Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Blog Post No. 2012-11: No, we didn't just imagine it...

...Mitt Romney really was a strong proponent of Smart Growth when he was Governor of Massachusetts

For what it's worth, your faithful correspondent is a praiser of vibrant urban places at least in part for the same reason I'm a registered Democrat - I was born and raised that way. I also happen to truly love cities and hold progressive political opinions, so it's not as if I categorize myself unwillingly. In other words, at some level, we simply are who we are (for reasons both in our control and outside of it) and we need to admit it.

How, then, are we to understand the whiplash-inducing spectacle of position-reversal that is the campaign of Mitt Romney as the Republican Party's nominee for president of the United States? Because it's not just his positions on things like health care that have swung so far to the right as he has pursued the presidency that you begin to wonder if the present campaign is really more like a schizophrenic battle of present-day Romney against Romney circa 2002-2006 than it is Romney against the incumbent. No, indeed. Romney also very warmly embraced Smart Growth, which is now so totally anathema to his party that it has been associated with the unholy trinity of the U.N., black helicopters and one-world-ism. This was true during both the 2002 gubernatorial campaign and Romney's administration, and well do I remember it. And thankfully my recollection is confirmed by an insightful piece - "Romney, once an anti-sprawl crusader, created model for Obama 'Smart Growth' program" - posted earlier this year by Lisa Hymas at Grist.org. Go check it out. As the quotes from Doug Foy and Anthony Flint suggest, Romney's support for Smart Growth really did have a kind of "Is he for real?" quality to them. Nothing, at least nothing publicly known, that he had done or said before the 2002 campaign suggested that Smart Growth was a major issue for him. But he and his administration really made some real progress on it while he was governor. And, given his silence on the issue, one can now only assume that he shares his party's revulsion for the entire notion, let alone its implementation as policy. The whole thing would be amusing if we didn't actually need Smart Growth (or whatever alternative name people would like to apply to it, whether that's sustainable development, traditional neighborhoods, walkable neighborhoods, or any combination of those terms and others) so desperately for a whole host of reasons.

RTUF Note: This post was updated since its original posting to improve readability and correct certain phrasing. - MJL

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Blog Post No. 2012-10: Sacred Heart Parish takes care of its physical assets...

...both sacred and profane

The Photos:

Photo 1: One of the church's interior stations of the cross, recently restored.

Photo 2: The restored exterior niche statue.

Photo 3: The repaired slate roof.

Photo 4: The re-sided rectory.

The Location: 169 Cummins Highway, Roslindale, MA (MAP)

Years of Urban Fabric Restoration: 2007-2012.

The Story: We're in Roslindale again, this time at Sacred Heart Parish. For those keeping score at home, we are also back to restorative actions similar to the May entry about Community Boating down on the Charles River. In this case, Sacred Heart has undertaken a series of repairs and renovations over a five-year period under the heading of "Project Slate." [You can see the pre-existing general exterior condition of the church and rectory in the google streetview available at the map link above.] The fundraising campaign kicked off in 2006, and in relatively short order, the necessary funds were gathered. Construction then began, first with, you guessed it, a new slate roof over the entire church building, followed by repainting of the interior of the upper church (like most urban Catholic churches built in the massive wave of European immigration of the second half of the 19th century, the church has both an upper church and a lower church which in an earlier era held multiple Sunday masses each), repointing the exterior brick work and the main exterior stairway, and re-siding of the rectory. After some additional fundraising and patience, the stations of the cross were also completely restored (after two were initially restored early on).

One relatively unheralded change was the removal of the old, badly-stained and unfortunate-looking plexiglass that covered the niche statue of Jesus with the Sacred Heart. As you can see in photo 2, that statue is now back in the open air with the heart itself painted red as is most common. Why and when the statue was encased in plexiglass is not known to your correspondent. But I will say that the removal of the plexiglass is one of those relatively small but highly symbolic events that cumulatively add up to an urban fabric that is functioning and telling its participants that there is confidence in the durability and significance of its various components. The restoration of the stations of the cross is another such action that means more than simply putting gold leaf where it belongs (though as you can see from Photo 1, it's an impressive piece of work). Again, I don't know why and when these stations were painted entirely white (which was their state just before the recent restoration). Yet they were, a poor decision whose reversal required raising relatively substantial funds just to have stations that express the artist's original intent. It's a cliche, I admit, but the cumulative urban fabric effect of Project Slate is greater than the sum of its parts.