Story and Photos By Sal Giarratani
CELEBRATION AT BUNKER HILL PROJECTS BRINGS BACK MEMORIES
A couple weeks back, they held a Block Party at the Bunker Hill Housing Projects over at the basketball court by Monument Street, and I decided to take it in for a possible story for this column. The day was very beautiful and the crowds, especially the kids seemed to be having a great time playing games and eating slush and hot dogs often in that very order. Older folks were enjoying themselves, too. The projects are pretty diverse these days, Someone told me back around 1980, the projects had one African American family. I can believe that.
Lots of politicians showed up for the event. Of course they do, and there›s nothoing wrong with that. The mayor was a big hit when he showed up as were the candidates running to replace the outgoing City Councilor Sal LaMattina from District 1.
I had a good time, too, talking to the many friends whom I recognized or who recognized me first. There was my writing pal Tommy MacDonald from Harvest on Vine. We talked about writing, of course. He tells me he has begun a new novel. He has had so many I lost count. I thought, sadly, Hollywood counts Charlestown in bank robbers and not writers. They first sell movies and last real news.
As I spent time at the basketball court and block party, I thought back to my days in the projects. My projects were Orchard Park in Roxbury, and, for a real short time, Cathedral down the street in the South End. I so hated life in the projects. We didn’t have tenant groups back then. It was just us versus management, and they always came out on top.
However, as I walked through the Bunker Hill Projects I discovered my own PTSD over living in brick boxes that felt like prisons. They painted concrete green to make it look like grass for us. Even as a kid, I thought that was sick. As I walked around, I didn’t know whether it was 2017 or 1937 because the projects seem like a land that stood still.
Something has to change because what I saw doesn’t seem right for residents there. Once again I was reminded how projects were built to separate from the surrounding neighborhoods, in Roxbury, in the South End, in Charlestown and elsewhere. Everything moves in from the edges to the center. Reminds me of an army fort walled-in from everyone else.
What will take the place of the existing housing development will be lastiing like this project has been. Haven’t heard much about One Charlestown, I hope the community and developers can come up with something that works for project folks and everyone else. Everyone deserves good housing, and a community deserves unity too.
You know, one time, candidates for public office seem to write off the projects. Only a few seemed to care. Today, that is no longer the case. That needs to continue. I was both proud and happy to have gone inside the projects to that block party. It was necessary when my family needed housing. It was good to live behind when we got back on our feet.
Housing should be a right that is what President Harry Truman and Minneapolis Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey both said in 1948, the year I was born. Lots of talk since but what has changed when it comes to affordable housing for all of us.