Melnea Cass design meeting sparks anger

Sandra Larson | 10/20/2011, 9:50 a.m.
State Rep. Byron Rushing (standing, at right) makes a statement...
State Rep. Byron Rushing (standing, at right) makes a statement at an Oct. 11 public meeting to discuss a new design for Melnea Cass Boulevard. Rushing criticized the team of city agencies and consultants for not acknowledging the history of community input in previous plans for the area. Sandra Larson

Both Fox and Rushing expressed strong dissatisfaction with the lack of attention given to the decisions made by committees and in public meetings over the past several decades.

“Maybe the planners need to know they’re in a room full of historians,” said Fox.

“I am very disturbed,” Rushing said, “that we are not being told that the planners understand all the work we’ve already done. You have people in this room who have sat through all of these meetings. We’re told it’s important — but it’s not important if it’s not remembered.”

Rushing elaborated in an e-mail that the history missing from the presentation included not only the Roxbury Master Plan and Urban Ring, but Boston Parks Department plans for the area and requirements contained in the requests for proposals for parcels 9 and 10 near Washington Street.

At the meeting, Councilor Jackson attempted to sum up the frustration in the room. “What I’m hearing is that you need to give honor and respect to what’s already been done,” he told the presenters. “It can’t be that people come from the outside and say what’s going to be done.” He urged the planners not to move too fast, as “this is a really, really important process.”

Gupta, put on the defensive, stressed that this was the very first meeting for the project; there is much public input and planning to come. “The goals will come from you,” he said.

As for whether they were “jumping the gun,” he disagreed.

“In many ways the timing is good, because we’ll be working simultaneously with the developers and the designs of those parcels,” he said. “It’s a two-way process. This is what we want to see on Melnea Cass — can the development proposals respond to that?”

The plan for the evening had been to follow the brief presentation with small-group brainstorming on three questions: What do you think currently works well on Melnea Cass Boulevard? What do you think works poorly? What does your vision of success on Melnea Cass Boulevard look like?

But in the face of increasing heat, the consultants discontinued the slide show to respond to questions. When it became clear that the most vocal audience members were decidedly against starting the brainstorming, Gupta scrapped the breakout sessions and adjourned the meeting early.

In advance of the next meeting, he promised, the team would compile a set of documents to address the questions about historical decisions and related projects.

Afterward, some filed silently out. Those who lingered did not seem to consider the meeting a failure.

Donovan Walker, a member of the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee, saw a victory in forcing the planners to come back with documents.

“Not having the breakout groups tonight stopped what they could do,” he said. “There’s a lot happening out there, that the community does not recognize is happening — and if you’re not aware, it’s putting the cart before the horse.”

BTD Senior Transportation Planner Patrick Hoey said he was not disappointed in the meeting.

“I’m glad we had such a good turnout,” he said. “We really want to hear from the community.”

In a later e-mail, Hoey said the team had certainly taken earlier planning efforts into account. “As far as the Urban Ring is concerned, it is very relevant and was called out specifically in our Requests for Proposals for this project,” he wrote. “The same goes for the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan, which echoes the desire to see transit emphasized along a ‘Crosstown Corridor.’ The two are essentially the foundation for design of Melnea Cass Boulevard”

Information about the Melnea Cass Boulevard design project, including slides from the Oct. 11 meeting, will be posted on the BTD’s Complete Streets website, http://bostoncompletestreets.org.