gated communities (I was looking at everything in my price range) that had restrictions on the color of paint you could use on your house, and even the kinds of flowers you could grow in front!

But there is a line.  There comes a point when a building, so potentially useful and convenient, degrades into blight, and poisons everything around it.  I loudly celebrate the news that the renovation of this sad domicile into office/retail space will be moving ahead at a faster pace.

My open question is this:  how much better for the owner of the property, for the city of Roxbury, for everyone that wants to enjoy this neighborhood, would it have been if the owner donated the building space for a period of 5 to 7 years to a worthy community-based organization who, in lieu of paying rent, would spend that money on renovation to the building?

A perfect example, a housing cooperative agrees to assume responsibility for 124-126 Warren Street.  They will pay for property taxes, utilities, etc. from the point they take control.  They guarantee $1200 in materials, or other improvements, per month for 5 years. You don't think a dozen communities wouldn't jump at that?  And at the end of 5 years, the owner has a building worth three to four times what it would be had it remained vacant.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Roxbury Greening

There are a lot of great reasons to love Roxbury just for being Roxbury.  We’re a Boston neighborhood with a texture and pattern distinct from any other.  We’re not the South End, North End, Chinatown, or Back Bay.   We’re Roxbury.

One of those great reasons, the Boston Gardner, moved into Dudley Square in 2009.   This all-encompassing gardening store sprung up half a block past the El Tropical grocery mart, as you enter the Square.  I noticed it earlier this Spring, when I was having one of those glum city moments, feeling drained by all the concrete and brick and painted-on metal.  Suddenly, I happened upon the Boston Gardener, brimming with small vegetable plants out front and a verdant ivy tenaciously climbing the fa├žade.  I felt instantly better, just knowing the store was there.

I found the time to really check it out yesterday and had the good fortune to meet Jairo Haile, one of the store's staff members.   Upon my entrance, he was engaged in garden talk with a customer, so I wandered down the aisles, taking in the ambiance.   

There really is more here than an amateur gardener, like myself, could ever hope to need.   The store has all the basics, of course: compost, small gardening tools, fertilizer, seeds, etc.  As you continue into the store, however, you’ll also see sophisticated hydroponic equipment, full-spectrum lights, fans, special soil PH balancing agents, and other such items that are necessary only if you are growing specialty plants, like orchids, or you're determined to grow the biggest, greenest, meanest, healthiest plants this side of Eden.

When I came back around, Jairo greeted me and asked if I had any questions.  Honestly, I felt a little intimidated, as if he’d throw me out when he discovered that I had no clue what the PH balance of my backyard soil was, or that I let certain sections of my garden deteriorate because I don’t have the heart to kill snails.  

On the contrary, Jairo assured me the store was for everyone that loved getting dirt under their fingernails cultivating vegetables or flowers.  When I mentioned being surprised to see a gardening store so deep in the city, Jairo responded with an understanding nod.  One of the missions of the store, he explained, was to make the community strong, and to remind city dwellers how wonderful growing things can be.

I realized that he was right, very right, and I was even happier to live in Dudley Square because the Boston Gardener also calls it home.

The store has a web site,, which can give you a good idea of the wide variety of items you can get there, but you'd be doing yourself a favor to check out the store in person.  It's not only a place for all gardeners, it's the kind of place that makes you want to get home and get gardening.

The Boston Gardener 
2131 Washington Street, 
Boston, MA  02119

Store Hours
Monday-Friday 10am - 5:30pm
Saturday 10am - 5pm
Closed on Sunday