Which People’s Republic?
by Bill Cunningham
Table of Contents:
|for all you gave
Which People’s Republic?
the memories of a people are all the more important for being unconscious. - A.L.Rowse
Last year, after racial tension at Cambridge’s predominantly middle-class Agassiz School ended in the abrupt departure of principal Peggy Averitte, mayor Frank Duehay called for a citywide “conversation on race and class.” Around the time this was to have begun, the city’s Development Department invited people to “Come Discuss the Cambridge of the Future,” in response to the 1997 citizens’ Growth Management Petition. These two civic conversations are scheduled to happen separately. But why? What about the place of race and class in the development of this city?
Development, of course, is always about race and class. Someone decides where everyone else is going to live and work, and under what conditions. When government defines the highest and best uses of the earth, it also assigns people their places in society. Through development, physical and social structures which embody the institutions of class and racial privilege are literally set in stone.
Real estate development divides the earth into lots and units for sale at the highest possible rents. Redevelopment is this same process imposed in places where people already live . Call it ‘urban renewal’ or ‘community development,’ justify it in the name of ‘diversity’ and ‘sustainability,’ but this is about destruction, not renewal; it is about dissolving real, existing communities.
In Cambridge, these policies have uprooted poor and working class communities in order to cultivate, on the same soil, the University City.
Those who are gratified by such a course of development may feel that it is inevitable, beneficent, and irreversible. It did not always seem that way. For much of the century, educated and prosperous Cantabrigians were haunted by the specter of hordes of lower-class people, coming from God knows where, who were about to displace them. This specter was already fading about thirty years ago, as noted by some radical students during the famous Harvard Strike:
A class substitution process is underway. …this transformation involves the gradual exclusion of working people and many students, their places being taken by highly paid professionals.1
To check this out you won’t need a college degree. You need only live here awhile and read the Cambridge Chronicle. We’ll do some of that in the pages that follow.
The critical reader may notice our fuzzy definition of race and class. I suppose this is a little careless. But social classes and races really do seem to have fuzzy borders. Who really ‘knows’ where the middle-class ends and working-class or professional begins? How many races, ethnic groups, or nationalities are there in the United States and what, exactly, is the difference between an ethnic group and a minority?
Without slighting the uniqueness of each human group’s experience and heritage, this essay is going to take class as the main factor shaping the local development process and the various neighborhoods. It’s only fair to admit that this fits the writer’s tendency to underplay racial and ethnic conflicts among working class people. And to admit that, if we were talking more about the labor movement, public schools, or police-community relations, we could never get away with that.
Despite the fact that a few individuals are singled out for praise in these pages, no judgment of others is implied or intended. Persons appear here only because in their public roles, they represent persistent collective themes in our story. Are people’s individual lives, then, historically insignificant? Just the opposite: there are not enough bricks in the sidewalk to commemorate the people whose lives and deeds made this city what it is. I pray that their spirits will continue to walk comfortably among us; for when they can no longer do so, our community is finished.
There’s a good chance this is the first time you’ve ever read most of this stuff. Until recently, little has been written about Cambridge history from the perspective of its working people. I hope you agree that it is worthwhile to defend and strengthen the collective memory of working-class Cambridge. To do this, I believe that citizens must question actively and engage in controversy, to break the spell of ‘received ideas,’ to remember in such a way as to get a concrete sense of possible futures. There is no way to recover repressed social memories passively. All of us, of whatever background, occupation, or community, who need to change history, need to remember actively - in other words, to take action.
6 Newtowne Court
The city charter
Until 1940, under the ‘Plan B’ city charter, Cambridge elected its mayors as Boston and Somerville still do. According to the founding myth of the present ‘Plan E’ government, those ‘Plan B’ mayors were corrupt and inefficient; only appointed city managers have run a quality, professional government and brought prosperity.
There is no mystery about the political intent behind Plan E. Its supporters have always understood that it works by making government less dependent on the voters.2 For the people are not to be trusted very much, and the less the executive has to worry about what voters think, the better policy it makes.
Who, in the 1930s, couldn’t be trusted to select their city’s chief executive? There can be little doubt that it was the predominantly working-class Irish. The literature of ‘municipal reform’ was not embarrassed to use caricatures of “Mick” politicians to make its points. Yet many of the reformers were themselves Irish. They did not look like the caricatures: it was really a question of class.
The decades before the Depression had been a period of rapid growth and development, which took place under strong mayors, most of them Irish Democrats. In less than twenty years, Cambridge went from seventh to second industrial city in the state, a position it retained through the late 1960s.3 Like other cities, Cambridge was ‘built’ out’ in those years to assume its twentieth-century layout and social structure. Then as now, the city was destined for prosperity by its location, desirable for industry and housing; the seat of two of the country’s richest universities and of the state’s largest county. None of this has hurt the city’s bond ratings.
All working-class groups shared to some extent in the bustling industrial economy of those decades. But let us not pretend that the Irish Democrat era was roses for everyone. For Afro-Americans, it was in many ways a time of retreat. In terms of political influence, for example, under Republican rule there had been Black aldermen in the 19th century, but not a single elected official in the first half of the 20th; William H Lewis rose to Assistant US Attorney General in the Taft administration. The Agassiz school was headed by a Black woman. After Sgt Arthur Robinson retired in 1914, two generations passed before another Black police officer attained that rank.
Non-Irish immigrant groups were often treated with contempt and denied city jobs. Italians were described in the press as dangerous and disreputable. The city’s Superintendent of Streets wasn’t “allowed to employ” them.4
Throughout the early part of the century, local civic leaders, newspaper editors, and professors expressed alarm over the growth of working class populations, and particularly of immigrants of whatever nationality. In 1909, a Chronicle editorial welcomed the new brick apartment buildings in mid-Cambridge, as a barrier to the “inroad of workmen of foreign extraction.” In 1910, reform leader John H Corcoran (thirty years later his son would be the first Plan E mayor) lamented that Cambridge’s “best class” were “mere people of moderate means, householders” and that even they were being replaced by “tenement and apartment house dwellers.”
In 1911, one Dr J. O. Marcy advocated construction of a “broad boulevard” between, and parallel to, Prospect and Windsor Streets, “as a check on the spread of the foreign population of Cambridge... it would be of great value to stop the spreading of these people, who [sic] we do not want to engulf Cambridge.” Dr. Marcy was also active in getting MIT to relocate from Boston on land newly reclaimed from the Charles River - some of which he owned. As another real estate man noted, “the presence of Technology will help to establish the character of the adjoining property.”
Wooden three-deckers were popular among Irish and other immigrants, but a “menace” to professional-class housing reformers.5 The ‘philanthropic’ Cambridge Housing Association, led by Professors Ford and Killam, wanted their construction stopped. As Prof. Ford said, “The filthy habits of the newly arrived immigrants tend to make the conditions very undesirable.” The City Council obliged by outlawing new three-deckers. To confine the construction of new apartment buildings, Cambridge passed one of America’s first zoning laws.
But as long as City Hall was run by Irish Democrats, some folks would be uncomfortable. They tried to dilute the growing Democratic power through charter reform. The Plan B city charter of 1912 largely failed in this intention, though it did streamline local government. A dozen more charter reform proposals over the next 15 years found insufficient support, even within the ranks of the Republican Party.
The Depression of the 1930s, however, brought new urgency to the reform movement. Declines in industry and employment quickly eroded the property tax base. The city had to shell out big time for welfare. Tax rates shot up; and by 1933, tax delinquencies were running at 30%. The tax rate rose about 30% between 1928 and 1935. This was due not to waste, but to rising welfare expenses. In 1930, the city spent $411,932 on relief; in 1939, it would spend $3,611,050. After 1932 the tax base lost 5 million dollars valuation every year. Besides, tax-exempt property more than doubled since the late twenties, and the State cut local aid disbursements in half.6
Reform mayor Richard Russell ended the long reign of Edward Quinn in 1930, but was unable to carry out policies sufficiently draconian to deliver tax relief in this depression. An exasperated Industrial Association brought together ‘good government’ leaders in 1932 to form the Cambridge Taxpayers’ Association (CTA). Some of these same people would help to found the Cambridge Civic Association (CCA).7
The CTA was chaired by our old housing reformer Prof. C. W. Killam, who by then also headed the Cambridge Club and the Planning Board. In 1934 he declared,
Cambridge should determine what class of residents it welcomes within its borders and take steps to replace those that are a burden upon the taxpayers with others who would help toward a civic future in keeping with its cultural traditions. [And he questioned] whether any city is under any obligation whatever to provide homes and municipal services, fire, police, sewer, water, lights, and education to all classes of the population.8
Reform mayor Richard B Russell proceeded to appoint this same Prof. Killam to the board of the newly established Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA)!
Now mayor Russell was not one of your ‘cheap pols.’ He resided on Brattle Street, graduated from Harvard and Harvard Law, and his father and grandfather before him had been mayors of Cambridge; his father governor besides.9
Russell left to take a seat in Congress, and the propertied reformers mounted a big campaign for a freeze on city hiring and capital spending, calling it the Four Year Plan. North Cambridge banker John Lynch “heartily endorsed” the Plan as a candidate, but as mayor failed to carry it out.10 Still, the reformers backed him for reelection against Jack Lyons, who had never accepted the Four Year Plan. When Lyons beat Lynch and became mayor, his frustrated opponents turned again to charter reform.
They formed the Plan E Association in August 1938, with Harvard’s Dean James M Landis in the chair. Executive secretary Prof. Chandler W Johnson drafted a city charter featuring a nine member at-large city council, elected by Proportional Representation, and with an appointed city manager. This was no new idea. Almost the same plan had been advanced ten years earlier by another Harvard professor, Chandler’s father, in fact - Lewis J Johnson.11 The legislature quickly gave the OK, so Plan E could go on the ballot.
The 1938 Plan E campaign didn’t claim that Mayor Lyons’ administration was corrupt.12 His 1938 tax rate was the same as Russell’s 1935 rate- $41. But because his priority was jobs, Lyons had added a million dollars in new debt for public works.13
Councilor McNamara described Plan E as “a plot on the part of Harvard to grab off the city,” and after it passed two years later, “They feel that a certain racial and political group has too long dominated this city, and think now it is the time to step in and take over.” Councilor Michael (Mickey the Dude) Sullivan spelled it out: it was “Toryism” versus the Irish. The ‘ward politicians’ were unanimous, and most trade unions opposed it too.14
In the 1938 elections Plan E was beaten 21,722 to 19,955, and decisively in the most working-class neighborhoods. The next year, mayor Jack Lyons was reelected over former mayor Russell by a margin of 6,467. Russell backed Plan E, and took only wards 7 and 8.
But in his second term, Lyons lost ground on his left. For example, he squabbled with the unions over public housing projects. The Plan E forces got more aggressive. They crowded City Council meetings and brought a lawsuit against the 1940 budget. The CTA’s Paul J. Frank said that because the payroll increased from 1,532 to 1,828 in four years, “Cambridge is mortgaged to its teeth.” The banks warned Lyons to stop borrowing, or “higher taxation will have grave results.”15
Just before the 1940 election, the mayor got himself indicted for bribery and conspiracy in connection with work on what is now called Neville Manor. The 1940 tax rate jumped to $46.30. Plan E passed that year, 25,875-18,323 -- although with 7,513 blanks. A few months later, Lyons was sentenced to six years in prison.16
Thus the founding myth, Plan E as a victory over political corruption and inefficiency. But how corrupt was Jack Lyons, really? It is interesting what Councilor Ed Crane, a strong backer of Plan E and a key CCA leader in decades to come, had to say after Lyons’ conviction: “Politics is just as corrupt as business and businessmen will allow it to be. For their own ends they have enticed others into corrupt practices.”17 Nor was Lyons the first mayor to have been tainted by scandal. Earlier in the 1930s, a mayor had given a million-dollar contract to the fifth-lowest bidder, and that contractor had turned around and paid the mayor’s cousin a huge architect’s fee. But no indictment was sought for Mayor Richard Russell, Brattle Street reformer and leading proponent of Plan E.18 The very man Jack Lyons beat in the 1940 election!
In a time of inescapable fiscal crisis, Lyons chose to create jobs even at the cost of taking the city deeper into debt. Wasn’t this policy the crime his opponents most held against him? The clouds of war were already low over the city; military conscription and war contracts were already changing the economic and political outlook. Given that, one may doubt that mayors would have sought, or voters permitted, such a budget policy to continue, even had the old charter remained.
The defeated ‘ward politicians’ started calling themselves ‘Independents,’ to contrast with the new Cambridge Civic Association (CCA). The CCA was the child of the Plan E Committee, and called itself the ‘party of good government.’ In the years to come, the CCA boast would be that Plan E had given Cambridge one of the lowest tax rates in the Boston area; in Plan B’s final year, only Revere’s rate had been higher.19 But taxes would never be low enough; the CCA would call for the demolition of low-rent neighborhoods on the ground that they were a net tax burden on the city.20
Anyway, the Independents eventually accepted city manager government and focused on getting managers to their own liking. Today there are a thousand more people working for the city than under the profligate mayor Lyons.
Cambridge didn’t hire its one and only professionally trained city manager until 1968. The first manager, “Colonel” John B. Atkinson, was a shoe manufacturer.21 As the “Colonel” was about to move into his office, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. I have not yet found a way to blame Plan E for this. But the first city manager and Plan E had no trouble taking the credit for ending the city’s fiscal crisis. But it was the War that allowed them to cut the tax rate five years in a row.
Blitzing the Slums
In hindsight, the urban highway and renewal programs of the 1950s and 60s were ‘tragic mistakes.’ By 1967, they had ‘involuntarily displaced’ perhaps four million persons throughout the country.22 Hundreds of communities were ruined. In cities like ours, universities and cold-war Research & Development firms were the intended beneficiaries. There was more than a casual relationship between these policies and the ‘civil unrest’ of the 1960s. One recalls the nicknames, ‘Urban Removal,’ and ‘Negro Removal.’ Even in cases where plans were never actually carried out, just the threat could devastate neighborhoods.23
The Cambridge plan entailed the eviction of thousands of residents. It would have smashed working-class neighborhoods throughout the city, including
Were these only the plans of right-wing real estate profiteers, advocates of the ‘free market’ and social darwinism? No, these were the policies of ‘progressives’ and liberals, draped with the ideology of housing reform and modern city planning.24
These renewal policies were hatched in the midst of World War II. During that same time, a revised zoning code was promulgated in Massachusetts, allowing more intensive development, encouraging smaller apartments and more high-rises. The previous annual cap on zoning variance petitions was removed.25
The head of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, Dr James J Lawler, in 1941 warned that the “flight of the affluent” was causing the city to “decline into blight.” City manager Atkinson warned that “Cambridge [was] changing from a university to an industrial town because of the increase in industry, and after the war the low-income population will increase.” But he saw the chance to attract higher income residents through the state’s new zoning and transportation plans; he recommended “razing of large old houses.” for high-rise development.26
As early as 1940, MIT’s Dean McCormack carried out a survey of the Western Avenue “slum,” using ‘cliffies’ and volunteers from the League of Women Voters, “to determine whether low cost housing can be successfully built there by private business.” He reckoned that proposed revisions of the zoning law would lower standards enough to allow the job to be done.27
Even before the Feds, Massachusetts put redevelopment statutes on the books to facilitate postwar projects. Right after the War, John Hancock Insurance proposed a massive “John Harvard Town” plan for the heart of the Black community along Western Avenue.28 However, the state redevelopment laws got tied up in court. So the Western Avenue “slum” went on teeming, and the Johns went off to fry other fish.
The state Highway Master Plan came out in 1948. It called for a road through Cambridge. The Planning Board named a route in 1951: nine hundred working-class homes were to be taken along Elm and Brookline Streets.29 But since the state didn’t appropriate any money to carry out this plan, the “Inner Belt” road was on hold.
City councilor Ed Crane was a Cambridge townie who went to Harvard, then helped found the CCA. He helped engineer the 1952 replacement of city manager Atkinson by John J Curry, and thereafter was Mister Big in the 1950s. Crane never liked the highway plans, but delighted in university expansion, and wanted to “blitz the slums” with urban renewal. On September 27, 1954 he alerted the City Council ‘that the recent court approval of the state housing act and the new federal law opened the way for large scale redevelopment plans. He called this “a signal for action.”’30
City manager Curry promptly named a blue-ribbon committee, led by banker and merchant Paul Corcoran, brother of the first Plan E mayor. The Corcoran Committee31 reported in May, 1955.
We suggest that considering Cambridge’s convenience, natural and historical assets and good municipal structure, the city’s rental market is being undersold. Cambridge is not big enough geographically to maintain a competitive tax rate when the rate is based on buildings where the dwelling units rent for $26….
Moreover, the sort of people who found these to be “not attractive homes” were the very people who were leaving the city:
In the past 25 years 2400 dwelling units have been built… this is too slow a replacement rate… We suspect that those of us who live in the environment of the quality of housing which can be bought for a $16, $18, or $20 rental in Cambridge in 1955 could be somewhat puzzled about just what the American heritage is.
Housing renovation was already “economically a satisfactory undertaking,” but the urban renewal program was “a heaven sent opportunity” to tackle the city’s problems more comprehensively.32
CCA President Robert Conley hailed the Corcoran Report as “a turning point in the city’s history.”33 That same month, City Council approved urban renewal 6-2 (the 2 were independents Lynch and Sullivan). Washington approved the city Planning Department’s “workable plan,” which was required for federal funding, in September.
Three months later, rent control ended in Massachusetts. Federal rent controls, established on America’s entry into World War II, had continued for eleven years. Referenda in 1950 and 1952 showed that Cambridge residents supported it 5 to 1. But it ran against the logic of urban renewal. After rent control became a State program, it had to be renewed annually. In 1953 and 1954, the City Council voted 8-0 and 8-1 to retain it.34
But in January, 1955, a vote on extension was approved by only four councilors (all Independents); three CCAers voted against. When it passed the Legislature, at a rowdy meeting, the City Council again accepted it, 8-0. But this time the state law was allowed to expire, on January 1, 1956. In his 1956 budget message, city manager Curry warned “rent gougers who blindly seek to take undue advantage of the expiration… such action might bring higher assessments on their property.”35
Some threat. Any higher property taxes would be passed right along to the tenants. Here was an answer to the Corcoran Committee’s complaint about the low-rent tax base. The Cambridge Tenants Council and others filed rent control bills in the 1956 legislative session. But no city councilor supported them.36
The institutions of urban renewal now quickly took shape. Four disgruntled members quit the Planning Board. Jose Sert, Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, became chair. Sert was also designated planning and design ‘consultant’ to the University. Harvard set up its own Planning Office, ‘to work closely with the city manager and his urban renewal Assistant’-- Mr Draveux Bender, of Brattle Street.37 The central urban renewal agency would be the five-white-guys Redevelopment Authority (CRA).38 The citizens’ interest would be represented by a group of academics and bankers called the Cambridge Advisory Committee (CAC).39
A Harvard student, who would soon become a leading liberal intellectual, explained what was about to be attempted in Cambridge, and why. This is so heavy with racial, class, and elitist assumptions that it’s hard to believe the author is serious:
The University today is in the position of a man about to be eaten by cannibals… At the moment, the cannibals are in the form of the Boston metropolitan area… The fully matured product is visible in a slum-surrounded university like Columbia or Chicago.
It is hard enough to find good teachers. Inducing them to live in slums is next to impossible.… The only alternative is to attack the existing pattern, to develop a new pattern through urban renewal.
Harvard cannot be fitted to a slum community, and Harvard cannot move. The same applies to other institutions. …the entire operation presupposes, however, that the city wants to get rid of its slums. This is not always true, and it is especially unlikely when it is a small city, run by the voters and not the business interests… While people do not like to live in slums, they would rather live in slums than gutters. Tearing down a tenement means displacing families…[thus] the politicians become proponents of the status quo.
Perhaps the most encouraging sign is the Rogers Block project. Displacing 133 families, 357 people, this clearance program… is now nearing reality, which means that the slums will be replaced by industry.40
The site of the demolished Rogers Block remained vacant for eight years, until it was bought by MIT. The ‘industry’ which arose there was called Tech Square.
The CAC’s Review Committee of landlords and developers produced, in 1961, an outline for the future development of the city. They recommended:
Amazing how clairvoyant these guys were! At a City Council meeting some years later, Al Vellucci told Harvard’s L. Gard Wiggins, “I believe you have a master plan.” Wiggins protested, “We’re just not that smart - we haven’t got a plan.”42
Yes - and no. You might not be smart, and still have a master plan. You could be part of a plan you inherit - like your class and your skin.
Road to ruin
The federal Highway Act of 1956 meant that projects like the Inner Belt would be 90% federally funded. Here was great news for the Boston newspapers, Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and Governor Volpe. It was of interest to Harvard and MIT too, although they said nothing publicly.43 The CAC welcomed the news, not despite, but because of the mass evictions it would entail. For the neighborhoods east of Central Square were nothing to write home about:
These blighted areas swallow up 54 percent of the municipal tax dollar and in return produce only 6 percent of the tax.44
Mark Fortune, the city’s Planning Director, told a Chamber of Commerce luncheon meeting that, forget the loss of 3000 residents and $3-1/2 million taxable, the Elm Street - Brookline Street route would
"trigger the redevelopment of the eastern end of the city…. It makes possible the rebirth of Central Square in terms of retail and office building development."45
Far from choking on their luncheons, the Chamber’s Board unanimously agreed.
They even did a “survey” of East Cambridge businesses, which (quel surpris!) favored an East-Central Belt route, 73-37.46
The Belt was always more than just a road. Remember the 1911 “boulevard” to “check the spread of” immigrants? There was a 1928 plan for “a broad highway” to segregate industry and the “criminal class” from the better residential areas. Over sixty years, the route, and its rôle as a social barrier, remained unchanged.47
The City Council was in a bind. The Planning Board wanted the Brookline-Elm route, and the Feds considered the Inner Belt to be part of the urban renewal plan.48 Most councilors wanted urban renewal, but couldn’t bring themselves to endorse that route. They couldn’t agree on another route, either. They gladly shifted the onus to their ‘professional’ city government. In 1959, the Council voted 7-1 to forward the Planning Board‘s report to the state. Independent councilor Watson ‘argued in vain that submission of the Planning Board’s report in effect was endorsement of the Brookline-Elm Street route…’49
In 1961, State Rep John Toomey got the Legislature to grant veto power over highway routes to affected cities. That only prolonged the political anguish. CCA President Vorenburg promptly informed legislators that his group didn’t want the veto.50 Indeed in 1958, the CCA declared that the Elm/Brookline Belt would be “of great advantage to Cambridge” --
Understandably, many families and property owners who expect personal loss have protested… If defense of the proposed location is not as loudly voiced, however, Cambridge as a whole may stand to lose. For the route will cut across Cambridge somewhere…
Its 1959 election platform reiterated “enthusiastic support” for urban renewal and “active support” for that route. These were the years when Mayor Ed Crane would say: “As Harvard and MIT grow, so grows the city of Cambridge.”51
Max Kargman told the Cambridge Council of Realtors (chowing down at the Harvard Faculty Club), they were “blessed with a fine Board and a favorable urban renewal climate.”52 Kargman was just then building Riverview, the City’s first housing development under urban renewal.
But the climate began to change when they demolished Boston’s West End. The general middle-class public, which had been subjected to so much pro-renewal propaganda, now watched a living neighborhood cry out as ‘clearance’ wasted it to put up a flock of hideous luxury high-rises.53
It came out just then that urban renewal in Cambridge’s Riverside neighborhood was also going to be a ‘clearance’ program.54
At first, the neighbors had welcomed renewal. In 1955, the Houghton [King] PTA and Riverside Neighborhood Association (RNA) had held a big joint meeting on the theme, “Let’s Get Urban Renewal for the Riverside Area.” In 1957, a “nondenominational” group of community leaders petitioned to put the entire neighborhood under urban renewal. ( Non-denominational was 1950s talk for diverse.) At St Paul’s, Msgr Hickey told his parish that President Eisenhower and Pope Pius were “on our side” to “complete the urban renewal program.”55
Harvard was - just then - pushing rapidly into St Paul’s parish. Leverett and Quincy House were new, and the huge Peabody Terrace development was on the way. The University even tried to buy the Corporal Burns playground from the city.56
Now came the disillusionment. Hearing that “(e)ntire blocks would be cleared for new residential structures…,” five hundred residents jammed a public hearing at the Community Center. The CRA reassured another meeting at the Western Avenue Baptist by explaining that it would be “two, three, four years before some families will have to move.”57
Dorothy Sullivan of Howard Street had been one of the 1957 pro-renewal petitioners. Now she opposed the Houghton plan. Enricius Evereteze of the RNA commented, “It seems that the city no longer wants to tolerate the people of color who are so well integrated in the Houghton area.” The ‘Houghton maximum plan’ envisaged ‘relocation’ for 800 of the neighborhood’s 2000 families!58
In February, 1962, the spotlight shifted to Area Three. City officials, the CAC and the Chamber of Commerce testified at City Council for the 114-acre Donnelly Field plan. 150 residents rejected the bait of funding for the new Harrington School. The crowd at the next public hearing was still larger and angrier.59 But the Council voted 5-4 to take the land, anyway. On May 14, an anti-urban renewal crowd of 300, in the Chronicle’s words, ‘nearly raised the roof’ at City Council. When a renewal proponent referred to “blight” in his neighborhood, councilor Vellucci declared: “Homes are not blight!”60
Pearl K Wise, the first woman ever to serve on the Cambridge City Council, listened. Legend has it that Al Vellucci took her on a tour of his neighborhood before the decisive vote. He must have remembered that she had voted against urban renewal’s first housing development.61
On May 28, 1962, ‘Hurling accusations of unfair practices, social arrogance, and class ignorance’ against the CRA, Wise voted with the Independents Goldberg, Sullivan and Vellucci against the Donnelly plan. The Houghton and Cambridgeport plans were shelved immediately. A month later, urban renewal was canceled for the entire city.62 The CCA Board was stunned. In response to their accusations of betrayal, councilor Wise read aloud from a CRA circular which warned,
“If the urban renewal program is defeated in Cambridge, it can reasonably be expected that families dislocated by Boston’s ten renewal projects would move into Cambridge…”
“This is incredible,” she said. “I welcome people into Cambridge from Roxbury, from Beacon Hill, from Milton, from Randolph, or wherever they may come.”63
Thus was the unity of interest between the Riverside and Donnelly neighborhoods realized in the act of a uniquely courageous politician. That she arose in its ranks was the CCA’s glory; her fall was its shame. Expecting to lose CCA endorsement, Pearl Wise never ran for reelection.
One CCA city councilor, G. d’Andelot Belin, resigned in disgust after this defeat. A residents’ group, recognized by the city as the Wellington-Harrington Citizens Committee, soon produced their own neighborhood plan, which resulted in Harwell Homes; and the new Harrington School got built anyway.
The Space Age
Though urban renewal died, yet it lived. University enrollments doubled during the 1960s, and MIT in particular became a major purchaser of industrial real estate. The redevelopment effort now focused on the industrial economy.
We are told that the Kendall Square area was “an ugly and decayed industrial wasteland” crying out for redevelopment. The Feds decided this would be a good place to locate the space agency, NASA. MIT’s President Killian thought so too, opining that Kendall Square was “as blighted industrial-wise as the Rogers Block was residentialwise.” A Brattle Street progressive later called it “a whole area of inferior blue-collar jobs.”64
The Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers and 93 existing businesses didn’t think it was all that bad. Businessman Edward S. Simpson flatly denied that the area was declining. There was even ‘a well financed plan by industrialists to have NASA locate elsewhere.’65
Despite ten years of intensive urban renewal planning and propaganda, there had as yet been no mass exodus of factories. Lever Bros.’ departure accounted for half the 15% decline in industrial employment between 1956 and ‘64. Twelve thousand Cantabrigians still worked in the city’s blue-collar industries.66
Councilor Tom Mahoney observed how this could quickly change: there might be “1, 2, or 3 Tech Squares going up to support NASA.” The NASA installation itself would be devastating: “(W)e’re certainly not interested in that,” said Councilor Vellucci, “with its displacement of 3300 jobs.”67 But mayor Crane ‘Quoted a NASA official as saying they might as well move out to route 128’ as go elsewhere in Cambridge. Vellucci still talked about elsewheres -- such as, “To hell with NASA.” But the Council approved the site, and the CCA congratulated those who voted for it.68 Alfred Cohn, the CCA’s new president, conceded that NASA might be “a burden to some of our businessmen, yet it may bring us the kind of employment and investment which is most desirable for Cambridge… The pattern of the future is set by NASA and Technology Square.”69
Mayor Dan Hayes, a North Cambridge businessman and landlord, was no CCA fan. But he shared Cohn’s enthusiasm. NASA would be “a gigantic magnet for the location of related… industries [and] will greatly enhance our local universities.” He hailed the high-rise Central Plaza office project as the “forerunner” of a boom which “in five years will transform the city into a great metropolis.”70
Spaulding & Slye got interested in the Central Plaza project because of Central Square’s convenience to the two universities, NASA and the Inner Belt. That was also the big selling point for a new apartment building at 101 Western Avenue. Paul Corcoran, concerned “how best to capitalize on” NASA, hoped the Feds might fund a Central Square “rejuvenation” study.71
All this talk about ‘rebirth’ and ‘rejuvenation’ conjures up a thoroughly decrepit Central Square.72 Actually there were four department stores, four supermarkets, two appliance and several big furniture stores, lots of drug stores, barber and beauty shops; restaurants, pubs, shoe and clothing stores; two bowling alleys, retailers of meat, fish, baked goods, and candy. There were flourishing churches, the Chronicle office, and WCAS radio. Factories bustled on its eastern edge.… What, exactly, needed to be fixed?
If Central Square was to be fixed by NASA and the Inner Belt, why invest in its future as a working-class shopping center? Business leadership was already showing indifference to the traditional local customer base. The Businessmen’s Association repeatedly brought in petitions for parking lots at the expense of local working-class housing. The first time, some city councilors ‘expressed concern’ that 75 families would have to be evicted. But they approved, and kept on approving.73
For Al Vellucci, it was a political consequence of Pearl Wise’s exposure of CRA racism, that “a Negro” should be appointed to the CRA. Wise was the only CCA councilor who agreed. CCA-endorsed council candidate Tom Coates indignantly rejected Vellucci’s idea as implying that “Negroes” couldn’t rely on city officials, that they were “less than first-class” citizens.74
Coates went on to become the first Black city councilor. The first Italian and Jewish councilors had also run on CCA slates; and the first women. The CCA supported the construction of public housing, and campaigned on issues like police abusiveness toward Afro-Americans. These were creditable positions, ‘progressive’ in the best sense -- but always subservient to the imperatives of redevelopment.
And like redevelopment, these fine policies were often confined to neighborhoods other than those inhabited by CCA voters. Take the location of public housing. A lot of it was built after World War II, but none in ‘CCA neighborhoods.’75 The CCA rank and file were undoubtedly puzzled at the hostility and distrust of working-class people. “Blue-collar and no-collar people are by no means our best readers,” wrote a woman from a ‘CCA neighborhood’ to the paper. She thought we needed to be “educated” about the beneficence of the CCA, universities, and urban renewal agencies.76
At the same time, a pro-development ‘Independent’ like Mayor Hayes needed a way to channel class resentment away from the universities. He found a way in the ‘hippies’ who were then moving into the Inner Belt area.77 Some of these hippies might actually be local working-class youths, but mostly they seemed to be déclassé outsiders, who could be scapegoated like a despised ethnic group, but without the political liability. The famous ‘War on Hippies’ was the centerpiece of Hayes’ 1967 reelection campaign: “undesirables… worthless… intolerable….” But he was careful to deny that the colleges attracted their presence. Al Vellucci was right in there too, berating those “hippies, transient beatniks, gypsies, and other undesirable persons.” With great fanfare, local police raided some ‘digger’ apartments.78
There was something else about these hippies. They looked like the young people who had stood with Allston residents, blocking bulldozers at an urban renewal project in August, 1965. The cops had laid into the kids and American flags with dogs and clubs; many homes were demolished; but the “eviction day riots” had brought the project to a halt. In 1967 came Tent City: residents took over an urban renewal site, stopped the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s South End master plan, and a tenant-based movement temporarily reversed the gentrification of that neighborhood.79
Having got the local highway veto power repealed in 1965, Governor Volpe set Cambridge a deadline to decide where to put its section of the Inner Belt. The crisis spawned new grass-roots organizations: Neighbors United and Save Our Cities. In mass meetings they discussed tactics from letter-writing to “direct action.” Volunteer planner/advocates tried to help by working for a ‘realistic’ Albany St. route compromise; rank and file activists continued to oppose any and all routes.80
The approaching deadline forced MIT to publicly oppose a possible railroad/Albany Street route: it would violate “national security,” shaking up delicate labs in the “arsenal of democracy.” MIT emphatically did not oppose the Elm Street/Brookline route. The CCA was still ready to look at “reasonable alternatives,” despite the fact that its own Board had voted to “oppose any Inner Belt construction in Cambridge.”81 Some of the group’s elected councilors were far more in touch with the constituents. Tom Mahoney said, “We are being pressured to choose a route…But Cambridge doesn’t have to accept the assertion there must be a Belt route….” His old friend Ed Crane was, as usual, more blunt: “Kill it and damn it.”82
Vellucci often opposed “any and all Inner Belts,” but could also complain that delaying a decision on the route was costing millions in urban renewal matching funds. He wasn’t above baiting the west side and the CCA by proposing Memorial Drive as an alternative route (provoking the so-called ‘Save the Sycamores’ protest).83
On the Belt route, as in Kendall Square, factory owners did not gracefully accept the blight label. Dynatech, Simplex, Boston Woven Hose, and NECCO actively opposed any routes which would displace them.84
Taken aback by growing resistance, Volpe ordered a restudy. Certainly not out of sympathy; after all, as he told the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, “If you want an omelet, you have to break a few eggs.” Now, however, Washington’s own eggs would be broken: two neighborhoods on the Belt Route were chosen to be a Model Cities demonstration project.85 Though designed as a ‘sandbox’ to divert inner city activists from political confrontation, neighborhood activists were able to use the Model Cities program in their struggle to ‘Beat the Belt.’86
At this point, Volpe entered the Nixon Administration as the first US Secretary of Transportation. Former public works Commissioner Frank Sargent became Governor. The Feds brought out a new ‘joint development concept’ to bribe the cities by granting them air rights to development over the new highways. None of this stopped the growing highway opposition. Even the normally reserved mayor Walter Sullivan found himself leading one of those 1960s protest marches - against the Inner Belt.87
The movement against the highways was spreading to the suburbs; part of a larger Movement which made it “hard to believe that an army of engineers in peace time would have the power to bulldoze 5000 family dwellings for a highway.” Finally Governor Sargent got on TV and said that the highway plan had been a terrible mistake. There would be no Inner Belt.88
There would be no NASA, either. Kendall Square had been cleared, and one building already erected, but Nixon decided to put NASA in Houston, instead.89
The return of rent control
Four years after scrapping its 1962 “maximum plan,” the CRA was back in Riverside, this time proposing to displace only 101 households. The RNA wasn’t interested. Too many neighbors were displaced already. Jeremiah Conway spoke of the Irish driven from ‘Kerry Corner’ by Harvard expansion. Lucille Crayton said, “It looks like they’d let us stay here. There’s only a few colored left.…I’m fighting to the end.”90
There were a few too many people of color, however: since the Houghton School was 50.5% ‘non-white,’ it violated the new State racial imbalance law! School committeeman Frank Duehay advised Riverside residents that a planned new Houghton School could “restore racial balance” by being big and attractive. But the new school needed federal funding, and that was conditioned on neighborhood acceptance of urban renewal.91 All racial calculations were in turn subject to continual correction because of Harvard’s insatiable appetite for the neighborhood’s land. By the time the King School opened, two more blocks had been cleared for Mather House.92
The university had devoured most of its Irish neighbors, and was now staring in the windows of the Afro-Americans. This was the situation in 1969, the year of the Harvard Strike; and when a militant young welfare mom named Saundra Graham led Riverside residents in the famous disruption of Harvard’s 1970 commencement.
‘Crisis’ brings to mind a sudden, sharp event, followed by a state of ‘normalcy’ In Cambridge, however, a housing crisis is normal; by 1964, it was getting worse. A State commission noted that the supply of low-income housing was decreasing even as demand was increasing. Two years later a realtor stated flatly, “There are no longer any low-priced or moderate rentals now available in Cambridge.” A CRA survey of apartment vacancies supported this observation. By 1967, the ‘Housing Crisis’ was the talk of the town.93
However, not a single local politician raised the issue of rent control. The favored approach to high rents was rather to subsidize them. ‘Leased Housing’ was the ‘Section 8’ program of the era. Cambridge had got 400 of these, but landlords took up only 16 of them the first year, and by the second only 74. Cambridge Housing Authority Commissioner Eddie Martin explained, “In this city, landlords tell you flatly they don’t need government money.” Moreover, CHA had managed to build only 200 of 1500 new public housing units allotted it by the Feds.94
In the summer of ‘68, CEOC released a survey of some 2000 elders, which found that over half “face[d] an existence in which they cannot afford the basic necessities of life.” CEOC staff organizers tried to persuade people not to bring the rent control issue into the citywide housing meeting they were planning. They felt it would be too divisive.95 But the largely elderly crowd of 900 who jammed St Mary’s parish hall for the Sept 14 Housing Convention remembered the 1950s. Every neighborhood caucus brought rent control resolutions to the floor, and a committee was formed to draw up an ordinance.
The newly founded local Peace and Freedom Party (PFP) had already written a rent control ordinance and began a campaign to put it on the 1969 ballot. The radical PFP believed that the Feds were funding CEOC to further their master plan to make Cambridge an exclusive war research center. They were wrong, in that the Housing Convention’s rent control committee had escaped CEOC’s control. It turned out they were right that lobbying couldn’t persuade the City Council to pass rent control.
Now the rent control drive received support from an unexpected source. Assistant city manager Justin Gray and city planner Ellen Feingold reported, “The city’s effort …to meet the need for housing for low income families has been almost nonexistent.… The city does have the power to institute rent control and such controls are necessary.”96
Boston and Brookline had already passed some weak rent regulations, but in Cambridge, the petition campaign quickly ran into resistance. Councilors Goldberg and Hayes tried to deny PFP a routine table permit because they distributed “inflammatory literature.”97 With an eye to funding sources, the Board of Riverside’s Community Center ordered both the PFP and CEOC to stop holding ‘pot party’ rent control meetings there. (You had to have been at those meetings to appreciate what a howler that was.) In each case, a militant protest reversed the decision.
A woman’s murder in one of Harvard’s neglected off-campus buildings led to the first tenant union. Others followed at Linwood Place and Columbia Street in Area 4. An elderly evictee was found living in a laundromat on River Street after her apartment building on Mass. Avenue was demolished.98 The great 1969 Harvard strike erupted; besides an end to complicity with the Viet Nam War and a Black Studies program, the students demanded rent control and stopping Harvard expansion in North Roxbury and Riverside.99
The rent control threat led Mr Carl Barron to set up the Cambridge Property Owners Association (CPOA). Suddenly, CPOA landlords snapped up the rest of the Leased Housing quota.100
In July 1969, after an elaborate dance of amendments and motions, the City Council voted 5-4 against the Housing Convention’s rent bill. The crowd’s rage compelled the councilors to leave by the rear exit. In September, city solicitor Philip Cronin told the Election Commission not to place the 8,000-signature PFP petition on the ballot. Protesters broke through police barring the Commission’s next meeting; 41 were arrested. Next week, a crowd blockaded a family’s eviction at 73 School Street. PFP went to court to force the rent petition on the ballot but they were denied.101
A few months later, Fr. Butler of Cambridgeport’s Blessed Sacrament said that 200 of the 800 families in his parish had moved away in one year, the majority because of high rents.102 Model Cities activist Lorraine Williams warned legislators that if they didn’t pass something quickly, “tenants will make their own rent control.” And indeed, the spring of 1970 saw the militant new Cambridge Tenants Organizing Committee (CTOC) urging tenants to resist rent increases, and blocking evictions in the streets around Central Square.
Republican governor Sargent signed the statewide rent control enabling act on Aug 30, 1970; the Cambridge City Council accepted it without debate.103 Effective Oct 17, rents were to be ‘rolled back’ to March 1970 levels. But city manager Corcoran warned tenants they would be evicted if they did this. City solicitor Cronin, acting as temporary administrator of the program he had recently ruled off the ballot, promptly declared rent control wasn’t in effect; but, just in case, he also proclaimed “a general adjustment of rents to the current level of rents.”104
CTOC became a citywide organization in a defiant campaign to “Roll Back Rents Dec 1.” The city fathers watched in dismay as a mass of young renters were swept into the political life of the city. Corcoran conceded that law’s effectiveness as of Dec 1. But on that morning thousands of tenants awakened to notices that their landlords had got ‘hardship exemptions’ from rent control! Some were demoralized by these shenanigans; others were only radicalized.105
With William Corkery as permanent rent administrator, closed administrative hearings and a rigged formula for ‘fair net operating income’ began cranking out huge rent increases. Hundreds of tenants were priced out of their homes - by rent control. To cap the irony, Cambridge tenants were rescued from ‘their’ local law when it was superseded by President Nixon’s 1971 national rent and price freeze.106
On Dec 20, 1971 five councilors suddenly introduced an order to repeal rent control. Three of them would leave office in ten days; three were Independents and two CCAs. The vote was to be Dec 27. Eight hundred people jammed into the chamber and hallways. Since everyone had a right to speak for 10 minutes, the ‘people’s filibuster’ would talk, sing and shout, until New Year’s if necessary, to stop the ‘lame ducks’ voting. Finally the Council agreed to adjourn to Rindge Auditorium, two nights later. Two thousand people showed up at Rindge, but their mikes were never switched on. As soon as outgoing mayor Vellucci banged his gavel, councilor Danehy called the question, and the Clerk started the roll call. Amid deafening chants of “no vote!” councilors fought for the podium. As a crowd surged against the stage, councilors Clinton, Coates, Crane, Danehy and Sullivan huddled behind a cordon of uniformed police and voted; so the vote was 5-0 to end rent control.
The politicians never forgot those weeks. CTOC struggled to organize a citywide rent withholding. Mayor Ackermann told the Boston Globe, “the radicals are in control.” The new City Council met in auditoriums to accommodate the crowds, which insisted that its first order of business was to reaffirm rent control.107
This same month, the new CCA-majority School Committee moved to dump Cambridge native Lawrence Frisoli as Superintendent of Schools. Again, Rindge Auditorium was stuffed with people. The public hearing crackled with ethnic and racial tension, intensified by live broadcast on Channel 2. Frisoli was accused of racism; indeed, he had recently ordered the director of the official Civic Unity Committee - a Black woman - arrested in his office. Frisoli’s supporters accused the CCA of something very similar. As former councilor Maher shouted to the crowd:
Just look at some of the names of the people they‘re going after - Corkery, Cronin, Corcoran… The Protestants are taking over!
Though the tenant movement had nothing to do with the struggle going on around the school committee, these names were linked through the rent control issue, an issue that divided CCA-endorsed elected officials. The CCA Board would say only that the Corcoran administration had “subverted the intent of the Rent Control Ordinance,” causing “chaos for both landlords and tenants.” Rather than advocate rent control, these usually frugal folks now advanced a proposal to spend three million tax dollars to buy land for housing.108
The CCA was divided by a progressive paradox. Rent control might help people whom liberals sincerely wanted to help, but it would also obstruct the growth of the University City. CCA activists included tenants, but also landlords and developers. Politically, as a PFP leader was told on a 1969 visit to the CCA office, rent control might only serve to keep in Cambridge ‘the kind of people who vote for Walter Sullivan.’
Why, then, would Independents like Sullivan oppose such a law? First, many of their friends were landlords. Then too, with the decline of political patronage under Plan E, they needed favors from institutions like Harvard. Politically, they saw that young tenant activists were ‘issue-oriented,’ and so might be attracted to other issues, and to CCA platforms which cobbled together issues with their votes in mind. Thus, Independents class-baited rent control as an ‘elitist’ issue.
On February 7, 1976, ABT Associates hosted an invitation-only meeting of CCA and other progressive leaders, to talk about the strength of tenant and other community movements. This was not about how to help these movements secure their goals, but how to co-opt them to achieve ‘progressive’ electoral majorities.109 As former CCA director Jerry Cole, a firm opponent of rent control, explained,
The question is whether the professionals or the long-term, primarily middle class of the city - the ethnic and working and middle class, who have city jobs, who climbed the civil service ladder, either they’re going to run the city or the professionals are going to run the city.110
After 1972, Rent Board chairs and directors were always recruited from the CCA. As a landlord representative on the Board for 22 years, former CCA president Alfred Cohn was able to decisively shape policy. (One of the Board’s first acts decontrolled university-owned apartments rented by Harvard and MIT ‘affiliates.’ At the same time, young professionals began to predominate within the CCA itself. Some of them were rent control tenants, some with leftish or feminist ideals. By 1977, candidates for city council had to support rent control to get CCA endorsement.
CTOC, Hard Times and the other radical tenant groups, little concerned with elections, had shunned the bourgeois CCA. But these groups broke up and in 1977 a ‘Rent Control Task Force’ was organized to endorse city council candidates. Tenant policy leadership passed largely from radical organizers to liberal academics.111 So it was that this reform, having been originally forced upon a reluctant ‘liberal establishment’ by radical leadership and popular pressure, evolved into a partisan issue. The incestuous relationship between media and elected politicians ensured that public memory of rent control’s disreputable origins was soon repressed.
I’m now going to skip over the story of the late 1970s and the whole of the 1980s. I can get away with this because we have already grasped the class and race basis of Cambridge’s development policy by investigating its origins. But to be perfectly frank, I just didn’t have the time to research and write any more. So it’s fast-forward to the present.
An age of diversity
inclinado sobre el río de su consciencia se pregunta si ese rostro que aflora lentamente del fondo, deformado por el agua, es el suyo. - Octavio Paz
Bent in reflection over the river of consciousness, we wonder if these faces welling up from the depths, distorted by the flowing current, are yet ours. We don’t talk and think just the way they did thirty and sixty years ago. Our accents and our cultures clearly aren’t the same. Yet we still have their undemocratic city charter, and development policy is more than ever based on the Universities.
In North Cambridge, an office park is developing in the fragile Alewife flood plain, Harvard is engaged in the big new Sackler project in MidCambridge, and the city is presenting East Cambridge with another huge office park.112 All the neighborhoods have their backs to the wall. But all are fighting back in their characteristic ways, and still remain something of the neighborhoods they’ve ‘always’ been.
Though we have temporarily lost rent control, the same diverse neighborhoods still live and mingle in Central Square; and though many faces have changed, working-class Cambridge is still here. Leading citizens are therefore still complaining about a ‘distressed’ Central Square business district.
If empty storefronts are the indicators of distress, Central Square has been distressed only to the extent that government or developers have made it so. Brookline Street suffered from the Inner Belt threat until 1970. MIT turned the Simplex site into a wasteland until they could proceed with University Park. The developer Schocket boarded up the block at Mass. Ave. and Essex Street for several years, after evicting all the businesses for a project that never got off the ground.113 The perennial distress calls about Central Square boil down to simply that commercial landlords always want more rent.114
City Hall recently spent several million dollars on Central Square sidewalk improvements, crowned by an arrangement of bricks and concrete called ‘Carl Barron Plaza.’ This bordered the Holmes block, a score of largely ‘ethnic’ small businesses catering to a working class clientele. As the barren Plaza neared completion, however, the Development Department announced the imminent eviction of these businesses and their replacement by a luxury high-rise, which ‘made “a perfect fit” to the city’s overall planning efforts.’115
The developer had discussed its plans with the usual insiders. Before the small businesses themselves were informed, the plan was approved by the landlord-dominated Central Square Business Association (CSBA), whose leaders indignantly noted that current Holmes tenants were paying ‘below market rents.’ It was also approved in principle by the Central Square Neighborhood Coalition (CSNC), a small group of professional-class activists who were mostly CCA members.116
Although opponents collected 3,000 signatures against demolition of the Holmes block, inundating public hearings and the CSNC itself with their protest, the media depicted a community more or less evenly divided. The racial and class impacts of the Holmes development were obvious and often voiced, but elected officials declined make an issue of this.117
Opposition to the Holmes project was depicted rather as public incivility, than as a normal expression of political diversity. The Chronicle and Tab saw Save Central Square as thugs, and gave them no credit for the modification undergone by the original proposal. Real dissent was not to be encouraged or even tolerated: “If the public isn’t going to behave, then the decision makers, elected or appointed, are simply going to have to make decisions on their own.” It was not to be respected: “These people are very resentful about the end of rent control… So they lash out to hold onto a part of their lives. It’s like they don’t want to give up their childhoods.” It was hopeless -- “kamikaze politics.”118
The modified project was duly approved, with the Planning Board and Development Department expressing satisfaction that 15% of the ‘units’ would be ‘affordable,’ defining the city’s commitment to diversity in concrete terms. Holmes was no sooner approved, than another swell idea came up. Let’s tear down the nearby ‘7-11 block’ of small businesses to build a huge new main library.119 Because it would be near the subway and ‘densely populated’ neighborhoods, this would be great for the environment and poor people. Also convenient for luxury apartment dwellers at the Holmes site.
A few blocks to the east the city and state are ready to spend another $4 million on ‘Lafayette Square Park.’ It was so tacky to have a gas station right across from MIT’s University Park. The idea was hashed over with the usual ‘decision makers.’ The eyesore was already boarded up by the time the general public were invited to comment on the plan. Some “residents” were afraid the new park might attract crummy people.120 This must have been an incentive for Forest City, the developer of University Park, to sign on to the proposed new Business Improvement District.
A BID is a business association that assesses fees to area property owners within a defined geographical area, according to Arnold Goldstein… The BID then pays for services beyond those provided by the city, such as enhanced cleaning and security, and can collectively market the area to polish what some merchants believe is a lackluster public image of Central Square.121
In any case, the new image is already being marketed. Prospective guests of the new University Park Hotel are assured that they’ll be “located in the heart of Cambridge academia” -- the east end of Central Square! -- where “you’ll find many restaurants reflective of the diverse cultures of the city.”122 Naturally, the diverse types who toil in the kitchens will depart at 2 A.M. by the service exits to go home. Home won’t likely be nearby; for, in the words of a progressive realtor,
Housing in our city is priced to reflect the benefits of our cosmopolitan environment [including] access to hundreds of restaurants representing cuisine from around the world… [that’s] why Cambridge property owners went to war to protect, to liberate, their property and its unencumbered value.”123
The ‘war’ referred to was a relentless anti-rent control media campaign culminating in Question 9 on the 1994 state ballot. The general public has never realized how politically shallow and legally questionable the victory of Question 9 really was.124 How could they? After that election, the very politicians and activists who had long presented themselves as its champions, shunned rent control as a political liability. The new CCA leadership wanted nothing to do with it.
Progressives instead backed the expenditure of 16 million tax dollars, in four years, to help a relatively small number of households stay in Cambridge. They also obtained passage of ‘inclusionary zoning,’ offering developers zoning rights to build bigger luxury buildings if they included affordable apartments. The new apartments would be for people displaced from their neighborhoods by rising rents, leaving their former homes to ‘higher and better’ users. Whether or not this plan ‘worked,’ the net result would be urban renewal: gentrification mitigated by tokenism.125
As the population has become less working-class, city government has become ever more professionalized. Some city councilors used to come straight from the working class -- Al Vellucci, Saundra Graham, Danny Clinton. Today all nine are professionals or professional politicians.126 The current city manager, Robert Healy, has already served far longer than any of his predecessors. Long terms of office lead straight to the ‘old boys’ network’ -- whose smooth operation is in fact, such a valued feature of our current arrangement.127
Three years ago, the city council offhandedly scrapped the one democratic institution which grew up under Plan E. ‘The Count’ used to bring people from every faction and neighborhood together for the week-long process of counting and transferring PR ballots. This civic ceremony was replaced with a computer program to make election results available nine, rather than eight weeks before the winners take the oath of office. The Globe and the Chronicle promptly congratulated Cambridge for choosing professionalism over foolish sentimentalism.
To compensate, we have a new civic ceremony: public officials wringing their hands in ritual despair at threats to Cambridge’s precious (and supposedly unique) diversity. Meanwhile, these very officials interact daily with real estate developers to figure out how to wring the highest possible rents out of the soil of Cambridge. Coincidentally this entails digging up the roots of social diversity, the city’s poor and working-class communities. It turns diversity into mere ambience - in the words of CCA Councilor Davis, “a marvelous potpourri” of restaurants - tinkling with the chatter of grad students and software engineers from every country on earth.
Concern about racism remains at the core of what it means to be a progressive. But race is also a class question, and most progressives in Cambridge are of the professional class. This is why the ‘diversity’ ideal is so ambiguous, and perfectly expresses the progressive paradox in Cambridge. At the King and Agassiz Schools, Afro-American principals were forced from office after conflicts, mostly with professional-class parents, over policy differences which largely corresponded to class differences.128 When the Commonwealth Day School planned to move into the Brattle Street area, professional-class neighbors went xenophobic. Discrimination lawsuits against the city administration largely involve competition over professional-level jobs.129 City Hall’s commitment to justice follows the wandering media spotlight. It commitment to development is guaranteed, off-camera, by armies of full time professionals - real estate, contractors, lawyers, and bureaucrats.
Is it too late?
Prevailing winds in the northern hemisphere blow generally west to east. That’s why our cities have generally assigned the east end to industry and lower-income people, that they might receive the bulk of the effluvia.
After decades of official projections that industry had no future in Cambridge, most of the old factories are gone.130 There is no longer any need for an Inner Belt to separate the west side from the slums. There are no ‘slums.’ Turns out that the blighted structures of yesteryear are perfectly serviceable; in fact some of them today are worth quite a lot of money.
It turns out that it was the people who were the blight, not the buildings.
With so many of its poor and working class people gone, must Cambridge now become an exclusive enclave of wealth and privilege? History alone doesn’t supply the answer. It only gives a sense of possible futures, showing how we arrived at our present situation. We have seen that the enthusiastic proponents of University City were, at the very height of the urban renewal era, dismayed that the city was actually becoming more working-class - and perhaps less ‘white.’ Working-class people and blue-collar employers were not just voluntarily heading for the suburbs. Urban renewal sought systematically to push them out.
Of course, this was not happening only in the Boston area, and some industry went much further away than the suburbs. The methods and mentality of urban renewal are complementary to union-busting and economic globalization - sometimes quaintly called “imperialism.” But low and moderate income working people and their employers would still return to this city if they were able. The question is, whether there is political will to let it happen. Doubtful as that may seem today, politics is fickle, and history has a way of changing unexpectedly. People have stopped highways, and wars, and won rent control, despite all the sneers of the pundits.
Ironically, a lot depends on the professional-class people who now dominate our political life. Professional-class people may have usually opposed working-class interests in the history of this city, but their support was crucial in defeating the original urban renewal plan and winning rent control. For many professionals today, Harvardization and hyper-development have gone too far. Moreover, the current emphasis on the value of ‘diversity,’ however vague, is more than cultural posturing. The class structure itself is changing, and many professionals are insure about their own position amidst the growing imbalances of our economy.
Cambridge does not have to accept its current social direction. Location, and the tenacity of our communities, put us in a strong position to choose. If it is possible to change course anywhere, we can do it here. It is possible, if we will set limits to the institutions and interests which are now threatening to drive out all others, and instead seek a dynamic balance in our local political economy.
To be more precise, a serious defense of Cambridge’s diverse communities means ending the city’s one-track university-based economic strategy. It requires not only a will to reject development, but also a determination to pursue development toward a balanced economy. By a balanced economy, we mean one which tries to offer gainful employment to all, in as broad a variety of industries as feasible; and a culture of respect for nature, appropriate to the land we dwell on.
Because the political economy has already carried us so far toward University City, only a rather drastic reversal can return Cambridge to balance. This means an absolute preference for employers of primarily blue-collar labor. The city should decide that not one single such employer should have to leave involuntarily, even at the considerable inconvenience of the institutions and employers of professional labor. It also means favoring locally-controlled small retail businesses, whose stake in the community allows them to accept smaller and more variable profit margins.
The communities of Cambridge can’t stand further expansion of university facilities into their commercial and residential areas. We must educate these institutions to accept limits and respect their neighbors. Because Harvard and MIT profess a universal (not to say imperial) mission, this has more than local implications. If they can push their own neighbors around, and violate their own environment with impunity, what brutal generations of masters will come out of Cambridge, the imperial University City of the twenty-first century!
In a city like Cambridge, rent control remains the keystone of any serious housing policy. Rent control should be class-conscious and community conscious, granting relief to landlords who house low and middle income residents, and requiring higher income tenants to share the cost of administering a program not designed mainly for them. The lower property valuations brought about by regulation are necessary to stabilize and balance our social economy. Regulation should be used to leverage subsidies and increase opportunities for working-class homeownership.
These economic policies clearly mean less intensive revenue and tax-producing use of land. This in turn implies a different kind of budget, appropriate to a middle- and working-class rather than a rich city. Taking balance and diversity seriously will mean that government will have both more responsibility and less money.
City economic policy should include regional cooperation with neighboring cities. After all, we all benefit from the jobs located there. The point of encouraging industry to locate here rather than in, say, Somerville or Chelsea is primarily to influence the character of our neighborhoods and our politics. All poor and working people should benefit if jobs, affordable housing and public transportation are kept together near the center of the metropolitan area.
Possibly our neighbors would like to share some of our professional and institutional abundance. It would be a good thing for all of us if they did. The alternative is continued drift toward municipal apartheid of the poor, middle-class, and rich, a disaster for the whole republic.131
Democracy is no guarantor of justice, but there will never be justice without democracy. Direct election of mayors is no more than a minimal requirement for a democratic city. After sixty years of ‘Uncle Bob’ government, we fear democracy, afraid that an elected strong mayor may be one of them, rather than one of us.
Legislative bodies like city councils are and ought to be divided. Their role is to represent differences within the wider community. This, not lack of charter powers, is what makes any city council ‘weak’ vis-a-vis the city manager. This is one reason city councils have trouble holding city managers accountable. The other is the strong temptation to use the manager to avoid accountability themselves.
An elected mayor might be no better, but is unlikely to be worse, than an unelected manager. If we are ready to change course, we shall install an executive accountable to the voters. This will be a signal, to ourselves and to all others, that we don’t want to keep on sliding toward the monolithic University City; that we want to give force to our own plans for the future; that we are willing to be free.
1 Harvard Strike Steering Committee, Cambridge: Transformation of a Working Class City (1969),
2 It does this essentially by putting the city administration under the control of an appointed city manager. In the conditions of the time this was also the effect of at-large voting by Proportional Representation. Though formally very democratic, PR disproportionally rewards slate-voters, which working-class Cantabrigians were usually not. ‘Middle-class’ voters were more likely to vote on the basis of a platform, others were more likely to vote for only local politicians they knew and trusted - often only one per office.
3 Unless otherwise noted, the facts and quotes which follow are drawn from East Side, West Side Cambridge 1900-1920, (CTOC, xeroxed,1975)
4 The 1914 collection of manuscript essays by sociologists and social workers, Zones of Emergence, (1962), reveals the reformers’ conscious attitudes toward immigrants, eg: “The Jew in the Port is dirty, hard-working and successful” (p.77)“As a whole the Lithuanians are a primitive and childlike people”(p.79) “The punishment of a colored child is felt to be discrimination…Yet the colored child is not the equal of the white child in comprehension, execution, and order”(p.82)…
5 Robert W DeForest, Lawrence Veiller (Ed) The Tenement House Problem, 2 vols (1903)
6 Cambridge Chronicle, 7/21/35 Pp 1B, 6B; 3/7/40 p.15. The reader should bear in mind that in the 1930s there was no inflation.
7 John H Corcoran, CTA Secretary, would be the first Plan E mayor.
8 Cambridge Chronicle, 3/23/34 p.1B
9 Mayor Russell furnishes us a clear public example of what we might call ‘class racism’ among the Irish. Russell badly wanted to get rid of Frank Lehan, a popular ward politician who had served as Treasurer since World War I. The City Council balked at all his replacements. Finally, to win over the vote of pro-Lehan city councilor Charles Shea, Russell nominated Shea’s brother, William. Charles, rankled at the Mayor for firing his sister from a petty City Hall job, voted against his brother anyway. After this vote, the Mayor met Shea in the hallway and blurted out, “You dirty Irish rat!” Cambridge Chronicle, 3/21/30 p.1; 5/22/31 p.1 (When Lehan was finally removed by pneumonia, his funeral procession may have been the longest in Cambridge history. Cambridge Chronicle, 4/10/31, p.1)
10 Cambridge Chronicle, 7/18/35 p.1; 6/4/36 p.4; 7/30/36 p.1
11 Cambridge Chronicle, 3/9/28 p.5
12 Cambridge Chronicle,10/20/38 p.8. Even after the mayor’s indictment, the anti-Lyons Harvard newspaper spoke only of “scandal, mismanagement, and inefficiency.” Harvard Crimson 11/18/41
13 Cambridge Chronicle, 6/2/38 p.9; 6/23/38 p.1; 7/7/38 p.12; 8/11/38 p.12; 6/27/40, p.15; 7/5/40, p.1
14 Cambridge Chronicle, 10/13/38 p.1; 11/3/38 p.10. Cambridge Tribune, 3/28/41, p.1
15 Cambridge Chronicle, 4/27/39 p.1; 5/18/39 Pp 14, 20; 4/11/40 p.1;3/14/40 p.1; Harvard Crimson, 3/11/41; 11/18/41; Cambridge Tribune 4/19/40 p1;[text of Bankers’letter] 7/5/40 p2
16 Cambridge Chronicle, 3/20/41 p.1; 1/12/67 p.6
17 Cambridge Tribune, 4/4/41 p1. Crane had introduced an order that the city should sue to recover city money paid to persons to who had admitted bribery in their testimony against Lyons.
18 Mayor Russell was accused of favoritism in the construction of the Rindge Tech High School building. The bonding was done by the principal owner of the contractor (US Realty and Improvement, NJ) The architect, Ralph H Doane, who was the Mayor’s cousin, received a fee of $90,000 at the same time as Russell told city workers to “voluntarily” forego wages in the fiscal crisis of the early Depression. Cambridge Chronicle, 7/24/31, p.1; 2/12/32, p.1; 7/1/32 p.1. The completed building was found to have many defects, including 47 roof leaks. Cambridge Chronicle, 9/8/33 p.1
19 Hans Loeser in CCA Bulletin, March 1959 p.1
20 see especially pages 12 and 15 below
21 State A.F.of L. president Nicholas P Morrisey protested at Atkinson’s swearing-in, saying that his Bata Shoe Co was an “exemplary sweatshop.” Cambridge Chronicle, 1/8/42 p.6
22 National Commission on Urban Problems, Sen.Paul Douglas, Building the American City, Washington DC (1968) p.82
23 Anderson, Federal Bulldozer (1964); Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (1974), esp. Pp 967-76(1971). Wolf, Land in America (1981)p.226: “The most common corridor… passed through ‘poor neighborhoods,’ where land was cheap and where, inevitably, inner-city neighborhoods, whose residents had little political power, would be destroyed. …Typically, once designated, the proposed highway corridor was allowed to remain untouched for years, sometimes for decades, while incremental disinvestment and abandonment within it occurred. …”
24 Goodman, After the Planners (1971); Grigsby in Wilson (ed) Urban Renewal (1966), p.24: “The [private] residential real estate market works only once. It creates, alters, maintains and improves, and eventually discards assets, but seems incapable of providing for their replacement on the site.” Harrington, The Other America, 1961, p.164-5: “Based upon the proposition that poverty forms a culture, an interdependent system… a campaign against the misery of the poor should be comprehensive… along the lines of establishing new communities, of substituting a human environment for the inhuman one that now exists. Here, housing is probably the basic point of departure.… for a crusade against the other America.”
25 Cambridge Chronicle, 11/13/41 Pp 7-16; 3/12/42 p.2
26 Cambridge Chronicle, 11/13/41 p.16; 7/22/43 p.1; 7/27/44 p.4. Cambridge even put in a serious bid to get the headquarters of the newly-established UN located here!
27 Cambridge Chronicle, 2/8/40 Pp.1, 8
28 Cambridge Chronicle, 11/7/46 p.1
29 Cambridge Chronicle, 7/5/51 p,1
30 Cambridge Chronicle, 9/30/54 p.1 The 1949 Housing Act talked about “redevelopment.” This became “urban renewal” with 1954 Act, which added generous incentive subsidies.
31 Committee members: Bowden (County Bank); Townsend (Chamber of Commerce); Burns (Housing Authority); city manager Curry; city councilor Watson; Assessor Guiney; Spencer & DeLoria (Building Dept); Smith (Health Dept); Furtune (planner); Cambridge Chronicle, 10/21/54 p.13
32 Cambridge Chronicle, 5/12/55 p.2 Compare: “If we take the view that the basic aim of urban renewal is to accelerate a private market process, then the appearance of conflict disappears and the problem becomes one of seeing that the public programs are rational, efficient adjuncts to the community of private interests and decision-makers.” Wallace F Smith, “The Federal Bulldozer: A Review,” in Wilson (Ed), Urban Renewal, 1966. p.533
33 Cambridge Chronicle, 5/26/55 p. 12
34 Cambridge Chronicle, 5/2/53 p.1; 4/29/54 p.1
35 Cambridge Chronicle, 4/14/55 p.1 [Edward Sullivan (Ind) and Hyman Pill (CCA) absent for this vote]; 2/9/55 p.1
36 Cambridge Chronicle, 9/20/56 p.8
37 Cambridge Chronicle, 7/12/56 p.1
38 CRA: Paul Corcoran; Prof. Chas. Haar (Harvard Law); Thos. Murphy (Boston FinCom); Thad Beal (R.M.Bradley)
39 CAC: P. Corcoran; chairman, R. McKay (Treeland, located on Harvard land); MIT’s Killian, Harvard’s Pusey; George (N Avenue Savings Bank); Judge Good; Walton (Eastern Gas & Fuel); Minamara (Harvard planner); ex-Wellesley Pres Horton; Greene (Camb Gas & Light); Morss (Simplex ); Stevens (A.D.Little); Storer (R.M.B real estate); Percoco (Rubber Workers; brother on Planning Board). Cambridge Chronicle, 8/7/56 p.1 •In 1967, the CAC would name as Executive Director, Paul J Frank - who had 25 years earlier been Executive Secretary of the CTA![see above, Pp.5-7]. Cambridge Chronicle, 5/18/67, p.4.
40 Christopher Jencks, “Urban Renewal Tries to End Danger of Local Blight,” Harvard Crimson, 2/25/56, p.3 This article, was reproduced and given wide circulation by the CCA. Its author has since been one of America’s leading progressive writers on housing and urban questions.
41 Cambridge Chronicle, 2/9/61 p.1; 2/16/61 p.2. Review Committee members: Harding U Greene (chair); Beal, Berg, Corcoran, Skinner, Vappi, Newsome. 11/22/56,p.3
42 Cambridge Chronicle, 3/2/67 p.2
43 Fellman and Brandt: The Deceived Majority, Rutgers, 1973 Pp59, 65,6. Rep. John Toomey testified at a state hearing, ‘in 1959, at a private session at...the MIT faculty building, he had conferred with Pusey and Stratton. “the purpose was to stop me from opposing the inner belt highway on Brookline and Elm Streets… Dr Stratton told me they would never build it on the railroad because they [MIT] had enough power to stop it.”’ Cambridge Chronicle, 1/8/62
44 Cambridge Chronicle, 5/23/56, p.9 Two years later the CAC “expressed fear” about inaction on the Belt and Route 2 extension. “no other route offers so many advantages.” CC 9/11/58, p.1; The CAC’s Economic Development Committee said that “22% of our city’s residential area” was in such bad shape that it had to go. (Belt Route Seen Good for Central Sq Area”) Cambridge Chronicle, 11/13/58 p.1
45 Cambridge Chronicle, 1/23/58 p.1.
46 Cambridge Chronicle, 9/25/58 p.10
47 see page 4 above; Cambridge Chronicle, 6/8/28 p.17; Fellman and Brandt, p.55
48 Cambridge Chronicle, 7/3/58 p.9; CCA Civic Bulletin, Feb 58, p.3; Apr 58 p.4; 9/4/58 p.3; feds “insist all urban renewal projects be coordinated with the new highway program.” Cambridge Chronicle,7/24/58 p.1
49 Cambridge Chronicle, 1/22/59 p.1
50 according to Rep. Toomey and Sen. McCann, in Cambridge Chronicle, 3/16/67 p.1
51 Cambridge Chronicle, 2/19/59, p.1; CCA Civic Bulletin, 2/58 p.3; Cambridge Chronicle, 6/25/59 p.12. All the while, Crane adamantly opposed the Inner Belt. Fellman and Brandt, p. 73, mistakenly say that the CCA no longer endorsed the Brookline-Elm route after December 1965.
52 Cambridge Chronicle, 11/10/60 p.16. Kargman became the region’s biggest developer of HUD subsidized housing [now called ‘expiring use’], and a big contributor to the Democratic Party.
53 Barbara Cohn (League of Women Voters and CCA) warned, “There may have been a tendency to select [renewal] sites desired by developers rather than sites which were badly deteriorated.” Cambridge Chronicle, 1/8/59, p.12
54 Cambridge Chronicle, 7/14/60 p.7
55 Cambridge Chronicle, 11/10/55 p.9; 6/20/57 p.1
56 Harvard Crimson, 11/5/56 p.1 Pusey: before WWII, Harvard had fewer than 2700 undergrads. Since then, it had always had more than 3700. “…there are now actually fewer rooms available than 25 years ago…”
57 Cambridge Chronicle, 6/22/61, p.1; 7/6/61 p.1; 7/20/61 p.11
58 Cambridge Chronicle, 1/17/61 p.10; 8/24/61 p.12; 10/5/61 p.10: Riverside had 400 “nonwhite” families; 38% of residents lived in the same building ten or more years; 1/2 the structures were owner-occupied.
59 Cambridge Chronicle, 2/5/62 p.1; 2/22/62 Pp1,2. The AFSCME (AFL-CIO government workers union) sponsored a plan to build 142 apartments, whose rents would be about double the neighborhood average. But Local 602, the Cambridge City Workers, opposed it.
60 Cambridge Chronicle, 5/17/62 Pp1,2
61 Nine modest structures were demolished for Max Kargman’s “moderate income” Riverview. Wise had wanted a guaranteed $80/month rent maximum for one-bedroom apartments; Kargman said they would rent for $165. (Vellucci ridiculed Wise’s effort to keep the rents down and voted with the Council majority to approve the development.) The lowest rent turned out to be $210 - rather immoderate for 1962! CCA Civic Bulletin, Oct 58; Cambridge Chronicle, 5/7/59 p.1
62 Cambridge Chronicle, 5/31/62, p.1. councilor Trodden (Ind) was absent for the decisive vote; 6/14/62 p.1; 6/28/62 p.1
63 CCA Civic Bulletin, June-July 62, Pp1-3. “The [CCA] Board [said] Mrs. Wise’s attack on the good faith of the Redevelopment Authority… hinders the needed development of an improved relationship between those affected by urban renewal and those administering it.” Cambridge Chronicle, 6/28/62 p.5
64 Cambridge Progress 1990 p.6A; Cambridge Chronicle, 5/28/64, p.1; Ackermann, You the Mayor? (1989), p.117; see also the CCA’s Cambridge Book 1966, which contrasts “the disordered sprawl” of the old industrial districts with the new “physically compact and trim” research facilities. “Industry has assumed the features of a university…” p. 31
65 Cambridge Chronicle, 8/20/64p.1,2; 8/27/64p.10; 9/29/64p.1
66 Cambridge Chronicle, 7/9/64 p.2
67 Cambridge Chronicle, 6/4/64 p.2; 6/11/64 p.2
68 Cambridge Chronicle, 1/24/6, p.1; 10/22/65 p.1; 9/22/66 p.2
69 Cambridge Chronicle, 4/21/66 p.1. A year later, CAC Chair McLaughlin told the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce: “the community has a right to the use of that [Kendall Sq] land in accordance with the value of that land. In the replanning of Cambridge, much attention is going to be given to the proper use of industrial land… the yardstick of judging has been set by the Technology Square development.” 11/30/67, p.4
70 Cambridge Chronicle, 7/21/66 p.2; 2/2/67 p.16 Central Plaza stands at Mass Ave and Prospect Street.
71 Cambridge Chronicle, 6/23/66 p.1; 3/3/66 p.11; Fitzgerald said NASA itself wanted the Elm/Brookline Inner Belt. Fellman & Brandt, p.71
72 “Planning experts expect many-storied office buildings to be the economic salvation of Central Square and the solution to redevelopment problems in that area.” CCA Civic Bulletin, June-July 1957, p.2
73 Cambridge Chronicle, 11/18/54 p.1; 13/15/55 p.1; 7/4/57 p.1; 12/31/59, p.1. In the 1960s, parking lots just for Central Plaza displaced 2 houses, 4 multi-family dwellings; and two decades later, a row of small shops.
74 Cambridge Chronicle, 3/28/63 p.1; 4/4/63 p.11. But referring to the class and race biases of urban renewal, Abid Haneef (North Cambridge Planning Team) later said that the CRA ”represents only one faction of the city” Cambridge Chronicle, 3/27/69 p.2.
75 The one proposal to build in a “middle-class” area was defeated. Vets’ leader Channing Beucler said, “The tactics employed by the opposition in bringing race, color, and religion into this fight compel the veterans to expose these vicious tactics. …of the three councilors voting against the housing in the Lakeview area, one is a banker dealing principally with mortgage loans, another is a speculative builder also in the real estate business…” Cambridge Chronicle, 8/12/48, p.2. (The CCA took no position on this; only one of the 3 opponents was a CCA councilor. )
76 Cambridge Chronicle, 11/24/66 p.10
77 Cambridge Chronicle, 9/21/67, p.10
78 Cambridge Chronicle, 9/28/67 p.1; 10/5/67 p.1; Harvard Crimson, 10/13/67
79 see King, Chain of Change (1985); Lukas, Common Ground (1986), esp.Pp427-437
80 Fellman & Brandt, p.131; Cambridge Chronicle, 9/9/65 p.2; 4/7/66 p.3; 11/11/65 p.8; Neighbors United was started by Cambridgeport residents Bill Ackerly and Ansti Benfield; SOC was led by Catholic clergy.
81 Cambridge Chronicle, 10/29/64 p.4.2/24/66 p.1;12/2/65 p.1
82 Cambridge Chronicle, 3/31/66 p.14; 3/3/66 p.1)
83 Cambridge Chronicle, 2/24/66 p.2; 3/19/59 p.13/31/66 p.14
84 Fellman, p.73; Cambridge Chronicle, 1/13/66 p.1
85 Cambridge Chronicle, 10/6/66 p.4; 2/2/67, p4; 4/20/67, p1;11/23/67 p1
86 •Assistant city manager Justin Gray - a man of rare democratic integrity - lobbied intensively to get Model Cities into Areas 3 & 4. •The guy who conceived the Model Cities idea, George Sternlieb, described it this way: “In effect, we are telling people: ‘Here is a nice new program. Go play with it and don’t bother us too much.’ …We’ve got to have a sandbox.” When asked if he were joking, Sternlieb replied, “I am saying that for real… I don’t want those people climbing up over the walls, and that’s a tax I am willing to pay.” U.S. News & World Report 7/26/71
87 Cambridge Chronicle, 9/19/68 p.11; 1/23/69 p.1
88 Ackermann, p.217; Lupo and Colcord, Rites of Way: Transportation Politics in Boston and the US City
89 This building was turned over to the US Dept. of Transportation and named after Frank Volpe. Several local politicians were among the incorporators of the new Charlesbank, which had its offices in the Volpe building and in Central Plaza. Cambridge Chronicle, 4/28/66, p. 2
90 Cambridge Chronicle, 3/3/66 p.1 The RNA, based on working-class homeowners, had unwritten rules to share leadership among Riverside’s ethnic groups, especially Irish, West Indian, Afro-American and Italian. Riverside Planning Team (RPT), was part of CEOC, the new ‘poverty agency:’ staff organizers recruited low-income residents, mainly tenants living near Western Ave; students also joined. Federal policies in the 1960s politicized ‘’the poor’ vs. ‘’the working class.’ The RNA faded away after the same officers got themselves elected to both groups in 1971; The RPT ended a few years later, when its funding did.
91 Cambridge Chronicle, 11/11/65 p.24 The new King School was built despite the rejection of the CRA plan. But it turned out so big, about thirty households had to be evicted to make room for it. The architecture closely resembled Harvard’s Peabody Terrace, right across Putnam Ave. A ‘King Open School’ program was installed, which attracted professional-class families from across the city.
92 Ten years later, when Harvard announced plans to develop Ten Mt Auburn Street, Civic Affairs officer Jackie O’Neill (Tip O’Neill’s daughter-in-law) told concerned neighbors that the area would see no further developments for many years. The Inn at Harvard and the DeWolfe St project were on the drawing boards even before Ten Mt Auburn was completed!
93 Cambridge Chronicle, 12/3/64 p..24; 3/24/66 p.14; 11/10/66 p.4; 5/14/67 p..28; Cambridge members of the Commission on Low Income Housing: landlords Malcolm Peabody, Marvin Gilmore; Rep. Mary Newman. The realtor was Sally Martin.
94 Cambridge Chronicle, 4/4/68, p..2; 8/22/68, p.2; 7/10/69, Pp1,2
95 Cambridge Chronicle, 8/1/68 p.1; 1/29/70 p.2. CEOC’s first Executive Director, Daniel E. Clifford, had served on the CAC staff, adding credence to accusations that the poverty program was linked to urban renewal. Cambridge Chronicle, 4/20/67, p.1
96 Cambridge Chronicle, 10/3/68, p.10. City manager J. L. Sullivan never endorsed these views; in fact, Fr. Butler quit the manager’s housing committee, saying that it was a hoax designed to evade the rent control issue.
97 Cambridge Chronicle, 1/23/69 p.2
98 Cambridge Chronicle, 1/16/69 p.1; 1/29/70 p.2
99 •The RNA caught Harvard violating its pledge not to buy property east of Putnam Ave. Negotiations led to sale to Harvard of a lot owned by ex-mayor Hayes, on which 2 Mt Auburn was built. •A year later, Saundra Graham and the RPT briefly disrupted Harvard commencement, demanding the ‘Treeland’ site for housing. In negotiations, Harvard said the site was “too good for” low-income housing; several years later, Harvard underwrote construction of River-Howard Homes. •The “Wilson report,” The University and the City, addressed the issues of the 1969 strike. It rejected ‘Harvardization,’ saying, “Diversity and even conflict are relevant to the intellectual life Harvard wishes to maintain.” Thus “diversity” appeared on the local scene as a positive virtue; but Wilson’s coupling of “diversity” with “conflict” was certainly more robust than current usage!
100 Cambridge Chronicle,11/14/68 p.1; 7/24/69, p.1; Besides combating rent control, the CPOA advocated zoning Mass Ave for high-rises, to produce more taxes and housing. Tenants’ Newsletter, 7/29/71 p.2
101 Cronin called the petition illegal on two grounds: its declaration of housing emergency - not confirmed by “impartial experts;” its appropriations clause - improper (despite sever-ability). Judge Leen’s decision in the mandamus case took no account of Cronin’s reasoning, but was based on an amicus brief written for the real estate lobby by Harvard Law Prof. St Clair, saying essentially that, despite the 1966 ‘Home Rule Amendment,’ the State Constitution didn’t permit municipalities to enact rent control without State permission. •In You the Mayor? (Pp.133,153,161…), Barbara Ackermann unaccountably tells us that the rent control referendum actually took place, won overwhelmingly, and helped the CCA win a Council majority! Purportedly in response to Leen’s ruling, the Council voted to file a home rule rent control bill, a vote supported by rent control opponents Ed Crane and Daniel Hayes. Cambridge Chronicle, 11/4/69 p.1
102 Cambridge Chronicle, 1/29/70, p.1
103 The Council’s 7-2 vote for Ch.842 concealed a bad omen: four of the seven were not really rent control supporters. Coates, Clinton and Sullivan voted to repeal it 15 months later; Moncreiff said he was sorry he ever voted for it. This helps to explain their indifferent attitude toward the apparent sabotage of the law over the next several months.
104 The account which follows, except where noted, follows that in “Rent control - a stormy past,” Tenants’ Newsletter, 12/1/73, Pp1, 4-7, and the author’s memory.
105 During these same months, the Walton brothers went public about their beating by Cambridge cops. More cases emerged, which mobilized a big part of the Black community. Police actions at evictions and in breaking up tenant meetings led to a united front which wanted to fire Police Chief Reagan; hire minority cops; and ban police at evictions.
106 City manager Corcoran went on the road to oppose the law he was charged with administering. He testified in Lowell and Pittsfield when rent control was being considered in those cities, saying that building activity had “ground to a halt,” though in fact a dozen projects were underway just in the Harvard-Central area. Tenants’ Newsletter, 9/1/71 p.5
107 Two months later, Judge Haven Parker (a Republican and a Ward 7 city councilor in the 1930s) voided Corkery’s procedures and guidelines. Rents were effectively returned to their March 1970 levels. [Ackerman v. Corkery, 1971]
108 CCA Civic Bulletin Nov 68 p.1; Cambridge Chronicle, 10/9/69 p.2; CCA Civic Bulletin, Dec 70 Pp.1,4. In 1970 the tax rate went up by 20 percent - much faster, incidentally, than the 1940 tax rate increase that helped bring about Plan E.
109 M.-E.P: liberals should “build bridges to CTOC…get them involved.” B.A.: “none of [our] organizations is broad-based. There are other organizations dealing with these issues - make them part of our movement.” A.I.: “get neighborhood leaders who aren’t interested in elections… make them work for us.”
110 transcript, courtesy E. Davin
111 The Rent Control Task Force was active only for city elections. It became the year-round Cambridge Rent Control Coalition in 1982, and Cambridge Tenants Union in 1986.
112 David Vickery, who as assistant city manager for development presided over the rezoning of Alewife, now works with Spaulding & Slye to develop it. Another former development chief, Cathy Spiegelman, has served Harvard in the same capacity ever since. Former CCA city councilor David Clem is today the biggest developer of East Cambridge.
113 In a slap to truly needy places like downtown Haverhill and Brockton, Cambridge actually sought federal Urban Development Action Grant funds for the abortive Schocken project!
114 ‘Americans had used the term “blight” to describe slums at least as early as the turn of the century. But it was not until the early 1910s that they began to speak of “blighted areas” or “blighted districts” as a distinct part of the urban environment. In 1912, Boston architect J. Randolph Coolidge ventured to define “blighted districts” as areas “in which land values after a period of increase are stationary or falling.” This became the standard definition, reflected at the 1931 President’s Conference on housing: blighted areas were “an economic liability to a community”; slums were “a social liability.” In 1944 a top official in the U.S Federal Works Agency called “urban blight and slums, next to the war, the greatest threat” to our society.… [this statement is] more than a little puzzling.… It was regrettable that property values rose less rapidly in some areas than in others…But values could not always go up, much less go up at the same rate everywhere.’ Fogelson, Downtown: Its Rise and Fall, 1880-1950, 2001, p.347,8
115 Development Dept chief Susan Schlesinger in Cambridge Tab, 6/2/97 p.3. Roger Booth said approvingly of the new luxury residents: “It becomes their neighborhood.” Cambridge Chronicle, 5/15/97, p.1
116 John Clifford in Cambridge Tab, 8/11/97, p.21; Central Square Beat (CSNC), 7/97, Pp1,2 Cambridge Tab, 6/2/97, p.3
117 CSBA president and Holmes advocate Carl Barron showed his appreciation by giving to the campaigns of all nine incumbent city councilors in 1997. Only councilor Ken Reeves became actively involved in the controversy, saying his “…role is to try to facilitate a dialogue to see if there is some middle ground between the developers and the community,” Bay State Banner, 8/14/97 p.10. He organized a meeting to give minority residents a chance to speak out, but rather than middle ground, found only the same solid opposition already voiced by Save Central Square and its petition against the demolition.
118 “Civility Down for the Count?” Cambridge Chronicle, 4/2/98 p.1; Bob Boulrice in Cambridge Tab, 3/30/98, p.17; Robert Winters in Cambridge Chronicle, 4/2/98, Pp1, 13; Clifford Truesdell in The Tech, 11/14/97, p.13
119 “A new library at the 7-11 site, just across the street from City Hall…the perfect complement to the city’s most vibrant district” Cambridge Chronicle, Editorial 6/18/98, p.16 Some Holmes supporters came out publicly to support this one too. At this writing the site of choice has shifted to the Post Office building or the YMCA. Across Mass. Ave, the YWCA and Schocket have dusted off a proposal from the 1980s to build a luxury building in Temple Street.
120 Cambridge Chronicle, 11/26/98 p.7; Architect James Flajnik says, “The [new] buildings’ mixed uses and site improvements will complement other enrichments currently underway in Central Square.” Banker & Tradesman, 10/6/97 p.13
121 Boston Globe “City”, 12/14/97 p.10. Goldstein is chairman of the Central Square Management Planning Committee and vice president of the CSBA
122 In a class of its own, University Park Hotel brochure (1998)
123 Alan Savenor in Cambridge Chronicle, 12/22/94, p.29
124 A concerted anti-Cambridge-rent-control barrage of 5 years, virulently supported by all the Boston media, preceded Q.9; the campaign against it began just two months before the election. With a 10-1 funding advantage, and the statewide organizational framework of the real estate industry, Q.9 won an official plurality of only 46-44%. Even this result was corrupted by the state’s strange decision to omit all reference to the content of the 1994 ballot questions on voting machines. However, Question 9 lost the aggregate vote of the 148 cities and towns which used paper ballots! A lawsuit challenging this election procedure was rendered moot when the real estate lobby substituted a two-year ‘protected tenants’ law for Question 9. -see Cunningham, Secret of Question 9 (1996)
125 A small controversy about the consequences of rent decontrol shows how the category of ‘diversity’ can be misleading and even worse. Skip Schloming of SPOA pointed to statistics showing that post-rent-control tenants were less likely to be white than their successors. Roger Herzog of the Development Department admitted this was probably true, but that the new non-whites were mostly Asian students. Boston Globe, 1/31/98, p.1; Cambridge Chronicle, 2/19/98, p.3. Atlantic Marketing Research: Impacts of the Termination of Rent Control (1998)
126 This is not a criticism of any of the councilors as individuals, any more than one condemns all ‘white males’ by pointing out that the institutions which run society are overwhelmingly led and advised by such creatures.
127 CCA president Ken Carson warns “Those who attack Mr. Healy should consider the harm they are doing to our chances of attracting a successor of superior quality.” Cambridge Chronicle, 2/18/99, p.17. Try to imagine an argument like this being used to stifle criticism of Tom Menino, or any other democratically elected mayor. •At the same time, former CCA president Phil Dowds and councilor Katherine Triantafillou, who quit the CCA last year, have become outspoken critics of Plan E.
128 The King School provides the earliest and least publicized of these conflicts. In 1971, the King became one of two schools to house an Open School program (the Tobin was the other). At first, the Open program had a fairly high percentage of local, working-class students, but over the years professional-class parents came to dominate the program. After Charles Stead became King principal, the Open’s differences with the ‘regular’ program grew. Stead openly tilted against the Open program, which his supporters felt had far better resources than the ‘regular,’ bilingual, and special needs programs at the King. The Open parents responded by lobbying separately from the rest of the school at School Committee budget hearings. One of their own, Henrietta Davis, was elected to the School Committee on the CCA ticket. Stead was supported by councilor Walter Sullivan and other Independents. Beyond this, the murkiness and depth of the dispute is supposed to be related to the principal’s unique personality: he was eventually removed from office after he failed to take seriously a false bomb threat. But the supposed personality factors were related to questions of style, discipline and structure. Furthermore, in the main Stead’s supporters and detractors were not distinguished by ‘race,’ but by class.
129 The progressive Cambridge Rainbow organization faced the Commonwealth Day School issue in 1991, and was unable to take an independent position because it did not wish to break publicly with the CCA. Progressives generally favor affirmative action to fill top-level city positions. At the same time, white progressives actually fill many of them.
130 “From 1972-1992 Cambridge lost two thirds of its manufacturing base, some 12,000 jobs.” city manager Robert W Healy, Response to Council, 4/15/94. [But CF. p.17 above]
131 Robert Reich Work of Nations (1991), p.275, used Chelsea, Somerville, and Belmont as examples of this trend.