Letter to the Editor

The Short-Changing of Charlestown

To the Editor,

As Mayor Wu delivered her State of the City address recently, my hope was that the City of Boston is in a good place. Mayor Wu spoke of many new initiatives, programs, and positive happenings in our city.

Further into the address, the Mayor added, “The Boston Planning and Development Agency will transition to the city in July, “restoring planning as a core function of the agency.”

Charlestown has lost out on the “new planning.” Our one square mile is in the middle of a major building boom, with more than 46 multi storied buildings ranging in height from 4 to 20 stories, with a goal of 20,000 more residents in our one square mile. Of note, 14,000 residents on average reside in one square mile in Boston according to the latest census. 

The back story:  As a City Councilor, Mayor Wu wrote a major policy paper calling to “Abolish the BPDA” citing the failures of this agency. This was a compelling document and prompted many of us to join her campaign as we in Charlestown needed and advocated for planning.

After Mayor Wu was sworn in January 2022, we presented over 4,000 petition signatures that requested a Master Plan going forward. We were ignored by Mayor Wu, and ignored by newly appointed first Chief of Planning, James Arthur Jemison.

Here it is 2024 and we are still without planning but every available acre in our one square mile is slated for development. One proposal after another is approved, ignoring resident comments and concerns. We asked for in-person or hybrid meetings by the BPDA, we were rejected. We asked the BPDA for a map to show the residents in a simple format the future building proposals that would take place, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. That was not done. It seems the modus operandi of the BPDA “is the less they know the more we sow.”

The latest project to be approved is a travesty for our community:  The Austin Street parking lots, awarded to a developer touting affordable housing as the main selling point. Due to the BPDA’s lack of due diligence and no planning, Charlestown seems to be the place for more affordable housing.  In this toxic location, the environmental and social injustice – proposal: to build 700 units for 1750 Charlestown residents is the travesty. Charlestown currently is home to the highest number of affordable units / per capita in greater Boston, Seaport has zero.

Why are the Austin Street parking lots proposal the latest Charlestown travesty? The parcel is located on the Mill Creek which connects to Miller’s Pond [Sullivan Square], built on filled wetlands, in a severe FEMA flood zone, and surrounded by 6 major roadways, adjacent to the Boston Sand and Gravel.

The creation of another massive heat island with little green or open space is NOT okay for the residents who will be living there 24 /7 with idling, noisy traffic just outside their windows. Where is the critical and forward thinking, where is the due diligence to even allow this ill- conceived development?

As a nurse, I have been following the research regarding physical and mental health and the impacts of living in this “toxic environment.” Just living next to traffic, research is astonishing that shows increased asthma and cancer rates, increased dementia, as well as multiple morbid illnesses.

What worries me is the latest statistics regarding the future of the health care systems, hospital staff burnouts, decreased workers in hospitals, and many forgoing a career in health care leading to limited access to health care in a timely fashion. We all have heard stories and experienced the delay in seeing a doctor due to the physician shortage. It’s not easy to hear “the doctor will see you in a few months,” which is the norm these days. Charlestown medical facilities are at capacity, with no room for new patients.

The health care landscape is floundering as hospitals, health care systems, rehab facilities are closing.

Placing people in an unhealthy environment is a life of poor health, with a compromised health care system. This is frightening and unnecessary.  Does any public agency consider the impact on our lives? Do they connect the dots of toxic living to longevity, our quality of life, the cost of public health?

It is the height of egregiousness to consider The Austin Street parking lot proposal, it should be shelved. Green, open space, an urban wild, playgrounds, tennis/ pickle courts, picnic tables, performance stage, dog park and trees / benches to just sit and read or chat with a friend is needed for the residents in one square mile. Charlestown has the third lowest tree canopy of the 23 neighborhoods.

Charlestown residents deserve a healthy environment with the need and a place to recharge, relax, and restore our physical and mental health.

As Governor Healy stated in her State of the Commonwealth address, ‘Every voice is heard. Every community is listened to”.

Please Mayor Wu, dig into your toolbox and find the important tool of hearing and listening to us in Charlestown. Our health, quality of life and future depend on doing the right thing NOW.

Thank you,

Ann Kelleher MS, RN

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