Letter to the Editor

What’s Going on at the Ill-Conceived Bunker Hill Housing Development? Anything?

To the Editor,

Driving by the Bunker Hill Housing Development on Medford Street, one cannot miss the boarded up lumbered buildings that have been the status quo for over a year now. Asking around the neighborhood, there are few tangible answers as to why nothing is happening. There are rumors, such as material shortage, Covid, “do you know what’s going on”?

It seems to me that our elected officials might shed some light or information that would be helpful to the community of Charlestown. If they don’t have any answers, then why not?

Everyone is perplexed and the residents are suffering. The residents of this housing complex are left in limbo. Decent living conditions are needed now, not years from now.

This new Boston Planning and Development Agency plan is not mixed income as promised. I had hoped the delay meant a possible redesign of the plan would eliminate the ill-conceived segregated, low income only towers.

Segregated, low- income towers do not work for equitable housing. This was so evident at the former Columbia Point in Dorchester. The similarities of Columbia Point and the proposed towers in Charlestown have strikingly similar narratives. Why is this so?

In the early fifties, Columbia Point was built on a peninsula, no adequate public transportation, isolated and was hailed as the largest public housing complex in New England with over 1500 residents, many housed in high towers. Today, there are renovated buildings, some new, with 1282 units on 50 tree-lined acres, with ample greenspace and two public pools.

The Bunker Hill Housing Development is basically considered part of the peninsula of Charlestown, little public transportation and is now the largest public housing complex in New England. With plans to develop segregated towers, this could eventually be the failure that Columbia Point once was. The Bunker Hill Housing Complex had up to 1100 units on 27 acres {almost half the size of Columbia Point] at one time. The new development with a proposal of 2699 units, with little greenspace is looking at a potential 7000 residents. {The Boston census of 2020 calculates 2.3 residents per unit}.

 In the mid- sixties, I literally walked the walk at Columbia Point and now feel I can talk the talk.

While a student nurse at the then Boston City Hospital, I had the privilege and duty to accompany the public health nurse as she made her rounds at the Columbia Point Housing complex. Working with the public health nurse we were tasked with the mission to walk the area and visit the apartments of people suspected of having a “contact” with someone with a communicable disease.

The residents were always considerate and agreeable to go to the hospital and get tested for whatever was necessary for the most part. I remember the sad living conditions, the blighted area and far too few areas for the children to play and the residents to just sit and enjoy the day, and treeless. Anyone could see it was a dangerous, desolate, and decaying place to live.

Now as I reflect on what had been touted as Columbia Point being a great place to live, I now wonder if the Bunker Hill Housing Development will fail just as Columbia Point did?  What is the justification to build segregated housing? Where is the lesson from the disaster of Columbia Point?  

Over the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to spend some time at the Harbor Point Community which opened in 1991, replacing Columbia Point. Walking the walk again but in a beautiful, vibrant, diverse, and safe neighborhood., consisting of over 1200 mixed income apartments. This is what the residents of the Bunker Hill Housing Development deserve, nothing less.

Jane Jacobs, in her book, “Eyes on the Street”, has it right.  People want to be able to look out their windows and see their children at play, see their neighbor’s enjoying conversation, spending time with each other, viewing nature, the trees, and the good things in life.

The Boston Planning and Building Agency needs to do better planning and reading “Eyes on the Street” would be a good start. Redevelopment means better development, not repeating the failures of our past. It is time to value people and our environment over private equity profiteering.

It is time for the BPDA and the Wu administration to reflect on the sage advice and words of Sir Winston Churchill, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.

Ann Kelleher

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