The problem with rights: Part 1, Hard-fought recognition

May 22, 2017 | Affordable Housing, Government, Homelessness, Housing, legal rights, Litigation, New York City, Subsidy, Supportive housing | No comments 86 views

By: David A. Smith

Much is made of rights, and many are the rights we claim. 



They are baked into the Declaration as inalienable; they are further expounded in the Bill of Rights; in the last decade they have become the lexicon of enforced tolerance; and for roughly three decades, the establishment (some would say fortuitous discovery) of statutory or judicial rights inherent in laws written long ago has become a principal lever of expanding the social-service obligations and financial responsibilities of government at all levels – especially governments whose administration has an expansive view of the social safety net, like one of my favorite posting destinations, New York City (New York Times, April 14, 2017)


Four years ago, after more than a decade of litigation and negotiation, New York State officials agreed that the system of often dismal and dangerous adult homes was no place for the mentally ill.


Four years of settlement, ten-plus years of litigation, equals fifteen years in pursuit of a judicial right:


They agreed to move as many as 4,000 mentally ill residents out of their apartments and into supportive housing, a hard-fought recognition that people with disabilities should have the opportunity to live independently and participate in all aspects of community life.


Diana Vila in her room at Belle Harbor Manor, an adult home in Far Rockaway, Queens. More than four years after a settlement … she remains in the sprawling, often troubled, adult home system. 


[Ms. Vila looks as it she might have tendencies toward hoarding, which many years’ of blog posting have taught/ convinced me is a disease of mental illness, perhaps brought on by other stress – Ed.]


For residents like Ms. Vila, the significant date was July 23, 2013 (New York Times; caramel font), via a consent decree approved by the court:


Settling a contentious legal battle over the care for such patients that dragged on for a decade, the administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo agreed on Tuesday –


Though I haven’t researched it, I strongly suspect that consent decrees are the tool whose emergence coincided with the expansion of rights, because they enabled legal aid lawyers to bring a case, judges to decide the case, and then both lawyers and judges then to withdraw from the issue, expecting the beleaguered city government to implement whatever expanded obligations had been agreed to.


And this order shall be entered into the record


– to give 4,000 mentally ill people who have been kept in institutional homes in New York City the opportunity to move into their own subsidized apartments,


‘The opportunity to move into subsidized apartments’ implies such apartments exist or will exist – and that’s the rub.  In fact, not just subsidized apartments, but supportive housing:


Is supportive housing a right?


Goaded by legal advocates, judicially mandated by city court rulings and consent decrees, New York City has moved much farther along the road than nearly everywhere else in America to declaring supportive and other housing a right.


Under the consent decree, which would fundamentally reshape the way long-term mental health care is delivered in the city, the state is required to present all but the most severely mentally ill residents with plans for moving into their own apartments, where they would continue to receive specialized treatment and services under an arrangement known as supported housing.



Are rights symmetric?  Does granting me a right obligate someone else to satisfy my right?


Do rights go both ways?


The constitutions of several nations – India and South Africa come immediately to mind – declare a Constitutional right to housing, but few are the governments that have paired that right to housing with a mandate that government build it or fund it.  Other such rights are conveyed in an aspirational restated constitution (South Africa’s in 1996)


Judges think in terms of rights: after all, of government’s two products, money and laws, they are loath to order payments of money so they are much freer when meting out mandates.  Whether it’s Mount Laurel in New Jersey, Serrano in California, Callahan in New York, or Paul Garrity putting the BHA into receivership, judges love to slam down the gavel and appoint somebody else to clean up the mess they think was made by some other part of government.


I order him to fix the problem


Sources used and AHI major posts referenced in this post


New York Times (April 14, 2017), black font

New York Times (July 23, 2013), caramel font

New York Times (June 24, 2010), burnt orange font

Hoarding and housing, February 12, 2009, 2 parts

New York’s self-reinforcing homelessness system, October 21, 2013, 3 parts

The homeless magnet, January 9, 2017, 3 parts



The problem is, laws work only if they are complied with.  And when the harried executive or legislative branches cannot do what the judge so airily orders them to do, the parties are back in court.


And all the judge can do is repeat the same admonition, only louder, more emphatically.  But repeating shocks have a diminishing effect, and by now nobody in New York seriously believes that another judicial ruling will make any difference.  And of course, judicial rulings assume that the solution to a bad old law is a good new law, though somehow the good new law is never quite as effective as expected.  Thus the root causes are ignored, the system is never seen in its entirety, a new burden is laid upon all existing ones, and the journalists have plenty of fodder for the next GAIA (God-Ain’t-It-Awful) story:



It’s otherwise known as What are those bastards up to now?



GAIA-based policy-by-judicial-mandate-of-rights typically proceeds in this sequence:


1.     Journalist writes a GAIA story, complete with pitiful victims and trigger photographs.

2.     Advocacy organization sues, claiming a general law has an expansive right.

3.     Suit becomes political, and political opponents of the defendant politician pile on, saying more supervision required.

4.     Judge in dudgeon issues threatening orders.

5.     Consent decree.

6.     Advocacy group declares victory.  Offers extensive suggestions for implementation.  Government agency promises to move speedily. 

7.     Public and advocates lose interest, new stories arise to claim attention.

8.     Government agency motivation wanes, obstacles arise.

9.     Nothing substantive happens.  Situation grows slowly worse.  2-3 years pass.

10.  New journalist goes looking for story.  Return to Step 1.


The GAIA stories thus have a groundhog-day element to them: in what follows I will jumble stories from 2017, 2013, and 2010, and without the font-color differences you’d be unable to put them in proper order.  Nor would you find critical thinking, as evidenced by a phrase I snipped out of the caption for a photo I showed above:


 ‘Reclaim some of her independence’?  Ms. Vila is perfectly able to be independent of the ‘sprawling, often troubled, adult home system’ if she pays for it.  But she cannot, and her lack of money is more than just a cause, it’s a symptom of an underlying cause not explored in the story.  Instead, a New York judge concluded that New York’s law requires the state government to pay for her to be independent (or less dependent) either directly by building the housing out of its own funds or indirectly by funding the private sector (for-profit or non-profit) to build it. 


While this may be great for Ms. Vila, against whom I have no animus, once the mandate has become an unfunded entitlement to some other part of the government, what can the government do either to fulfill it or to contain its cost?


I command you to build


[Continued in Part 2.]

Shadow housing: Part 3, Not a one-and-done

May 5, 2017 | Affordability, Boston, Cities, Density, Development, Housing, Politics, Public Garden, Public housing, Rental, Zoning | No comments 91 views


[Continued from yesterday’s Part 2 and the preceding Part 1.]


By: David A. Smith


“It appears that our minds will never meet on this subject.”

“If someone asks you why you’re oppressing a world and you reply with a lot of poetic crap, no. I guess there can’t be a meeting of minds.”

– Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light


The previous Part 2 demonstrated that to save 0.3% of the potential sunlight hitting the Boston Common and Public Garden, the Friends of the Public Garden are prepared to have other people forego $153 million, fifty of which will go for park improvements and another fifty for upgrading dilapidated and decrepit public housing in Boston.  As people tend to value only what they pay for or pay taxes for, if people who benefit from the current state of affairs can veto a development half a mile away because eroding the potential daylight touching the city’s green space by 0.3%, perhaps they should pay $153 million for it.


Further, the precedent could weaken the shadow laws’ strength against future challenges, she said.


Alternatively, the Friends of the Public Garden could explain to the public housing residents of Old Colony and Orient Heights why they should live in seventy-year-old unrenovated homes so that the common and Public Garden do not lose 0.3% of their annual daylight.


“We can’t accept that it’s a one-and-done,” Vizza said.


Nor can I.


Consider another option


Whether or not the Friends of the Public Garden can see the system as a whole, their actions help trap other Bostonians in substandard and unacceptable housing conditions.


“It provides a blueprint for the next mayor, the next developer.”


As it should.  Development is a city’s lifeblood.  Without it, the city’s economy withers, and when the economy withers, public space declines, the city becomes unclean and unsafe, and the residents of Beacon Hill think about decamping to the Vineyard or Brookline.


Lower Washington Street, downtown Boston, 1970s, when it was known as the Combat Zone


Never take a city’s health for granted.  Always be reinvesting.  And the history of humanity is upward, ever upward. 

Sources used and principal AHI posts referenced


AHI: In praise of follies, October 22, 2009; 2 parts, what to do with the Filene’s hole?

AHI: Braggadocio, meet bluster, May 6, 2010; 2 parts, Menino-Vornado standoff

AHI: How many square feet in a cornice?; 2 parts, economics of historic affordability

AHI: Sunset scarcity, May 5, 2014; 2 parts, on San Francisco’s analog

Boston Herald (April 10, 2017; black font)

Boston Herald (April 21, 2017; shadow-gray font)


Evidence that the City intends to win approval, come what may and using whatever it must, comes from its deployment of what the Bostonian political-nuclear-threat:


You went full Trump.  Never go full Trump


Boston development officials lobbying for a carve-out to state shadow laws for the massive Winthrop Square development are arguing the city’s $153 million windfall from the deal is needed given the threat of Trump administration budget cuts.


What if I name it ‘Trump Tower’?


I love the inference – Had it not been for that evil Donald Trump, we could have preserved your beloved shadows, but all of us must make sacrifices.


You want a public amenity fixed up?  Give me the job


The city, the BPDA and preservation advocates are gearing up for a fight Monday over an exemption for the proposed 775-foot tower from two state laws governing shadows over the Boston Common and the Public Garden.


I love just as much the irony of invoking one of America’s greatest proponents of vertical urban building, who never met a development loophole he didn’t like, who embraced eminent domain for economic development, as the bogeyman whose specter compels Boston to embrace vertical living.


I never make bogeys, man – I make pars bigly


“This is an opportunity for us to backstop the exodus of federal money” –


Someone please buy Mr. Malaprop a thesaurus.  You backstop a pitch in case the field misses it; and exodus implies money is leaving having been present.


There goes that federal money again


– said Brian Golden, head of the Boston Planning & Development Agency. “We think the timing is right for this kind of deal because, I think, we all anticipate a contraction in federal money that flows to the state for these types of things, especially affordable housing.”


[A contraction doesn’t flow … unless you’re dealing with a bodily plumbing problem. – Ed.]


As the Federal government has for the last couple of decades been providing essentially no appropriated funding for housing, I don’t see how that flow could contract further – though of course the Low Income Housing Tax Credit could always be hobbled.


“Take some more appropriations.”

“I’ve had none yet, so I can’t take more.”

“You mean you can’t take less, it’s very easy to take more than nothing.”


The $100 million due to the city once the project’s permits are issued for the development would boost budgets for the Common and Franklin Park, as well as fund two affordable housing projects, Golden said.


As this most recent ploy is entirely on message with Mr. Golden’s previous statements, one can deduce that the City thinks the Friends are their biggest political enemies:


“This is maybe a once-in-a-century opportunity to get that investment,” Golden said. “We can’t see another parcel that is publicly owned that will yield that kind of dividend for all the people in this city. We want to make sure that we seize those benefits while they’re being offered.”


Mr. Golden’s right – there is a tide in the affairs of development, which taken at the flood leads on to fortune; omitted, all the pro-forma’s of their land are bound in shallows and in miseries – such as the hole in the ground where for four years what was one Filene’s and is now the Millennium Tower stood. 


On such a recourse loan are we now a-loaned

And we must take the money when it’s lent, or lose our equity


When the money can flow, one should have out one’s buckets – and one’s construction shovels.


The home rule petition, supported by Mayor Martin J. Walsh, needs City Council approval before it is sent to the state Legislature and also must be endorsed by Gov. Charlie Baker.


The Governor too will be happy to see the parcel developed, if only because it will reduce the City’s wheedling for more state revenue-sharing funding.


“You complete me.”

“Never use that phrase again.”


 “We’ve spent months analyzing this and months making the argument to stakeholders, and I think we’ve got the quantum of support we will need to get it through the City Council and the Legislature,” Golden said.


That’s why I think the city will stop at nothing to get the approval, whether it has to sweet-talk, outmaneuver, or politically run over the Friends of the Public Garden to do it.


The City Council would have to sign off on the shadow exemption before it can be sent on to the Legislature for final approval. Golden said he is eager to get that final OK before Beacon Hill goes into recess at the end of June.


Optimism for the measure is so strong, there’s no Plan B laid out in case it fails, Golden said.


“We are visualizing and expecting success,” Golden said. “If we do not get this relief, we are going to have to do some pretty serious analysis of the road ahead, and I don’t think we have a path forward clearly identified yet.  We will deal with that reality if it’s hoisted upon us.”


Reading that quote, the Friends of the Public Garden wince at the misused word. 



“Then let us choose another subject for conversation.”

– Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light


Shadow housing: Part 2, 0.3% of the daylight exposure

April 26, 2017 | Affordability, Boston, Cities, Density, Development, Housing, Politics, Public Garden, Public housing, Rental, Zoning | 93 views

[Continued from yesterday’s Part 1.]


By: David A. Smith


“So they play that on their fascist banjos, eh?”

“You choose the wrong adjective.”

“You’ve already used up all the others.”

– Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light


As we saw in Part 1, the Friends of the Public Garden have set their opposition to a new high-rise mixed-use property rising out of the ruins of a condemned, crumbling, oily squat building of no use to anyone in terms of the highest civic altruism – preserving the potential for sunlight to fall upon the Boston Common and the Public Garden and not be blotted out by the loathsome rectangle of an economy obelisk.


Let no such shadow loom over our public garden?


This despite the enormous boost 5to the downtown economy, and the substantial direct economic benefit to the City: $153 million in cash for the site, and new real estate taxes that could capitalize into $500 million (you read that right, half a billion) of bonding capacity.


Meanwhile, the Mayor is offering the preservationists a major concession:


The bill also proposes turning zoning regulations limiting new shadows on Copley Square Park into state law, so developers can’t seek variances to get around them for Stuart Street district buildings.


Future Midtown Cultural District buildings could yield average daily shadows of four to six hours, according to [BPDA Director Brian] Golden.


Converting a city-level regulation to a state law is a huge gain in legal durability – much harder to undo, and thus limiting the freedom of action of Mayor Walsh’s successors in exchange for increased freedom of action right now.


“You get a better outcome by accepting the Winthrop Square shadow and eliminating the possibility of the shadow bank allowing new height in the Midtown Cultural District,” Golden said.


The property also proposes to be one heck of a development:


Never mind the accelerator, look at all that residential


Millennium plans up to 460 residential units, office space, a business accelerator, retail, restaurants and up to 550 garage parking spaces. A three-story ‘great hall’ public gathering space would connect Federal and Devonshire streets, and its 20-foot glass panels would open to the sidewalks in warm months.


My office is barely a block away from the site, and I can attest that it’s a natural for a major high-rise.  The old Bank of Boston building is a block away:


Universally known for four decades as the pregnant building

One block to the other side of my office is the new Millennium Tower that embraces the historic redevelopment of Filene’s, about which I’ve posted several times, from the original mayoral feud with Vornado, to the follies floated by the Globe, and finally the economics of affordable historic cornices.


And the walls are made of reflecting glass


That development took nine years to complete – admittedly, partly because of the capital-market collapse in 2008, though equally by the blustering stubbornness of our late mayor – and it’s turned out well, anchoring a part of the downtown retail shopping district badly in need of new capital investment.  It’s thus more than plausible Millennium would be able to replicate its success with the Filene’s site four blocks away at the Winthrop Garage.


Elizabeth Vizza, executive director of the Friends of the Public Garden (former principal of Elizabeth Vizza Consulting), said she looks forward to reviewing the proposed legislation.


Translation: Though everyone knows we’ll oppose whatever the legislation says, for form’s sake we’ll make a show of reading it before being appalled.


Shut the park up

Sources used and principal AHI posts referenced


AHI: In praise of follies, October 22, 2009; 2 parts, what to do with the Filene’s hole?

AHI: Braggadocio, meet bluster, May 6, 2010; 2 parts, Menino-Vornado standoff

AHI: How many square feet in a cornice?; 2 parts, economics of historic affordability

AHI: Sunset scarcity, May 5, 2014; 2 parts, on San Francisco’s analog

Boston Herald (April 10, 2017; black font)

Boston Herald (April 21, 2017; shadow-gray font)


The modest name cloaks an organization that, like the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, aggressively pursues NIMBYist self-interest behind the camouflage of a righteous purpose.  In 2011, it had 2,500 members and a $17 million annual budget, the heritage of four and a half decades’ activism that began from the best of motives expressed by the best of Boston’s Brahmins.


Washington Street at Filene’s, downtown Boston, 1970, before it was made a pedestrian street


As I previously posted, the late Sixties and early Seventies were a brutal time for America’s cities, including Boston, whose industrial and manufacturing core had gone south and west, and whose revival as a financial and tech center was fifteen years in the future.  Adjacent to this decaying central business district was the seat of Massachusetts’ government – the State House – and the manses of its oldest and crustiest families, lining Beacon Hill and sloping down to the Common and the Public Garden.  Naturally, it was the heirs of the late George Apley who banded together, recruiting as one of their number Henry Lee, whom they chose to depict humbly (Boston Globe, May 4, 2011) as a ‘retired schoolteacher:


A humble schoolteacher from Beverly Farms


Born in Beverly Farms [As tony as the North shore gets – Ed.] , Lee came from a storied Brahmin family. His relatives include Governor Francis W. Sargent; Elliot Lee Richardson, the US attorney general who stood up to President Nixon during the Watergate scandal; and Henry Lee Shattuck, a state legislator and a Boston city councilor who founded the Boston Municipal Research Bureau.


Eichardson, fired for refusing to fire a fellow Harvardian (Archibald Cox)


Lee went to Harvard and Stanford universities before joining the Foreign Service and working in Washington and Europe as a diplomat. He moved to Beacon Hill in 1958 and taught at the Dexter School in Brookline. [Tuition $26,000 for pre-kindergarten, $43,175 for Middle School, $46,670 for high school. – Ed.]  Then the Friends group and the Park Plaza controversy drew him into public life.


While I haven’t investigated the membership, the optics invite the telling of a story:


The late Anne Brooke, then-president of the Friends of the Public Garden


They are people who live near Boston Common and the Public Garden, on Beacon Hill or in Back Bay, and they give off the scent of old money, old connections, old families, and old networks.


Co-chairs of the Friends’ Green and White Ball


As might be expected, those who have benefited from the old oppose the new:


Opponents say the new tower’s morning shadow — which at its largest would cover 5 acres of the Common and Public Garden –


Whenever a journalist stick a number into a story, look for its context, which invariably is missing.  Between them, the Common and Public Garden cover 74 acres, so the largest morning shadow would touch 7% of the green space.


– and last an average of 35 minutes –


At Boston’s latitude, the typical year includes 4,383 hours of daylight, that is a smidgen over 12 hours a day, so the shadow would be on the green space for 4.8% of the day, and during that 4.8% of the time the shadow would be rising from 0% to 7%, then falling again. 


– is too much for the parks –


That means that, all in and over the course of a year, the Winthrop Square Tower would diminish the daylight covering the Common and Public Garden by a maximum of 0.3% (0.0675 x .048), and more likely one-half that.


– that are already stressed by the shade.


Parks are ‘stressed by the shade.’  How do they feel about the bleakness of black that falls every single day?


Can you hear the park stressing out?


“We need to draw a line with this building and this proposal,” said Elizabeth Vizza.


Actually, we need to erase a line: roll back the shadow-zoning regulation, and the preservationist’s expectation of veto that comes with it.


[Continued tomorrow in Part 3.]


Shadow housing: Part 1, $35 million for public housing

April 24, 2017 | Affordability, Boston, Cities, Density, Development, Housing, Politics, Public Garden, Public housing, Rental, Zoning | 113 views


By: David A. Smith


“You talk as if we desire perpetually this burden of godhood, as if we seek to maintain a dark age that we may know forever the wearisome condition of our enforced divinity!”

“In a word,” said Sam, “yes.”

– Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light


And here I thought only San Francisco had an absurd shadow-based down-zoning law, when all along, we’ve had one in Boston, and is the singular city-harming achievement of a non-profit with an innocuous name, the Friends of the Public Garden:


Worth $153 million if it can go vertical: the Winthrop Square garage


Exception sought to shadow law

Tall order is sought for tower proposal

Donna Goodison Monday, April 10, 2017


RISING HIGH: A look at Millennium Partners’ proposed 775-foot-tall Winthrop Square Tower, which developers hope will win a home-rule petition allowing them to circumvent state laws restricting shadows over Boston Common and the Public Garden. (ARTIST RENDERING BY HANDEL ARCHITECTS)clip_image001


The Boston Planning & Development Agency officially begins its push today for special legislation to exempt Millennium Partners’ proposed $1 billion, 775-foot Winthrop Square tower from state laws that limit shadows cast by developments onto the Boston Common and Public Garden.


Doubtless the Friends of the Public Garden will be offended at my characterization of the consequences of their activities.  Doubtless they will say they believe in egalitarianism, have only most altruistic of motives, want only the best for Boston and all its citizens, and are merely seeking to protect he Common for all to enjoy. 


Seventy-five people turned out on a brisk February evening to hear Keith N. Morgan discuss the histories of the Public Garden”



Sources used and principal AHI posts referenced


AHI: In praise of follies, October 22, 2009; 2 parts, what to do with the Filene’s hole?

AHI: Braggadocio, meet bluster, May 6, 2010; 2 parts, Menino-Vornado standoff

AHI: How many square feet in a cornice?; 2 parts, economics of historic affordability

AHI: Sunset scarcity, May 5, 2014; 2 parts, on San Francisco’s analog

Boston Herald (April 10, 2017; black font)

Boston Herald (April 21, 2017; shadow-gray font)



Yet by George Orwell’s standard, they are objectively exclusionary, their activities benefit their members much more than they benefit others, and their work makes Boston less affordable and could contribute to keeping many of Boston’s poorest residents in deplorable housing conditions,


City Councilor Bill Linehan



Mr. Linehan is a “lifelong resident of South Boston [who previously] was Director of Operations for the City of Boston’s Parks Department”, which as we’ll see makes him an excellent face for the pro-development legislation.


(Boston, MA 02/15/17) Boston City Councillor Bill Linehan waves as he walks into the City Council meeting. Wednesday, February 15, 2017. Staff photo by John Wilcox.

Now retiring after a decade on the council


– is expected to file a ­BPDA-authored home rule petition with the City Council that, if enacted, would allow the project to proceed on the city-owned garage site.


The proposed legislation also would eliminate a “shadow bank” that developers can tap for new Midtown Cultural District


Basically, it’s ‘downhill from Boston Common’


Ever since my old Cambridge neighborhood was designated a ‘conservation district’ (to be governed by those members of the taste police who had nothing better to do with their time), I have usually broken into a severe rash upon hearing phrases like ‘cultural district’, and each time the district has proven upon review to be every bit as city-crippling, arbitrary, and incumbents-club-protecting as those seen previously.


– buildings that would cast shadows on the parks after 10 a.m., limiting the height of future buildings there. The ­BPDA looked at those possible future developments and found their average annual shadows would exceed that of the Millennium tower in size and duration, according to ­BPDA director Brian Golden.


Are we clear about this?


The BPDA, alert readers will recognize, is the new-and-improved [sic] Boston Redevelopment Authority (Same great decision structure! Shiny new logo!), the one that produced a glossy Vision 2030 (all the cool-cat cities have one) but no master plan.


Now in even more appealing colors


In proposing the new tower – one of Mayor Menino’s last big visions – Mayor Walsh’s BPDA isn’t paying homage to his predecessor, he’s also addressing longstanding urban needs, as well as sending political signals:


The city will reap $153 million from its sale of the one-acre Winthrop Square site to Millennium.


Development sure beats the NOI from parking jalopies


There, dear readers, is the proof of value created in the sky, and the consequences of a too-restrictive zoning corset.  This site, which is barely larger than an acre (at 47,738 square feet (page 6), it’s 1.1 acres), is worth a seventh of a billion dollars. 


State laws enacted in 1990 and 1992 dictate new buildings in the Winthrop Square area only can cast shadows over Boston Common and the Public Garden during the first hour after sunrise or before 7 a.m. — whichever is later — or the last hour before sunset.


As I previously posted about San Francisco’s sunset zoning ordinance, shadow-based downzoning is insidious, because while it sounds so innocuous, anyone familiar with trigonometry knows that shadows lengthen impressively at dawn and dusk, so a regulation like this places an invisible inverted very wide cone over the Public Garden, and at a stroke downzones tens of millions of square feet of sky that if developed would create thousands of jobs and thousands of homes.


Go on about your business: we’re just here to keep the zoning down


According to a Millennium-commissioned study, its tower would cast shadows on Boston Common in excess of what’s allowable for 282 days per year. The average daily prohibited shadow would be 37 minutes, with no shadows after 9:30 a.m. The longest duration of prohibited shadow would be 96 minutes.


The shadows …the shadows …


However hideous the morning and evening umbra might be for the Common, the Public Garden would at least be less punished:


The tower would cast prohibited shadows on the Public Garden for 112 days, with no shadow after 8 a.m. Those shadows would last a maximum of 23 minutes, with an average daily duration of five minutes.


Do they count sunlight reflecting from the windows?


That total of 11,000 minutes is a little less than half an hour a day. And what does the city get for such ravaging of its skyscape?


By choking off development elsewhere in the city, aside from making Boston much less affordable to live in, the City has concentrated the development potential into a site that, quite coincidentally, it happens to own.  So it’s scraped value out of the pockets of home buyers and apartment renters and channeled it into this property’s value.


But, says the City, we’re going to put the money to good use:


It has pledged:


$28 million for Boston Common improvements

$28 million for Franklin Park improvements


AN oasis of green for Mission Hill, Lower Roxbury, and Dorchester


$11 million to the Emerald Necklace

$25 million toward redevelopment of the Boston Housing Authority’s Old Colony public housing in South Boston

$10 million for improvements at the BHA’s Orient Heights public housing in East Boston.


[That’s $102 million of the projected $153 million, so the City is keeping a third of the money in hand, for additional promises or just ‘debt consolidation’ as Phil Rizzuto of the Money Store used to say. – Ed.]


Note the balance of uses: three parks to please the grandees, and two public housing properties, both of which severely need the funding. 


Public housing on the back side of a Boston drumlin: Orient Heights public housing


Orient Heights, in fact, has started Phase 1 of its redevelopment and I presume has a development shortfall to be made up.


Funded in part by selling upzoned city property in downtown


The project also would generate $12 million to $15 million in annual property taxes.


The boost in annual taxes shouldn’t be discounted – at the City of Boston’s long-term General Obligation (GO) bond rate (which ranges from 0.46% for a one-year redemption up through 3.12% for a twenty-year bond) currently averaging perhaps 2.5%, $13.5 million of annual incremental real estate taxes would be worth $500 million in new City bonding capacity.


[Continued tomorrow in Part 2.]

Housing photo of the day 02: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian house

April 20, 2017 | Architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright, Housing, HPoD, Usonian | 1 comment 98 views

By: David A. Smith


Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose honest arrogance and have seen no occasion to change.

Frank Lloyd Wright


Frank Lloyd Wright was a genius, as he was the first to tell everyone, and because he was a genius, he styled himself entitled to be an imperious son of a bitch, and like another great imperious son of a bitch, Robert Moses, he found ways to use the built environment to perpetuate his grandiosity on willing acolytes, in Wright’s case buyers of home he designed, as revealed by occlusion in this brokerage-shill-piece with fantastic visuals from the Daily Mail (April 19, 2017):


A Wright house is a visual experience, not one to live in


A house where everything outside and inside is designed by the incomparable architect Frank Lloyd Wright and still in its original condition has gone on the market for almost $1.4million.


The price may be a little steep for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom in St. Louis Park, a suburb of Minneapolis, where a nearby three-bedroom with 1,000 more square feet runs for less than half that, but not every home has been designed and furnished by the master.


“Then there was only the ocean and the sky and the figure of Howard Roark”


Lloyd Wright, in most respects the model for Howard Roark in The Fountainhead (except he was short where Roark was tall), treated his homes as complete artistic experiences.  The layout, angles, textures, interiors, all were designed to deliver the home as a complete and interconnected work of art, in which nothing may be changed. 


The Parklands house is set on almost four acres and inside all of the furnishings and finishings were designed by Wright in conjunction with the original owners, Paul and Helen Olfelt, now in their 90s, who hired him in 1958, according to


The Olfelts, relaxing in their home-museum


This makes Lloyd Wright homes great to tour and impossible to live in, which is why they tend to be bought by architecture lovers, kept in pristine condition, and then sold to the next architecture lover.


Beautiful visuals – useless space


Consider that front entrance: up a long flight of stairs, into an eave that is both open to the wind and awkward to walk across.  Imagine bringing home your groceries in a Minnesota winter.  You’d curse it.  The walk and porch would be difficult hard to shovel, icy and therefore slippery, and really painful to fall onto or into.  And that niche corner – what can you put there?  Garbage cans?  Bicycles?  An outdoor grill?  The space was condemned by design to emptiness and inutility.


Then there’s the entry windows.  With those unique apertures, forget buying any standard window.  Forget thermopane.  Good luck replacing one if it cracks. 


For that matter, where’s the insulation going?  The heating bills would be enormous.


The genesis of this house, and many others, was Wright’s conception that design could create affordability, via an intensely compacted home style he called Usonian, an invented portmanteau word to evoke both USA and useful.  Conceived as a thought experiment in the Depression, the Usonian home was intended to be sold for $5,000, an affordable price point.  To get there Lloyd Wright designed the home to be small and then multi-purpose inside.  (In many ways he was the forerunner of the micro-unit initiative, but he was undone by the lack of electronic and web technology that makes repurposing small rooms easy and quick.)


Beautiful views: no storage, awkward chairs, and the heating bills


Wright designed and specified the furniture.  Having decided the Olfelt home should have triangles as its motif, he produced hexagonal Ottomans, a hexagonal bay window, more hexagonal windows – again I shudder at the heating bills – and for that matter, it would be difficult to cool the house in summer because those windows, magnificent though their views may be, mostly do not open. 


The house, at 2206 Parklands Lane and handled by the Berg Larsen Group, is a classic Frank Lloyd Wright Usonia home, developed by Wright for a post-Depression era America. The home’s concept includes lots of nature and ‘organic architecture’ that should seem to blend in with the surroundings.


A Usonia home should appear to ‘have come up from the ground and into the fresh air and sunshine,’ says a website dedicated to a Usonia home in Alabama.


The hallway, and the closet space (look closely)


Because Wright was short, he made most ceilings low (though as this was a specific commission he acceded to the owner’s desires) – often I can’t walk properly in them, always ducking at doorways (the same sadistic exclusionism that Robert Moses displayed when he built his parkways with stone-bridge overpasses too low for trucks or buses.  Yet observe there’s minimal space throughout: the hallway is narrow.  The closest, such as they are, run along the hallway (not in the bedroom).  The floor is poured cement – cold and hard – so you have the choice, see it and freeze, or be warm and cover it up with a nice shag or hallway runner. 


The kitchen is similar:


Imagine eating a cheery family breakfast?


While the combination of wood, granite, and yellow brick is visually harmonious, where do you put the microwave?  Where’s the refrigerator?  And the cooking layout is nothing but steps – stove, dishwasher, sink, cabinets – all of them maneuvering around a six-cornered sharp-edged immovable kitchen table.  (Wright himself commented on always being black and blue from bumping into his own furniture.)


Nearly every time I tour a Lloyd Wright house, and the Boss and I have visited 10-15 of them – I am struck by two things:


1.     Wright’s cleverness, his powerful and harmonious visual sense, and his commitment to integrate space, use, materials, and texture.

2.     His homes’ unlivability.


So those who bought Lloyd Wright’s design, or who today buy his homes, do so not for the living but for the experience of inhabiting museum pieces.  They do this until they can take it no longer, and then they sell – to the next architectural enthusiast.


Oh, I said the house was being sold?  Actually, it’s been on the market for nine months, and the asking price has already been cut by $100,000.


Art may be appreciated, but it does not always appreciated.


Bureaucrats: they are dead at 30 and buried at 60. They are like custard pies; you can’t nail them to a wall. 

 Frank Lloyd Wright


Frank Lloyd Wright at 89: arrogant and proud of it