As spring has sprung in Boston this year, I have been continually surprised by the many good things happening all around us and in partnership with the Foundation.
For one, Hubway is back and bikers are taking over city streets again. And this year, it won’t just be downtown folks and tourists having the fun and “Greenovating” Boston. Thanks in part to Barr, people in Roxbury and Dorchester will have their chance too. Hubway stations will soon be in Somerville and Cambridge as well. What’s been happening in European cities for the past decade is now taking off here. After three appearances on Bicycling Magazine’s list of the worst biking cities, Boston has shot up the ranks – now at number 16 and described as “a beacon of bike friendliness.” On top of that, the city’s 50 miles of bike trails are just one piece of a “complete streets” movement – with “green” infrastructure reducing storm water runoff, 15,000 LED street lights reducing energy use, and 40 electric vehicle charging stations laying the groundwork for the vehicle fleet of tomorrow. As the housing market regains strength in Massachusetts, developers are responding to growing demand for transit-oriented design. From Winchester, to Lawrence, to Springfield, Barr grantees are helping fuel that demand with great examples of great neighborhoods where getting around is less and less about traffic, road rage, and wasted time. More and more it is about fun, connection, and vibrant community.
The era of “McMansions” is on the wane and it is also the end of urban renewal. Jackson Square, which for decades has been a parcel of no man’s land in the heart of Boston, right at the intersection of Roxbury and Jamaica Plain, is finally breaking ground on the vision developed by the community a decade ago. In a similar breakthrough, Chinatown now has a library again after more than half a century without one. And just around the corner from our offices at the Pilot House in the North End, the City closed the deal of its land swap between the Eliot School and the North Bennet Street School, creating a win-win for all involved.
Neighborhoods are in and neighborhood schools might be too after almost 40 years of busing. The dream of kids walking to school and parents finding good choices for schools in their neighborhood is within sight. The closing of failed schools, the expansion of successful ones, and the start-up of promising new ones are all part of Barr’s investments in the Circle of Promise and creating equitable opportunities for children. Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School, which opens this fall, has had 400 applications for 18 teaching positions. The Margarita Muñiz Academy had 270 families apply to the new school for its 80 ninth grade seats – 120 listed the school as their first choice. We are moving into an era of “portfolio districts,” in which all kinds of collaborations are taking place for one purpose– to close the education opportunity gap. MATCH Charter School, in partnership with Community Day Charter School in Lawrence, is trying to change the outcomes for ESL students by operating a school specifically focused on this population. The State’s moratorium on expansion of charter schools has been lifted again, promising even more quality choices in Boston. The Teachers Union contract still hasn’t been signed, but there is much better, brighter education news crowding out that story.
On the climate front, Massachusetts has been ranked the most energy efficient state in the country. Business leaders are writing op-eds (like this one by Tedd Saunders of Lenox Hotels) in support of the Green Communities Act and in defense of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative – because both are good for business. Collectively and voluntarily, businesses are reducing energy use by significant numbers. The health care sector is responsible for 16% of energy use nationally and much more in Boston. Partners Health Care is leading the way in reducing energy use with a goal of 25% reduction by 2014. In addition, Partners has designed the new Spaulding Rehab building near the waterfront in imaginative ways that will withstand sea level rise. With the work of the Green Ribbon Commission, we’re on our way to making Boston the most sustainable city in the US.
And then there are the recent celebrations of great nonprofit leaders in Boston – like Michael Maso feted for 30 years as Managing Director of the Huntington Theatre. “At 60, he expects to stick around for a while,” said the Boston Globe – a validation for our Barr Fellows Selection Committee who chose this gifted leader for a rejuvenating sabbatical in 2005, so that he might continue to lead one of the nation’s best major regional theatres. The accolades for Fellows keep rolling in. In just this past quarter, Randal Rucker was recognized out of 70 finalists for the national Peter B. Goldberg ARAMARK Building Community Executive Leadership Award. Alexandra Oliver-Dávila was awarded an honorary doctorate from Emmanuel College. The Funders Network for Smart Growth named Claudio Martinez the Nick Bollman Award winner. Meg Campbell’s Codman Academy Charter School was one of only 14 charter schools nationally to be recognized as an EPIC Award Winner. José Mateo was honored by the Boston Dance Alliance as its 2012 Dance Champion and also received Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion's Jorge Hernandez Leadership Award in the Arts category. The Barr Fellows are indeed a cause for joy.
We all know that we live in an uncertain world and that the state of our global economy is of great concern. Instead of being bullish in this quarterly perspective, I could easily have been bearish and filled this page with woe. And yet, while our reach still exceeds our grasp – the challenges are still big, complex, and still sometimes seem intractable – we are spurred on by the joy of real progress, and good news on so many fronts.
- Patricia H. Brandes, Executive Director -