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Time to break up that old BPDA of ours, councilor says

West End before the BRA

West End before the BRA. From the BPL.

City Councilor Michelle Wu (at large), says this morning you can change its name all you want, but the agency that demolished the West End and continues to use political relationships and special exceptions to a creaky zoning code to benefit the well off is not what Boston needs in an era of accelerated growth.

Wu, running for re-election next month - and possibly for mayor in two years - will hold a meeting today to detail her proposal, starting at 5 p.m. at the Union United Methodist Church, 485 Columbus Ave. in the South End. Her report is online, at a URL that sums up her proposal: abolishthebpda.com.

"After two scathing audits in 2014 and 2015 revealed the extent of the then Boston Redevelopment Authority’s lack of accountability, little has changed - save for a $675,000 rebranding in 2016," Wu writes in a report on why the agency needs to be destroyed, its property returned to direct city control, its urban-renewal areas dismantled and a new planning agency be created to guide Boston's growth to better benefit its current residents and small businesses.

"The stakes are too high to preserve the status quo. The BPDA is woefully unprepared for the challenges facing this great city," she writes. "The people of Boston deserve better."

Bostonians have, of course, heard candidates discuss breaking up the then BRA before. One even made it a campaign pledge when he ran for mayor in 2013.

Photo used under this Creative Commons license.



If this just empowers area NIMBYs (who are typically older home owners looking to preserve the status quo), then that's not an improvement. If this goes hand in hand with a well done revision of zoning to eliminate the much of the need for variances, abatements, public hearings for basic developments, etc... then great.

For example - here in Roslindale, Wallpaper City (local retailer, 1 story building) had to have a hearing and get approval to add two floors of apartments above their space. That shouldn't have required any community input, just let them build.

One key thing also proposed would be to have an agency which tracks and enforces offsets which are given by developers to gain approval when a variance is needed. Fort Pt area was supposed to have public space and more residential units and the BRA is letting developers walk away from those obligations without penalty. That's unacceptable.


I lean in your direction, but the development you mention warrants some community input. Parking onsite -- where are the curb cuts? Trash pickup and storage?

I'm not arguing that the height, massing, or setbacks should have been up for debate, but surely the neighborhood has some good ideas about the real on-the-sidewalk impacts, and how slight design changes can result in a better project. It's worth ensuring that the neighbors have the opportunity to share their ideas.

If we're going to live this close to one another, we need to all give and take a bit to make it work.


I lean in your direction, but the development you mention warrants some community input. Parking onsite -- where are the curb cuts? Trash pickup and storage?

None of those things actually require community input you know.


a zoning code can do? go to Florence

wanna see what happens when you don’t have zoning regulations? Look at the way New Hampshire feels to protect the beauty of its surroundings

Houston famously lacks zoning restrictions - high rise and single family ranch houses side-by-side. We're turning into a Queens NY

go to Florence or to Houston?

Because it's economically vibrant, and according to a recent study, has the lowest level of racial and socioeconomic stratification of any major US city. It's even elected an openly lesbian Mayor.

I'd overlook the fact it's solidly blue Democratic.

Florence is a boutique overpriced city for the beautiful people and tourists.

Wu already proved her ignorance when she advocated for rent control as a serious solution to the housing crisis. This is just her running a pre-election campaign to rail against what Boston NIMBY's hate the most - those evil developers ruining their neighborhoods.


The primary problem with housing and development in Boston right now is the influence of NIMBY homeowners and neighborhood associations that downscale every project to protect their property values. Councilor Wu is right that the BPDA and process need reform but her report talks about creating even more neighborhood control as part of said reform. That would be a recipe for disaster and make the situation even worse. We need streamlined zoning reform that allows the city to grow and would make housing less expensive to build. This reads like a political campaign, not an actual reform effort.


your vested interest

are you honest enough to divulge it?

If we do somehow manage to shed ourselves of the BRA [or whatever it is called now] then I call dibs on the model of Boston in their City Hall offices - presuming that it is still there in their foyer.


It's in a separate model room. They add and modify it continually. It's pretty huge, I was lucky to see it last year.

The destruction of the West End predated the creation of the Boston Redevelopment Authority. It was destroyed by the Boston Housing Authority. It was probably that event that lead to the creation of the BRA.


And various city neighborhoods, especially the West End, were compared to medieval ghettos by urban planning technocrats of that period of time (1960s).

The West End looked much like the North End does today. Should we tear that down too?

According to the BPDA website, http://www.bostonplans.org/about-us/timeline,in 1957, "the BRA launches its first urban renewal project in Boston’s West End, redeveloping the area for retail and commercial space, and 2,200 units of new housing." According to Wikipedia, the BHA proposed it, but the BRA was the agency that held the meetings, razed the area, and redeveloped the area.


Their plan is here. The BRA came in after the ball was rolling.

In the end, I am being a bit pedantic, but to say the BRA were responsible is misleading. In the end, the City of Boston was behind it, which is the lesson for today. Abolish the BPDA and send it's powers to another city department and that city department will turn into the new powerful agency. Will it be ISD, the Zoning Board, or some other group? In the end, whoever gets to work on development projects will be a powerful group.


Walsh's plan for the BRA (from when he ran for Mayor)


Didn't the city council renew BPDA's charter a few years ago? I recall it was contentious because several of the councilors had opposed it when running for election but yet the body still gave its blessing. And supposedly the renewal was worded in such a way the council would even have less control in the future.

Even Marty was cynical of the BRA when running for Mayor but it didn't take him long (about a day) to love the power and with no accountability.

Someone please correct me (or fill in the gaps) if I'm mistaken. I don't recall of Wu was in office at the time. Anyone who voted to extend the charter doesn't deserve a vote irrespective of what they've done since, include Wu herself.


Wu voted for it but I believe this was at the beginning of Walsh's alleged reform of the agency.
So the city/BPDA was given a chance to improve. Now, several years later, that reform hasn't happened so it's on to a new approach.


BRA/BPDA is the "Never Again" agency.

Once or twice a year there's some scandal which results in BPDA saying, "We're really sorry but there's nothing we can do now. But we promise it will Never Happen Again."

And then, like clockwork, it happens again. And again. And again.

To renew BPDA was like giving a serial arsonist a lighter. For Wu to play dumb on the renewal is disingenuous.


It would be one thing to trust Menino to claim to want change after decades in power but since Walsh was pretty new, I assume the council assumed he was a good faith partner in improving the BRAPDA.

Your facts are wrong. The City was pushing hard for a 10 year renewal and didn’t get it.

Burn it down, scatter the stones, and salt the earth where it once stood.


They could've and should've just simply re-developed Boston's old West End, instead of just simply kicking out all the residents, razing the neighborhood totally out of existence, and then replacing it with these huge, not-so-attractive high-rise buildings.

Come to think of it, this rapacious destruction of Boston's old West End was sort of a prequel and a strong co-relation to Boston's resistance to Court-ordered busing, which began in the mid-1970's. Ted Landsmark, the African-American attorney who was attacked by a bunch of white kids from Southie and Charlestown during an anti-busing protest in Government center, while he was on his way to a meeting at City Hall, said as much, pointing out that the destruction of Boston's old West End made many of Boston's white working-class ethnics even more resistant to outsiders.


Driving down Washington St from the South Bay Area to Hyde Park Ave tonight, it is insane the amount of apt/condos being built along just that street. What happens when there is a glut on the market? Will the buildings be all Section 8? Empty and occupied by squatters? Burned for insurance payoffs? Some of these places I can't even imagine living in with views of industrial buildings, MBTA parking for buses, MBTA stations and tracks, super busy/noisy roads, etc. Mostly all of these buildings have no parking facilities. The rents will all be North of $2900-3k a month. One fancy building has a ginormous workout room on the 2nd floor, another has signs announcing a Planet Fitness for the 1st floor. This area is/was mostly a low income neighborhood, so you know who will be driven out as landlords see dollar signs. It is sad like the redlining done in Mattapan and Roxbury in the 60's.

This reply is a perfect example of why Wu's idea is terrible. We are literally in the middle of a housing crisis and you get people with nonsensical statements like "What happens when there is a glut on the market?". Let's worry about a glut when we aren't in a housing crisis.

There are real solutions available and "developers are evil so lets give the NIMBY's and anti-development folks even more power" is not one of them. Just look at San Fransisco and the housing disaster they dealt with/are still dealing with as a result of all the anti-development laws.

For example: If we had higher taxes on non-owner occupied "investment" units, and got rid of tax right-offs for vacant commercial properties and empty units in new developments it would make it more burdensome for developers and landlords to sit on properties and vacant units and force them to lower prices.

Another example: Make it more burdensome to speculate on land. One of the reasons the Seaport units are so expensive is because the land was bought and sold multiple times before anyone built anything - and every time the price went up, so of course a developer will have to change higher rents because they paid more for the property.


One of the reasons the Seaport units are so expensive is because the land was bought and sold multiple times before anyone built anything - and every time the price went up, so of course a developer will have to change higher rents because they paid more for the property.

The single reason why Seaport units are so expensive is that there are people willing to pay that much for them. The price would be what is even if the developers had got the property for free. Irrespective of what you paid for the property, you are going to sell it for what it is worth in the market, no matter whether that is at a gain or at a loss.


"got rid of tax right-offs for vacant commercial properties and empty units in new developments it would make it more burdensome for developers and landlords to sit on properties and vacant units and force them to lower prices."

One of the unintended consequences of removing tax breaks for empty units in new developments would be less development due to the reduced payoffs / increased risk of the project. Such a policy may help get more units to market now, the effect would be temporary and eventually restrict supply, bringing upward pressure on price.

You rent it out for $10,000? That’s $10,000 in gross income. It sits empty? That’s zero gross income.

Lots of ifs here, but you can reduce lots of income by deducting things like depreciation, interest, property tax, maintenance and more. Certainly better not to have vacancy save for some oddball tax avoidance scheme, but these deductions are likely still valuable even if some property or even all is sitting vacant. You probably don't lose the deductions either if you have no income, but instead you can carry the losses forward against future income if they can't be used in a current year.

Not a great argument, but not really false either in most cases.

What happens when there is a glut on the market?

Well, like most things that are affect by that age old economic principle, if there's an excess in supply, the demand goes down, and pricing changes.

The rents will all be North of $2900-3k a month.

Those buildings will either sit empty or lower their rents.

Also, nice shitting all over section 8, by the way - lord knows we certainly don't want to build housing for THE POORS in this city, no siree.

It would overwhelmingly pass. Boston residents vote, newbies and millennialis aren't even registered to vote.

How long has this person been a city councilor - are you brain dead or just sleeping the past several decades? And yes, I hope you or your staff are reading this and I dare you to respond.

Didn't the city council just vote to extend the BPDA's charter and urban renewal districts in the past few years as noted above. You had a shot just a few years ago to blow this rusting hulk out of the water and you passed - or at least didn't fight very hard to get rid of this sack of garbage effectively run by Boston's Tammany Hall.

Too busy mouthing off your "progressive" agenda to make any real progress?

I'm sure my good friend Kevin "Pat Payaso" McCrea is screaming at you from the great beyond you political opportunistic fake clown.


Could you look up and answer any of these questions? Of course, but then you're probably too busy working hard to pay for my kids' school while I steal your money by having a family in the city outside of the core.

Thank again for your noble sacrifice. It is appreciated by us takers.

You'll be more welcome when more and more of the givers move to Florida. taxes aren't as horrible here as they are in say NY, NJ and CT - but the governments there are beginning to panic as more and more of the uber affluent make for NV, TX and FL.

It's all a joke until it isn't.

As for Wu, she and her progressive ilk that have never held down a real job in their lives are already a joke.

"Please elect me - I'll give you other people's money!"


find different, fun creative ways to get the money from your pockets (via higher than average sales and property taxes), other than by income tax, plus their services suck.

But go for it, my friend. Remember, one usually gets what one pays for.

Ever been to FL, TX or Nevada - not exactly AL, MS or WV.

Note - I said UBER wealthy - more than $10 million in assets from the people I know that do this. They keep a house in their home state - but avoid taxes by staying there less than half the year.

The rich have many ways of avoiding taxes (legally). Property taxes and sales taxes might be a tad higher - but when you are making $1 million a year in dividends and interest, it's not likely your are going to ring up a sales tax of $50k-$100k more than you'd ring up in any other state you lived in (like MA, NY, CT or NJ - which nail you on those taxes too 5-10% each plus NYC tax if you happen to call the boroughs home).

And services are fine in those states -schools maybe not so much, but there's always private and most of these people are older so the kids are usually over 18 anyway.

neighborhood was demolished by the BRA in the 1950s, prior to the demolition of the West End.

Here’s an article and and a couple of photographs from the West End Museum.


Before it was created in 1957? Okay.

I was attempting to respond to a comment about the demolition of the West End. My point was that part of the South End - a very old tenement district that certainly pre-dated 1957 - was demolished prior to the demolition of the West End. Each of these neighborhoods was populated by poor and working class people who had no means, power or connections to fight city hall (or the BRA).

I am told there is now a lot of fear that much of Chinatown is going to be lost to new development. Have no idea how this is still allowed to happen.

The BRA has become the boogeyman for any poor planning decisions in Boston, even though, to take the example of the New York Streets, agencies such as the City Planning Board and the Boston Housing Authority came up with the plans- well, the Boston Herald came up with the plan, since they wanted the land for a new plant, but that is a different issue.

The moral of my story is that getting rid of the BPDA will not change the problems, only shift the power to someone else.

and that history includes the destruction of the West End. That should not be ignored or glossed over.

Here is Prof. Wiki:


You might want to focus on the "Implementation" section.

I could trust Wikipedia, or I could trust primary documents.

Yes, horrible things were done in the name of urban renewal in Boston, but to say that the BRA was the boogieman in all of it is patently untrue. The project was underway when those behind it were transferred into the newly created BRA to finish things off.

How come no one ever brings up the Washington Park project. That was a BRA project that did not entail destroying an entire neighborhood. And they did it from beginning to end.

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The BRA was created due to the BHA's screw-ups. The BRA became the BPDA due to the BRA's screw-ups. Whatever replaces the BPDA will eventually do things the citizens find bad, and the body after that will most likely do the same.

If you want to get rid of something you should have a complaint that's fresher than 60 years old. All the people who were involved in those decisions are dead. Can you think of any other reason to get rid of BRA/ BPDA? (I bet you can!)

There's a lot more in there than just the West End.

(personally, I think the mismanagement of the Seaport alone is enough reason to blow up the BPDA, and its one of the examples Wu highlights)