Thursday, November 17, 2011

Dorchester Speakers Forum on Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs’s work is alive and well in Dorchester, MA. On Veteran’s Day evening in the middle of a holiday weekend, a standing-room only crowd filled All Saints parish hall in Dorchester’s Ashmont neighborhood for a Dorchester Speakers Forum on urban heroine Jane Jacobs. Panelists included 1988 Democratic presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis; M. David Lee, past president of the Boston Society of Architects and a partner in the architecture and planning firm, Stull and Lee; and Godine author Glenna Lang (Genius of Common Sense: Jane Jacobs and the Story of “The Death & Life of Great American Cities”) Frank Keefe, Secretary for Administration and Finance under Dukakis and a Boston developer, served as the lively moderator.

The panelists facing an engaged crowd of 200+ (standing room only):
Glenna Lang, Gov. Dukakis, and architect David Lee. (Photo credit: Mike Ritter)

Glenna Lang set the stage with a portrait of Jane Jacobs and her many connections to Boston – even to Dorchester itself. She reported that Jane had called Codman Square Health Center founder Bill Walczak in the early 1990s to learn about this Dorchester neighborhood’s remarkable turnaround, and she told the story of how Jane’s papers came to reside at Boston College.

With pithy quotes from The Death & Life of Great American Cities, David Lee marveled at the relevance of Jane Jacobs to the design profession today. He selected passages of enduring wisdom in her book, some of which displayed her sympathy, understanding, and appreciation for African Americans and other minorities who lived in public housing projects or were confined to ghettos.

Along with wonderful stories and quips, the Governor vividly described Boston’s political atmosphere that led to the demolition of the West End and the massive highway scheme that would have laid waste to much of the city. He pointed out that the power of a Robert Moses in New York or William F. Callahan in Boston lay in influence gained through patronage and corruption. An engaged citizenry, he exhorted, must continue to fight for better cities to counter the Moses of the world.

The largely Dorchester crowd – lifelong residents, newer enthusiasts, political figures, and neighborhood activists – responded with a shower of questions, opinions, and tweets. Michael Patrick MacDonald, author of the renowned South Boston memoir All Souls, tweeted from the audience with delight, “At All Saints in #Dorchester for Jane Jacobs Speaker Forum. Gov Michael Dukakis gives MAJOR props to @occupywallst & @Occupy_Boston.”

After the forum – organized by political mover and shaker Joyce Linehan – panelists and many audience members repaired to the Tavolo restaurant for further conversations, lively stories, and political gossip. Tavolo is located on Dorchester Ave. in a recent six-story building right next to the MBTA’s Ashmont Red Line Station. Jim Keefe and Trinity Financial developed the site of a former bus parking lot with ground-floor retail and mixed-income housing above. Jane Jacobs would have approved wholeheartedly.

The after dinner at Tavolo restaurant, hosted by Jim Keefe:
Michael and Kitty Dukakis with Alex von Hoffman and Glenna Lang.
(Photo credit: Joyce Linehan)

The author of this post is Glenna Lang, co-author of Godine's Genius of Common Sense: Jane Jacobs and the Story of the Death & Life of Great American Cities along with Marjory Wunsch.

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