Monday, November 8, 2010

Washington Street as metaphor

A tale of two cities?

The Globe has a revealing article today about the ongoing travails of the attempted revival of Downtown Crossing.  Basically, several corporate types are refusing to pay the bill to clean up their neighborhood - major culprits are Equity Office Properties, Tishman Speyer, developer Steve Belkin, and the Napoli Group (which runs two of the district's McDonald's franchises).  One wishes the article had included contact information for these corporate scofflaws.  (Other major players, like Bank of America, State Street Corp., Fidelity, Macy’s, and the Druker Co., have done their bit.)

What we have now downtown is a strange situation in which a once-derelict stretch of Washington Street is home to three sparkling theatres - the Paramount (which actually houses two theatres), the Opera House, and the new Modern (which I haven't seen yet). But they're stuck in a kind of wasteland, facing a grim parking lot, along the boundary between two economic zones in Boston's ongoing "tale of two cities." To one side, there's a chilly cluster of overpriced restaurants and shops anchored (literally) by the Ritz. And to the other, as the Globe puts it,  lies a struggling street "pockmarked with empty storefronts that have invited petty crime and graffiti" whose most noteworthy feature is a huge crater where Filene's used to be (above).

Now if I were Susan Sontag, it would be hard not to view Washington St. as metaphor. At one end resides the elite, in two coldly elegant high rises, with a new hub for the performing arts just steps away (funded largely by local colleges - and props to them for saving those derelict spaces). At the other stands a bleak demonstration of capitalist rapacity - the flipside of the kind of business tactics that get you into the Ritz - along with an object lesson in the inability of the city to coordinate (or coerce) the business "community" into aiding its actual community.  The downside of global capitalism (everybody who owns those towers actually lives elsewhere), coupled with the inefficacy of the public sector - to think that I saw it on Washington Street.

To be blunt, there's enough money to solve all this; more than enough. (Remember how the corner of Tremont and Berkeley used to be a vacant lot?)  I mean, somehow Malcolm Rogers can coax $500 million out of local pockets to build a gallery for a collection he doesn't really have, but we can't clean up the core of our city?  Only in Boston, where politics and connections and rival fiefs always trump community service and common sense!  No, I don't have a solution to the mess; this little post is just a bleat of dismay.  But I do wonder whether Malcolm Rogers has a twin . . .

No comments:

Post a Comment