Sunday, November 29, 2015

Walking with my dad in Sagaponack the day after Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving found me on Long Island visiting family.

On Friday, I walked the roads of Sagaponack with my father to burn off calories from the night before.

As we walked, he talked of friends and acquaintances gone by, memories of the New York literary and art worlds that called that place home in the middle of last century.

The listing was impressive. Some were famous, others less so. Many had connections to Harvard.

Even if New York City was the lodestar of culture then, the painters were attracted to the light and big skies of eastern Long Island and the writers perhaps to the luxuriant, quiet fields that grew potatoes and corn. Still, to be that far out of the city was to be quite some distance from civilization, at least as it was understood in 1955. This was long before the uber, uber wealthy began turning the fields into house lots.

Here were some of the names:

Peter Matthiessen
George Plimpton
Joe Fox
Truman Capote
John Irving
Willem de Kooning
Jackson Pollock

They were all white men, but that's all that world consisted of. It's interesting to remember the postwar anointed, unmistakably bourgeois and precious in their tastes but in some ways much more radical and interesting than today's lawyer soccer moms and their Audi-driving tech entrepreneur partner dads.

This old crowd gripped American culture tightly in both hands and argued with much passion about it all over too much booze at Elaine's.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Collarless Economy, wearing the shirt that fits this century

We've talked a lot about the white collar economy.  It looks like this ...

Or perhaps more infamously, like this ...

We've also talked a lot about the blue collar economy.  It looks like this ...

Or like this ...

Or perhaps like this ...

I think it's time we started talking about the collarless economy. It looks like this ...

Or like this ...

Or perhaps like this ...

Like so much else these days, the collarless economy is a Millennial reexamination, both literal and metaphoric, of the hard and soft boundaries surrounding work. 

All photos obtained through Google images.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A skatepark opens in East Cambridge

Yesterday, to much pomp and circumstance, under the curving concrete deck of I-93, next to North Point Park, opened a skatepark.

Boston mayor Marty Walsh at the mike
The mayors of Boston and Cambridge were there. Cambridge deputy city manager Lisa Peterson was there. Old folks like me were there. And the rest of the crowd was young and held in their hands something with wheels on it - a board or a bike or skates or something. The wind and the cold couldn't keep any of us away.

Skaters and bikers enjoying the fun
If ever there were an example of "Build It And They Will Come", this is it. Situated in what might be called throwaway land, it's a genius vision of how to bring life into a place that would otherwise be considered a liability.

Every 15-year-old whoever hops on a board to grind or carve on the glass-smooth surface needs to thank Renata von Tscharner, the president of Charles River Conservancy. Renata's vision saw this into being and her perseverance ensured her vision actually became a ribbon cutting.

Renata von Tscharner, prime mover

Of course, she needed money too, and Peter Lynch, the Boston-based financial guru funded the construction of the park and got his name on the plaque in exchange.

Saturday morning's events were a reminder of just how much good is going on in Boston and Cambridge these days, and why we should never take this good fortune for granted. It all may change someday. Given that it took Renata about a decade to bring this idea from concept to concrete, it's important to remember just how hard it is to change something for the better, and how much time it takes. We live in lucky times in this part of the world.

Heck, the event was good enough to lure skateboarding royalty out for the day ... Robert Winters graced us with his presence, showing off his latest equipment ...

That's quite a board there, sir. Custom built?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Stars are shining in New Bedford

I give you this ... Two young women arrive in a 19th century whaling port, just starting out on their way. They find some space in the ground floor of old building. They decide to open up for business.

Now, you tell me what happens next.

No, this isn’t the story of innocence lost and a fall from grace straight from the pen of Jane Austen. 

It's the story of 21st century courage and creativity breathing new life into a city that had grown old and run low on energy.

I give you two young women ...

Dena Haden (left) and Sarah Athanas (right)

I give you an old building ...

1213 Purchase Street

I give you a 19th century whaling port ...

New Bedford, Massachusetts

Mix them all together ... and behold ...

But what is it? It's a co-working space ... a place where people come with their laptops to sit at communal tables and work on their projects or at their jobs. Places like these are upending our antiquated notions of the 9 to 5, and it's also giving new life to American urban centers that had lost their way and their employment base in a globalized world. 

It even has the requisite ping pong table

Dena Haden and Sarah Athanas, the co-founders of the recently opened Groundwork! New Bedford, decided that a co-working space could work only blocks from the fishing piers that are still loaded with boats, and the early indications are favorable.  

At least, their strong partnership with the city of New Bedford indicates that the city would like to see this transformation happen. It is through this partnership that the ground floor space was created. The city owns the building and they were happy to have this tenant in there, at least, that's my guess. I am told the city covered most of the fit-out, and they obviously spent their money in the right places.  

Taking it to the next level means the work is never done

Getting underway was important to both Dena and Sarah so they began with a beta version last year, in smaller room, upstairs next to the New Bedford Economic Development Council. It was at that time that they developed a relationship with Workbar, a partnership to support them while they sort through the nitty gritty of their new business as well as articulate the broader vision.

According to Dena, a strong art scene in New Bedford along with the proximity of UMass Dartmouth creates a strong catalyst for the efforts Groundwork! is undertaking. In other words, it's the seeds of redefining a city better known for hosting the young Herman Melville than for hosting young entrepreneurs. But just as Melville's travels in the 1840s started him on his voyage for his Great White Whale and the great American novel, New Bedford once again hopes to be a home port for 21st century American creativity.

Atop Johnny Cake Hill one still finds the Seamen's Bethel: "In this same New Bedford there stands a Whaleman's Chapel, and few are the moody fishermen, shortly bound for the Indian Ocean or Pacific, who fail to make a Sunday visit to the spot." [Moby Dick]

One final thing to say about the space: it is magnificent. Open, airy, light, warm, a perfect reinterpretation of industrial space in a non-industrial age. In that special way that blesses some places, it has a good vibe. If you need a definition of "vibe", let's just say that you'll know it when you feel it, and you feel it there.

As for me, how did I get down there? Well, I joined Workbar Zipcar maven Alexa and her band of merry travelers that included Larry and Shannon and Dave ...

I went to walk around the city, and what follows are some random photos from my wanderings ...

A photo of a photo from the museum: No one should pretend that the fish industry isn't hard, hard work

The story of the 19th century: whaling = jobs (gray pyramid), but population growth (red bars) had to wait for the textile mills.

New Bedford is one of those oddities that pertains to Massachusetts uniquely, an American city that was very wealthy in 1830.

It's a pretty red, and what about those windows?

And then there were those damn blue shoes!

But you can't finish a blog post like this without handing it back to the King of Hyper-Monomania, Captain Ahab himself ...

"What do ye do when ye see a whale, men?"
"Sing out for him!" was the impulsive rejoinder from a score of clubbed voices.
"Good!" cried Ahab, with a wild approval in his tones; observing the hearty animation in which his unexpected question had so magnetically thrown them.
"And what do ye next, men?"
"Lower away, and after him!"
"A what tune is it ye pull to, men?"
"A dead whale or a stove boat!"

Sunday, November 8, 2015

A photograph of me, aged 49

It's worth observing yourself every once in a while, and thinking about where you are, whence you have come, and whither you might go, or be going.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The election is done. It's ok to start your life again.

The election is done, and that's a relief.

It's time to give the vitriol a pause, and get on with the business of living our lives. Also, it's important to allow this new Council time to find its feet and move forward on the issues in front of us all.

Congratulations to the newly elected councillors, but most of all to the newest, Jan Devereaux. I can say from experience that that experience, the experience of being elevated to the role of public official, is quite an experience. I wish her well in her first term.

The loss of Dennis Benzan is a real loss for the city. He spoke clearly for his constituency and worked hard on their behalf. He also was very clear about the need to tie the fortunes of Cambridge's most vulnerable to the fortunes of Cambridge's most fortunate. And it wasn't just rhetoric. He articulated a strategy that used development opportunities in Central Square to generate opportunities for the residents of The Port, both in jobs and in housing. The loss of this voice and the energy he put behind it will likely stalemate us on these discussions for a Council term if not longer. That means the parking lots of Central Square will remain, and all the social justice issues that we all claim to care about will get plenty of lip service, but not a lot of effective action.

Similarly, on the School Committee side, I congratulate the newest members, Emily Dexter and Manikka Bowman, and I share my condolences with Fran Cronin who lost her seat. With a new superintendent coming in, there will be a lot of work to do and the Committee will need to start on Day 1.

Now, it's time to get on with the rest of our lives.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What's really important as Election Day approaches

As we approach Election Day next Tuesday, I thought it was worthwhile to remind us all what this city looked like not very long ago. The photograph is Kendall Square in 1981. The blocks and blocks of empty parking lots formed MIT’s boundary. On the other side, low industrial buildings bordered East Cambridge. In between sat an abandoned, aggressive urban wasteland.
That land has seen many transformations over the intervening years and it is the basis of our debates today. Still, as we make our way to the polls next Tuesday, we should remember that returning to the past of this photograph is not an option in any sense. Our communal discussion must rightly and importantly be focused on how we go forward, together, as one community, in this challenging but opportunity-filled time.