Letter to the Editor

Getting the facts straight  about urban renewal

In last week’s article “Community Leaders Express Outrage at BRA’s 6-year Extension of Powers,” the Beacon Hill Times showed an incredible lack of sound judgment in its reporting of the Boston City Council’s reauthorization of the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s urban renewal powers.

Having facilitated a robust, year-and-a-half-long community engagement process focused on educating residents about urban renewal’s contemporary use, acknowledging past missteps, making an unprecedented amount of information available online (www.bostonurbanrenewal.org), and soliciting ideas for improving transparency and accountability with respect to the application of these tools, we fully realize that the words “urban renewal” conjure a range of emotions for different people. However, as with any difficult topic, a healthy debate is only possible when facts, not rhetoric, steer the conversation. While there is clearly some resistance to urban renewal, we can also demonstrate significant support from community groups, residents, housing organizations, developers, and, most recently, Boston’s City Council.

That’s why it was so disappointing that the paper made no attempt to contact us for our perspective, and instead chose to run a one-sided story that slammed the BRA. What’s more, the paper allowed inaccurate statements by Marlene Meyer, former president of the West End Civic Association, to go unchallenged despite their false nature.

Ms. Meyer contends that the BRA operates in a “black box” with no public oversight. In choosing hyperbole over reality, she completely overlooks the fact that we organized a dozen public forums and countless smaller stakeholder conversations over the past 16 months to discuss urban renewal. There were also several public meetings in front of the Boston City Council, which led to a substantive action plan and enhanced oversight mechanisms by the City Council that will provide meaningful reforms to how and where urban renewal is used in the coming years.

Ms. Meyer goes on to offer perhaps the most baffling claim in the story when she states that the BRA is the only remaining redevelopment authority in the country. In fact, one does not need to look far to find another example. Our neighbor Cambridge has its own redevelopment authority, and there are 31 other cities and towns in the Commonwealth with urban renewal plans, not to mention numerous redevelopment authorities across the United States.

The public discourse that began in December 2014 and continues today, as we seek final authorization from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development for our 6-year extension, contrasts starkly with the utter absence of public process that prevailed in 2005, the last time the BRA  sought to renew these tools. Since January 2014, under the new leadership of Mayor Martin J. Walsh and BRA Director Brian Golden, the agency has taken tremendous care to improve the way we conduct business in order to better serve the people of Boston. This shift in culture towards openness, transparency, and public engagement deserves to be recognized.

Unfortunately, last week’s article is a classic example of the facts getting in the way of a “good story” for some. But it did little good to further the honest and open dialogue that we have attempted to foster.

Nick Martin and Corey Zehngebot

Nick Martin is the Director of Communications and Corey Zehngebot is a Senior Urban Designer and Architect at the BRA.

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