Tag Archives: Cambridge

Of Bike Lanes and Politics

4 Oct

With the installation of protected bike lanes comes a fast-moving issue for council race

By Tom Meek Friday, October 1, 2021

A bicyclist travels in a quick-build protected bike lane in Central Square. (Photo: MassAve4 Impacts Analysis)

A springtime study about bike lanes replacing on-street parking continues to send out shock waves, and is now playing a role in November’s elections.

Citizens groups have been formed, petitions are circulating and candidates are getting endorsements around the MassAve4 Impact Analysis report and other issues relating to the city’s Cycling Safety Ordinance. Passed by the City Council in 2019 and updated in October 2020, it calls for around 25 miles of protected bike lanes to be installed throughout Cambridge within five to seven years.

When released in April, the MassAve4 report triggered panic among business owners and residents who feared that nearly all on-street parking spaces would be removed in favor of quick-build protected bike lanes along Massachusetts Avenue from Harvard Square to Dudley Street, including Porter Square. The city quickly assured that it was only studying the effects of achieving the ordinance’s goals with quick-build options such as flex posts, signs and road markings rather than curb cuts, sidewalk and road surface alterations that would demand more planning, cost and resources and be less likely to meet the law’s timeline.

The city has not released a plan, but by May the city manager expects to identify where quick-build bike lanes will work and get City Council approval for a timeline on installing other kinds of bike infrastructure, according to the MassAve4 project page. Outreach and community engagement will be part of the process. If the city fails to have a plan approved in 2023, quick-build lanes along the corridor will be mandated by the ordinance.

Mass Ave. 4 All

In the interim, the Porter Square Neighborhood Association, several businesses along the corridor – The Abbey, Guitar Stop and Ward Maps among them – and the Cambridge Bicycle Safety Group have banded together to form the Mass Ave. 4 All group, which is sponsoring a petition to reject the impact analysis report and to urge the city to try again on reimagining Massachusetts Avenue. Members have posted alternative design suggestions on the site and encouraged residents to contact City Council members and project planners.

Cambridge Bicycle Safety pushed for the ordinance but found the MassAve4 report troubling.

“Our vision is for there to be continuous protected bicycle lanes for the full length of Massachusetts Avenue,” member Nathanael Fillmore said, “as well as improvements to ensure efficient and reliable bus service, a safe environment for pedestrians, a thriving business corridor and a pleasant and welcoming place for all residents to spend time.”

Bicyclists rally for safe infrastructure at an Oct. 17, 2016, rally at City Hall, before the creation of a city Cycling Safety Ordinance. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Fillmore praised the city for its change of approach when kicking off the northernmost stage of the ordinance’s charge, with protected bike lanes from Dudley Street to the city’s border with Arlington at the Alewife Brook Parkway. For that, the city did not issue an impact report, but held an online community meeting to share designs concepts – which also showed a majority of on-street parking being eliminated, but with 15-minute pickup and loading zones during certain hours within a bus lane; and with metered parking moved to side streets in key locations. Before the Sept. 14 presentation, the city reached out to businesses along the stretch to get their input and hear concerns.

Andreas Wolfe, the city’s street design project manager, said Friday that “targeted outreach is taking place as part of the Dudley Street-to-Alewife Brook Parkway section for businesses along that section,” and Porter Square outreach would follow before that project takes place. The stretch from Dudley Street to Alewife Brook Parkway will be complete before the MassAve4 project, because it is entirely quick build and there are no overhead catenary wires powering buses to contend with.

Some felt the process is inadequate. “As a business owner that will be directly affected by this rushed and poorly planned project to install much-needed protected bike lanes, I was never given a real voice,” said Robert Harris, owner of the Season to Taste restaurant at 2447 Massachusetts Ave. “Instead there was a virtual meeting to talk about thoughts and feelings, with 99 percent of the decisions already made, which only highlights the flawed process for this project.”

Save Mass Ave

In the wake of that meeting, the group Save Mass Ave formed and launched a website with materials that tout the approach taken by Mass Ave. 4 All but also promotes candidate for City Council who have not signed onto a Cambridge Bicycle Safety pledge to support the Cycling Safety Ordinance. That includes one incumbent, E. Denise Simmons, and several challengers for council seats.

Save Mass Ave also has its own petition calling for “meaningful engagement and planning with all stakeholders.”

“There are several petitions,” said Ruth Ryals, president of the Porter Square Neighbors Association, referring to the groups’ overlapping online and paper versions. “It is messy.”

On the social media site Nextdoor, some North Cambridge residents and others unhappy about the loss of parking and a process say they feel they don’t have a voice, while bike advocates such as CBS leverage their power disproportionately to control and influence elections and policy. Boston area cycling advocacy groups such as the Boston Cyclist Union promote and canvass for city council members and candidates who support bike safety policy and bike infrastructure as a priority.

Business concerns

This isn’t the first time the rollout of bike lanes has been contentious. Back in 2017 there was pushback from businesses and residents on Cambridge Street to the installation of protected bike lanes that took away some on-street parking. Though the city says businesses have come through bike changes fine in Harvard and Central squares, some have seen big drop-offs in walk-in traffic resulting from a lack of parking, said Guitar Stop’s Jeanne Oster at a Wednesday meeting of the North Cambridge Stabilization Committee.

The data can be confusing, though. City surveys show that in Porter Square, for example, the No. 1 item businesses said would help them was more parking, while 62 percent of respondents said they came to shop in the area by foot, with biking accounting for another 19 percent and the MBTA for 16 percent. Motor vehicles checked in at 33 percent.

And for all the infrastructure already rolled out, outdoor dining spaces on Massachusetts Avenue have been retained in their entirety, Fillmore pointed out.

The pledge, which has been signed by seven councillors running for reelection and six council challengers, “is important to ensure continued implementation of the ordinance on schedule and without delay that will lead to further injuries or deaths,” Fillmore said.

“Certainly the bike pledge has an impact [politically], particularly among the challengers who have to decide publicly which side they’re on – we already know where the incumbents stand,” said councillor Quinton Zondervan, a signer of the pledge.

Political overlap

But it can be difficult to draw lines around politicians’ policies. In addition to first-time candidate Tonia Hicks appearing on both of the new groups’ lists, there are candidates such as Paul Toner – who did not sign the pledge but is not opposed to bike lanes or the ordinance’s overall goal of separated bike lanes and safety for all. “I agree with the goals of the Cambridge Cycling Safety Ordinance,” he said in an email, “I believe there needs to be flexibility on the construction timeline in order to gather input from relevant stakeholders, such as neighborhood residents and businesses.”

Separated bike lane infrastructure continues to be implemented – last month it went in along the Mid-Cambridge section of Massachusetts Avenue from City Hall to where Massachusetts Avenue and Mount Auburn Street meet in Harvard Square.

Zondervan thinks there is going to be a natural shift away from trips by single drivers with the arrival of autonomous vehicles and microtransit options such as Bluebikes and electric scooters. “Just as we’ve always said,” Zondervan said, “if you build it, they will come. As we make it safer and easier for people to bike instead of drive, more and more people will choose to do that, and that’s exactly what we need. Also exciting about Massachusetts Avenue in front of City Hall is the clearly marked bus stop lane. It’s exciting to see us prioritize not just bike lanes but also bus lanes. We’re really heading in the right direction prioritizing public transit over private vehicle transport, and I’m just really happy about that and look forward to more to come.”

Weed & Wine

17 May

Comparing cultures in her doc ‘Weed & Wine,’ Cambridgeport’s Cohen found the relationship

By Tom MeekThursday, May 13, 2021

Cambridgeport director and producer Rebecca Richman Cohen presents her documentary “Weed & Wine” on Saturday as part of the Independent Film Festival Boston. (Photo: Weed & Wine)

The bridge between law and documentary filmmaking has strong precedent in the Boston area. Cantabrigian Frederick Wiseman, whose filmmaking style is pretty much the embodiment of cinéma vérité, was teaching law at Boston University when he set off to make “Titicut Follies” in 1967; Mary Mazzio was working as an attorney at Boston’s Brown Rudnick when she decided to go to film school and make socially conscious films (“A Most Beautiful Thing,” “Ten9Eight: Shoot for the Moon”). This week, the virtual run of Independent Film Festival Boston brings focus to Cambridgeport filmmaker Rebecca Richman Cohen, who graduated Harvard Law School and now lectures there. On Saturday, the IFFB will screen her third documentary “Weed & Wine.”

Cohen, like Wiseman and Mazzio, is driven by the human side of her subjects. The continent-spanning film that details two families, the land they work, the challenges they face and the tradition of agriculture across generations began as a late-night conversation about terroir in a Parisian wine bar. Cohen describes the French-originated concept of terroir as “the way the land expresses itself in agricultural produce and the history and tradition of that land.” On the rooting of the project, Cohen says, “I woke up the next morning and still thought it was a great idea.”

One of the challenges in making the film was finding a French vigneron family to partake; many found the juxtaposition of wine grape growing and cannabis agriculture off-putting. “People kept telling me I was comparing apples and oranges,” Cohen said via Zoom, “but in the end, it was about family.” Ultimately Cohen gathered with the Jodreys in Humboldt County, California, and the Thibons of France’s Rhone Valley. The patriarch of that Californian cannabis farm, Kev Jodrey, is a New England transplant (you can hear a trace of it in his accent) and has been growing his product outside legal boundaries for years. The Thibons, on the other hand, have been tending to the same vineyards for hundred of years.

Cohen fell into filmmaking by happenstance while attending Brown University. “I got a job as an assistant editor when I was studying aboard in college, because I couldn’t figure out what else to do. Then I got hooked. After college, I worked for Michael Moore as an assistant editor on ‘Fahrenheit 9/11.’” Cohen’s other documentary features include “War Don Don” (2010), which puts the Serra Leone justice system under a microscope, and “The Code of the West” (2012), which looks at medical marijuana growers in Montana as regulations and policies are reevaluated.

French vintner Hélène Thibon in “Weed & Wine.”

Cannabis farmer Kevin Jodrey in “Weed & Wine.”

Before making “War Don Don,” Cohen had been in Serra Leone using her legal knowledge in a humanitarian capacity. “I’m not an attorney,” Cohen points out quickly. “I’ve never taken the bar.” The subjects she lectures on, human rights and humanitarianism as told through the lens of documentary films, and using video and media as evidence and advocacy, seem to meld seamlessly with her social focus behind the camera.

It took nearly five years to make “Weed & Wine” since Cohen imbibed the idea in that wine bar. One of the realizations the filmmaker had along the way was that her thesis about land focus shifted some, becoming more about those using the land and their kinship to it and each other. Cohen said that sense of family and community became increasingly meaningful to her because during the filmmaking process she became pregnant and had a child. “A total pandemic child,” she says of her 15-month-old.

Covid delayed the release of “Weed & Wine” for nearly a year. Cohen had imagined that the Jodreys and Thibons would meet in person at the premiere or a festival screening; instead that happened by Zoom, Cohen says with a tang of sadness. “But the funny thing is,” she says, “is what do you think was the first thing they talked about? The weather. What else do farmers talk about?”

One of Cohen’s key cinematic influences is “Fast, Cheap & Out of Control,” Cambridge filmmaker Errol Morris’ 1997 documentary about a lion tamer, a robotics expert, a topiary gardener and a specialist in naked mole rats. Interestingly too, one could argue that Morris has a link to law; before coming to filmmaking he was a private investigator, a skill that helped mightily when digging into the gunning down of a Texas police office in “The Thin Blue Line” (1988), a film that helped get an innocent man out of jail. What resonated with Cohen about Morris’ film was the juxtaposition of diverse endeavors and the common themes that linked the subjects. “It’s kind of a bit like what we did with ‘Weed & Wine,’” Cohen says.

Cohen wants to next examine mass incarceration in conjunction with such social movements as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. One thing Cohen was adamant about during our interview was that film is a collaborative process, mentioning that the film would not have been possible without her committed team of producers and crew – and the final product is impressive in terms of production values and synergy. Screenings of “Weed & Wine” will be accompanied by a prerecorded Q&A.

Racism hits local restaurant

23 Nov

Urban Hearth’s outdoor John Lewis mural vandalized Monday in ‘obvious hate crime’

By Tom Meek
Tuesday, November 17, 2020

It’s been tough for restaurants recently with shortened hours, colder temperatures and perhaps another shutdown looming. Adding to the woes for Urban Hearth, the young nouvelle can-do north of Porter Square on Massachusetts Avenue, was an act of vandalism Monday that owner and chef Erin Miller described as “an obvious hate crime.”

“I’m absolutely gutted,” Miller said. The eatery’s cozy sidewalk pavilion, which I visited for a meal in August, had been since adorned by a mural enshrining recently passed civil rights icon and longtime Georgian lawmaker John Lewis, the subject of the 2020 documentary “Good Trouble.” The full-length alfresco design by local artist Rocky Cotard, commissioned by Miller and finished in early October, was marred by black spray paint in the middle of the night. To get to the images, the vandals had to get past dense pilings of furniture.

“Do not turn away from this … It is a violation of all that is decent, good and hopeful in our world,”Miller said online.

Miller said the police were beginning an investigation; it was unclear if there were cameras nearby that might have video helpful in the matter.

On Wednesday, police said several businesses in the 2200-2300 block of Massachusetts Avenue had been vandalized late Monday or early Tuesday, suggesting the vandalism was not exclusively targeted at the mural. Detectives are following up and looking for video evidence, said Jeremy Warnick, director of communications and media relations for Cambridge police.

While the Hearth has shut down the patio temporarily, the restaurant remains open for takeout.

Bountiful Kitchen

22 Oct

Bountiful Kitchen, sprung from a pandemic, nurtured into a healthy meal delivery service

By Tom Meek
Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Julian Cohen and executive chef Keenan Goodwin prepare meals for Bountiful Kitchen at Foundation Kitchen in Somerville. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Covid’s done much to fracture the restaurant business. There’s been a slew of permanent closings (Cuchi Cuchi, Flat Top Johnny’s, Bergamot and Inman Square’s Bukowski Tavern, among many) and with winter hibernations coming and Covid-19 infection rates on the uptick, silver linings are slim. But they do exist. During the spring, the Day reported on early business pivots by Pagu and Season to Taste as well as the launch of Bountiful Kitchen, a home delivery meal service. In April, Bountiful founder Julian Cohen was cooking out of a home kitchen and delivering hot meals to a boutique clientele in his Porter Square neighborhood, but taken the business to the next level, expanding his menu and delivery routes to include all of Cambridge, Somerville, Arlington and select Boston neighborhoods. He’s also hired executive chef Keenan Goodwin, formerly of Fat Hen in Somerville, and moved to a formal commercial kitchen facility at the Foundation Kitchen on Washington Street, on the way to Sullivan Square.

Foundation Kitchen is a rentable shared space – a food startup incubator. Husband and wife owners Ciaran Nagle and Tara Novak have two locations (the bigger facility is in Union Square) and a third in the works for Charlestown that will have a food and drink hall. The facilities gives people who want to enter the food business an easy leg up without having the huge financial burden of a storefront, a long-term lease and sunk equipment costs, Nagle said.

Bountiful Kitchen’s BBQ Turkey Breast with Old Bay Potato Salad. (Photo: Julian Cohen)

That makes sense for a scrappy business such as Bountiful. Cohen, a former barista and food preparer at Hi-Rise Bread Co., started the service on a whim after being laid off, while Goodwin was left out of the rotation when a slimmer Fat Hen reopened.

They’ve since evolved the menu at Bountiful toward a more symphonic complement of foods and flavors, Cohen said, as opposed to the early scramble, when things were assembled based on what was on hand. There’s now more collaboration and planning between owner and chef, and the two try to source all their foods locally.

Recent and current Bountiful Kitchen offerings in the $15 to $25 range include beef bolognese, crab-stuffed squash, brown sugar crusted salmon, lemon grass and coconut chicken stew, yellowfin tuna loins and roasted pork loin. There’s always a vegetarian option and sides, such as butternut squash soup and parmesan roasted Brussels sprouts. Like other delivery/to-go food services these days such as Hi-Rise and Pagu, Bountiful has pantry offerings; it also has wine pairings, which come through a partnership with The Wine Press. The wine comes with your meal. Delivery happens between 6 to 7 p.m. and the menu rotates daily.

Cohen and Goodwin do more than 120 meals a week – up from around 80 when Cohen launched – and plan to keep expanding. If you’re not on their delivery heat map, you and some neighbors can fill out a form to be added; Cohen said he is deeply customer driven. Most of his weekly queue are regulars who keep coming back.

“The food’s always cooked to perfection,” said Rachel Joffe, a Bountiful regular. “Delivery is pleasant, they give you advance notice, and the delivery persons are nice. They have accommodated my need/request to have the food delivered on the early side, and I appreciate their flexibility.”

Bountiful Kitchen has a weekly newsletter to let subscribers know each week’s offerings. The menu is also updated on a website with easy ordering.

The Powerful Coe

1 Oct

Catching up with Charles Coe, an enduring voice where streetscape changes but race issues linger

By Tom Meek
Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Poet Charles Coe is the subject a film screening Wednesday as part of the 22nd Roxbury Film Festival’s opening night lineup. (Photo: Gordon Webster)

As noted in Sunday’s Film Ahead column, the 22nd Roxbury Film Festival kicks off virtually Wednesday, with “The Sit-In: Harry Belafonte Hosts the Tonight Show” by Yoruba Richen, about Johnny Carson stepping aside to let Belafonte host in the wake of race riots in the late ’60s, and the short “Betye Saar: Taking Care of Business” by Christine Turner.

What’s Cambridge-centric about the opening night lineup is the inclusion of another short: Roberto Mighty’s “Charles Coe: Man of Letters,” about the longtime Cambridge resident, poet and musician. If you’ve ever been to a Cambridge or Boston area poetry reading you’ve probably heard Coe deliver one of his truths in his signature baritone voice. Or you may have seen his recent photographic exhibit at the Boston Public Library, “What You Don’t Know about Me” (2018), or as part of Rashin Fahandej’s “A Father’s Lullaby” exhibit at the ICA last year.

Though Coe did not write poetry seriously until the 1990s and published his first collection, “Picnic on the Moon,” in 1999, to date he’s published three collections of poems, been a Boston artist in residence and earned an honorary doctorate – not bad for a guy who never got a bachelor’s degree.

“You know, I swear I was just buying notebooks and pencils with my mom for school,” Coe says, “and the I blinked and I’m turning 68.”

Coe, born in Indianapolis, dropped out of college and played bass in a rock cover band (Motown and Top 40) in Nashville, Tennessee, before making his way to Boston in the mid 1970s.


The trailer for Roberto Mighty’s “Charles Coe: Man of Letters”:Video Player00:0001:35


Before a nearly 20-year career at the Mass Cultural Council, Coe worked as a musician around the city and in the food industry. “I worked at a place called The Hungry Persian on Brattle Street,” Coe said.

It and every other eatery he named are no more. Being in the Hub for so long, Coe has seen a lot come and go.

And remain the same.

As a black man he’s experienced his fair share of infamous Boston racism, as captured in his poem “For the Ancient Boston Bar with Neon Shamrocks in the Windows, Recently Departed,” about an Irish bar where he was not welcomed. Coe said he was experiencing “great grief and dismay” anew over what is happening across the country. “Didn’t we fight those battles?” he asks incredulously. To Coe racism is like tuberculosis: “You think it’s contained and controlled, but you just need the right conditions for it to flare up. And that creature in the Oval Office is doing everything he can to set it off.”

Continue reading

Peaceful Protests in Cambridge

7 Jun

 

Protesters gather Sunday in Porter Square after a renewed spate of nationwide deaths of people of color at the hands of police. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Around 200 residents assembled along Massachusetts Avenue in Porter Square on Sunday to protest police brutality and ask for justice in the Memorial Day death of George Floyd in Minneapolis – and in countless other blue-on-black incidents nationwide. The video of police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of Floyd has sparked protests across the country, many turning violent as people join with uncertain motives and police respond.

Update from June 3, 2020: Police officers estimate that the protest “maxed out with about 100 participants,” according to Jeremy Warnick, director of communications and media relations for Cambridge police.

Curfews have been imposed in 40 cities; the National Guard has been called to 15. Social media is pulsing with videos of looting and police violence.

Not in Cambridge, though.

Chants of “Hey, hey, ho, ho, these racist cops have got to go,” and “No justice, no peace,” filled the area as cars drove by, honking in support. Signs demanding justice and the end of police brutality joined a sea of “Black Lives Matter” placards.

The protest, organized by North Cambridge attorney Gerry McDonough through social media, was peaceful and without incident. McDonough, launching an activist group Stand Out Against Racism, or Soar, said the day’s event was one of many to come. At the rally portion of the event, he announced a day of action slated for Saturday, when smaller groups in neighborhoods would stage similar protests.

Luis Cotto, Mercedes Soto and Ángel Cotto pause after creating a chalk memorial on the steps of City Hall. (Photo: Luis Cotto via Instagram)

Other signs of protest popped up around the city, from a “BLM” tag for the Black Lives Matter movement spray painted on a building at Kirkland and Beacon streets to the names of people of color slain by police chalked on the steps of City Hall. The names stretched back at least as far as Amadou Diallo, killed in New York in 1999.  

One of the concerns of protests and demonstrations in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic is public safety and social distancing. All demonstrators present wore masks, but a 6-foot rule was rarely achieved.

Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui said Saturday that she was planning an online vigil. “Facilitating a community healing process will be one of our most important jobs as elected officials, so we can collectively address the pain of this pandemic, the pain of this moment and the generational pain many of us carry in our bodies every day,” she said via social media.

Plans for the vigil, made public over the weekend, have it taking place from 5 to 5:30 p.m. Monday on cable Channel 22 and via Facebook Live. Details are here.

“Like many of you, I am navigating waves of anger and sadness as I think about [Floyd’s] life, his family and community – and about this country’s history of criminalizing blackness. George Floyd’s death should not have happened. May he rest in power,” Siddiqui said.

Work with City Manager Louis A. DePasquale and police commissioner Branville G. Bard Jr. is ongoing on “how best to keep our community safe from violence,” she said. “We must also work to keep people safe from discrimination and safe from displacement.”

Bard commented briefly on Floyd’s death as well. “Make no mistake about it, George Floyd’s death was the result of depraved indifference.” Bard said online Wednesday before expanding on his thoughts after the protest. Speaking to fellow law enforcement officials via tweet, he said, “I hope we realize that it will take more than words to correct this! Action, and only action will help to reverse this.”

Getting in two steel wheel in complicated times

31 May

Covid-19 makes bikes more important than ever; It also complicates everything about getting one

A line forms Saturday outside Ace Wheelworks between Porter and Davis squares in Somerville. (Photo: Marc Levy)

When gyms and parks were restricted and shuttered by the coronavirus shutdown, cycling saw a surge as a means of exercise, recreation and transportation – biking by definition has social distancing built into it, a sterling alternative to a crowded subway car where one good sneeze could have a devastating effect. As Massachusetts seeks to get back to normal, bikes will stay important for summer recreation and commuter options. Cambridge just announced a “Shared Streets” initiative to pair with Somerville, and over in Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh announced a “Healthy Streets” plan, safer paths encouraging new riders who were formerly deterred by the crush of regular motor vehicle traffic.

If you don’t have a bike and want to get on one, how do you do it with the Covid-19 restrictions still in place? One way is a bike share such as Blue Bikes, but most people will want the comfort and convenience of owning their own steel steed. Buying off Craigslist and the like is one option, but brings with it questions about bike size and other factors – including whether the bike was stolen. Bike stores offer professional advice and a better understanding of quality and cost, help for first-time buyers and assurance of help and service down the line.

Bike stores were deemed “essential” by Gov. Charlie Baker during the shutdown, and most in the Cambridge/Somerville area remained open. Now all are back online with the exception of Quad Bikes, which operates out of a Harvard-owned facility on Shepherd Street. During the stay-at-home mandate, maintenance and repairs were by curbside appointment, and it’ll be largely the same for the first phase of Baker’s four-phase return plan. One of the big challenges presented are hands-on sampling and test rides. Carice Reddien, owner of Bicycle Belle368 Beacon St., near Porter Square in Somerville, a specialist in cargo bikes, e-bikes and family-friendly extension bikes (and just reopened) said, “We’ve been doing socially distanced test rides outside the shop, and it seems to work.” Jason Paige, co-owner of Ace Wheelworks145 Elm St., between Porter and Davis squares in Somerville, whose shop was open for the duration, said, “We do a pretty thorough sales job on the phone, but the first time they ride it is when they pick it up curbside.” That model is flipped from before Covid-19, but Paige said the store has adopted a relaxed return and exchange policy to make shoppers more comfortable with a big purchase. “If you call with a price range and type of style, we’ll make something happen,” Paige said.

The bigger problem is supply and shipping in times of high demand. “Be patient,” Reddien said. “Supplies are low and shops are stretched thin trying to work in new and safe ways.” Paige said Wheelworks at one point had to stop taking orders over the phone because a salesperson would take an order only to have an online shopper beat them to the last SKU. (On the day that I wrote this, the website had a message saying “Sales temporarily suspended.”)

Other stores coming back are trying novel approaches to meet demand and their customer’s needs. Crimson Bikes, the Cannondale retailer at 1001 Massachusetts Ave., Mid-Cambridge, offers mobile visits to your home as well as curbside appointments; Cambridge Bicycle259 Massachusetts Ave., The Port, has something of what shop manager Josh Smith describes as an “Old West countertop service,” with accessories and helmets exhibited at the door for customers to review and try out. Cambridge Bicycle also offers limited test rides.

One thing all agreed on was that the shutdown has been both a boon for cycling. “More people now see cycling as a more attractive and viable thing,” Smith said. Paige said that he’s doing a lot more family sales, with overall sales in units notably up from last year, but accessory sales down. “Families are getting out and biking together,” he said. “That makes me emotional.”

The best way to buy a bike in these socially distancing times seems to start with online research, then a sales call before a scheduled test ride. And to remember, as Reddien said: “Be patient.”

Black History Month – Cambridge Notables

26 Feb

Black Bookmark Project highlights pioneers less known, but all worth taking a page from

An opportunity to remember William Henry Lewis, ‘great man’ of firsts

 

tmp-BHM1Joyce London Alexander, in an image from the Cambridge Black Trailblazers website.

This Black History Month sees the launch of the Cambridge Black Bookmark Project, giving young readers free bookmarks – photos on the front, biographies on the back – introducing more people to a generation of black trailblazers not yet given physical markers around the city.

The Cambridge Black Trailblazers project adds to and updates work begun by the Cambridge African American Heritage Alliance, which installed 20 markers citywide honoring the achievements of black leaders from the 1840s to World War II, said project coordinator James Spencer, representing a committee of another half-dozen people. The group printed 7,000 bookmarks, of which about 4,000 have been given to the school district. Others have gone to the City Council to hand out and to the families of the people being celebrated; a donation of up to 2,000 of the bookmarks to city libraries awaits permission, he said.

“This has been a labor of love … But this is just the beginning. In order to continue, the project will need additional resources,” said Spencer, a retired civil rights and diversity officer, describing plans for at least 20 bookmarks led by an initial seven.

Movers and shakers

The first batch includes Joyce London Alexander, who went from first black president of the CRLS student council to first black chief magistrate in the United States; Charles Leroy Gittens, the first black Secret Service agent and protector of U.S. presidents from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Gerald Ford before taking charge of all agency field offices; Elizabeth Rawlins, an educator who became a longtime dean at Simmons College; Leon West, who became famous as a chef in New Orleans; Roy Allen, a television producers and director who became the first black member of the Directors Guild of America; Henry Owens, the entrepreneur behind Green Moving; and civil rights activist Gertrude Wright Morgan, who recently got a street named after her in Canbridge Crossing – after work began on the trailblazers project.

“It is critically important that young people, as well as the larger Cambridge community, recognize the selfless and courageous contributions of these individuals in a generational period of painful discrimination,” Spencer said.

“This initial phase of the project was developed, researched, financed and launched by a committee of dedicated volunteers, with support from the Cambridge Historical Commission,” he said, calling sponsors – individual, corporate and philanthropic – vital to move the project forward from this hopeful start. Continue reading

Agassiz, what’s in a Name

21 Jan

Support builds for a ‘Baldwin neighborhood,’ removing racist association of Agassiz name

Cambridge Rindge and Latin School senior Maya Counter, right, leads a discussion Tuesday about changing the name of the Agassiz neighborhood. With her is Ann Charlotte Hogstadius, her mother. (Photo: Tom Meek)

A name change for the Agassiz neighborhood won unanimous approval this week at a community meeting, with the caveat by several voters that more conversation is needed.

The proposal to change the name to the “Baldwin neighborhood” comes from Maya Counter, a resident of the neighborhood and co-president of the Black Student Union at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. But it’s not new – Counter, a senior, came upon the idea her sophomore year while researching a history class project and learning of the “flawed science and racist beliefs” of namesake Louis Agassiz.

It’s also not an idea new to the neighborhood. In 2002, a School Committee vote renamed the Agassiz School on Oxford Street to address the same discomfort; addressing the neighborhood name might have followed, according to people active in neighborhood politics at the time, had not many of the students and parents who pushed for the change felt burned out by the effort.

The neighborhood’s Maria L. Baldwin School was known as the Agassiz School until 2002. (Photo: Marc Levy)

There was little disagreement Tuesday about Agassiz and the context of his legacy. The Swiss-born scientist who lived from 1807 to 1873 was famous for founding Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, but controversial for pushing racially divisive theories as science. He believed in polygenism, the idea that human races are of different origins, and that whites were intellectually superior to other races. He has been discredited for his racism, and his belief in creationism lost out to the evolutionary theories of contemporary Charles Darwin.

His name was taken off the local elementary school in honor of Maria Baldwin, who in 1899 became the first black female school principal in the Northeast – “the most distinguished position achieved by a person of negro descent in the teaching world of America,” W.E.B. Du Bois said in 1917.

It was at the school that the Agassiz Neighborhood Council met Tuesday to give Counter the “constructive conversation” she requested, and a positive reaction by the approximately 30 neighborhood residents and staff in attendance.

Maria Baldwin, circa 1885. (Photo: Library of Congress)

Wider involvement sought

But there were concerns about process after Counter announced she had reached out to Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and planned to present to the City Council at month’s end.

Many at the ANC meeting expressed a strong desire to be involved in the process and felt that one meeting in a neighborhood of approximately 6,000 residents – with only two dozen in attendance – was not enough. (To prepare for the meeting, Counter posted about the idea on the neighborhood social media site Nextdoor. As at the meeting, there was strong support for a name change, though also some challenges that “you can’t erase the past.”) Some people at the meeting were concerned that Counter was rushing to get the change done before graduation.

Some also floated the notion that perhaps the neighborhood was named after Agassiz’s wife, Elizabeth Cabot, a naturalist and the founder of Radcliffe College, and therefore the name might still be applicable. But correspondence from Charles Sullivan, executive director of the Cambridge Historical Commission, stated, “The Agassiz neighborhood was named after the Agassiz School, which is now the Baldwin School.”

No clear-cut process

Renaming a neighborhood lacks a clear-cut process, despite the recent change of Area IV to “The Port.” There too, race played a role, as residents believed the term “Area IV” was a police designation (it was created by the city facilitate analysis of the then upcoming 1940 U.S. Census). The change was made official by a City Council vote in 2015 after several rounds of community solicitation. In that situation too, not everyone felt the process had been inclusive enough, said Lee Farris, a resident of The Port who is active in civic affairs.

The Agassiz change may be simpler. A policy order by city councillor E. Denise Simmons approved unanimously in April asks the city to review the names of streets, schools and public buildings “that may be named in honor of those who have ties to the American slave trade” and work on renaming them “as soon as possible.” Agassiz, while not a slave owner and on record as an abolitionist, could be linked to slavery for espousing the beliefs that enabled it.

“Why keep it?”

There is already some eagerness for a name change among the hosts of the Tuesday meeting.

In 2007 the nonprofit that provides after-school services, runs the Maud Morgan Arts Center, hosts the Agassiz Neighborhood Council meetings and provides other community services, was rebranded the Agassiz Baldwin Community – a half-measure that doesn’t sit well with Counter. “Why keep it?” she said in an interview before the meeting, referring to the “Agassiz” part of the name. “He thought she was biologically inferior. It’s disrespectful to her.”

At the meeting, the nonprofit’s executive director, Maria La Page, agreed that having the name “Agassiz” upfront was a burden for an organization that holds inclusion at its core.

The Agassiz neighborhood is between Harvard and Porter squares and touches on Somerville, defined by Massachusetts Avenue to the west and Kirkland Street to the south.

Murder Still a Mystery, One Year Later

3 Jan

 

District Attorney Marian Ryan steps aside at a Thursday press conference in Woburn so Elizabeth Dobbins can speak on the one-year anniversary of the death of her brother, Paul Wilson. (Photo: Tom Meek)

On the one-year anniversary of the killing of Paul Wilson, 60, in Danehy Park, law enforcement officials gathered at the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office in Woburn on Thursday to assure the public they continue to investigate – and to ask again for the public’s help in finding the killer.

Joining them was Wilson’s sister, Elizabeth Dobbins, who reflected on Wilson as big man with a big heart, and a man who valued family and friends. “He could connect with anyone and everyone,” she said, calling his death “incomprehensible and senseless.”

While there was little new to be revealed by District Attorney Marian Ryan and Cambridge police Deputy Superintendent Leonard DiPietro, it was made clear that a bat found at the scene of the crime was not used to kill Wilson.

“There is nothing that connects this item with the crime,” officials said. “A search of the park following the attack resulted in the collection of several samples of biological matter. Forensic testing has been conducted indicating that some of the blood found at the scene was animal blood; testing on further biological evidence remains ongoing.”

An image of Paul Wilson released Thursday by law enforcement officials.

Videos given to police by people in the area have not provided any answers, and Ryan said hundreds of park neighbors and visitors have been interviewed. “By revisiting this anniversary today, we are reminding the community of this crime and reinforcing the need for cooperation and information from the general public,” DiPietro added.

It was also noted that since the attack on Wilson, “investigators have also been made aware of some similar incidents that have occurred in Cambridge and other communities” but are not connected to his death, they said. “He was also found with his belongings on him, including an Apple Watch – suggesting robbery was not the motive.”

On Jan. 2, 2019, Wilson returned from work at IBM to the Porter Square T station and rode a Blue Bike home, parking it by his house on Sherman Street before walking through the park,  investigators said. Wilson was found by a passer-by shortly before 6:48 p.m. on an asphalt path near the Danehy Park parking lot and dumpsters, near New Street. He was taken to Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital and pronounced dead from blunt force trauma at around 10:18 p.m. 

“There’s no reason to believe the crime didn’t take place where the body was found [and] there’s more reason to believe it did,” Cambridge Police Commissioner Branville G. Bard Jr. said at a public meeting a year ago. “Mr. Wilson was found right under working lights in a well-lit area. That wasn’t the problem.”

The discussion of motive was similar to what was discussed a year ago.  Wilson was “brutally murdered,” Bard said, and Ryan said at the time that there was no reason to believe the intention of the attack, in which “most of the blows were to the top of the head,” was a robbery. 

The death continues to be investigated by the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, state police assigned there and by Cambridge police. “We have made some progress but have not ye identified a suspect,” Ryan said Thursday, renewing a call for anyone with information about the incident to call (781) 897-6600.

People with information are also invited to call Cambridge Police at (617) 349-3300. Anonymous reports can be left at (617) 349-3359; sent by text message to 847411 (begin your text with TIP650, then type your message); or by email by visiting CambridgePolice.org/Tips.