At midnight 2018 will dissolve and 2019 will rise from its ashes. The national nightmare, alas, will continue. The current administration may not be our nation’s most destructive. Nixon and Kissinger wrought havoc in Cambodia and Viet Nam. George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, an act of folly, has yielded horrific and bloody results. When it comes to incompetence and corruption, however, the Trump administration stands alone. I shudder, for example, when considering the damage to the planet to be caused by the elimination of needed environmental regulations and the retreat from alternative energy. Pollution will rise and global warming will accelerate…and many feel powerless to reverse this trend.
In Newton, fortunately, an individual can have an impact, a thought we should all bear in mind during the coming year. The Garden City has dozens of community groups and nonprofits that work for the common good. As a retiree I have the time to contribute my skills to several of them. In addition, I’d like to offer a few reflections on local trends as a modest New Year’s gift to fellow residents.
The Mayor: I didn’t know Ruthanne Fuller well before her mayoral campaign. As a columnist back then for the Tab, I chose to stay neutral in the election that followed. Even so, she reached out to me and many others to hear our opinions about Newton’s affairs. This willingness to listen has continued since her election. No mayor has been this accessible since Teddy Mann (David Cohen, to be sure, almost lived in City Hall and was utterly dedicated to the task). She recognizes and honors the efforts of common citizens and almost always lends her support to their causes. Ruthanne loves our city and is our greatest cheerleader.
Nonetheless, the city faces difficult challenges, and soon the mayor will make choices that inevitably alienate some while pleasing others. For example, tensions between supporters of development and preservationists will continue to grow. All the meetings and all the feedback will not silence resistance to the scale of projects like the Washington Street corridor. A slogan that is emerging goes, “No development without infrastructure.” More than a few citizens fear that when Austin Street and Washington Street and Parkland are complete, the city will be unprepared for the increase in residents, automobile traffic, and school population. Mayor Fuller will need the wisdom of Solomon to sort through these pressures.
Either/Or: Too often issues are framed as a choice between antithetical options, which is rarely true. For example, last year the city proposed cutting down several dozen trees on Beacon Street to bring the sidewalks up to code with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Some residents reacted in horror and aired their concerns at a meeting in Waban organized by city government. It turns out that the city administrators present absorbed the community’s concerns, and the project was modified to save many of the trees. Here’s hoping that the controversy surrounding Newton’s solar initiative resolves itself as satisfactorily. The city plans to build solar panel displays in parking lots and on rooftops across Newton. Several dozen trees are slated to be cut down, to the dismay of the Tree Conservancy and a few other environmental groups. Once again, the city held meetings and solicited feedback. I am confident that with some adjustments, the worthy goal of making Newton energy-independent of fossil fuels can be met while preserving most trees and planting others.
Both nationally and locally, politics is the art of the possible, and compromise is its essential principle. Our national leaders apparently believe that making deals is heretical, but it needn’t be so in the Garden City. As Newton’s mayor, administration, and city council grapple with health care, development, infrastructure, marijuana sales, and a dozen other complex issues, let’s debate the merits of each measure cooperatively and dispassionately.
Have a happy and healthy 2019!