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Biweekly Column
Brookline TAB
Brookline, Massachusetts

Summer's End Sharpens the Pen

Dennis Fox

August 28, 2003

Once August's heat melts away for good, perhaps I'll manage to recreate that cutting edge the TAB pays me to keep sharp. Until now, though, it's been difficult mustering enough indignation to reach my usually-confining 700-word limit. Potential column ideas seem like an awful lot of work.

For example, I considered doing a traditional piece reviewing my past year's columns and correcting my mistakes, but only one came immediately to mind: my complaint in June that the Transportation Board wouldn't discuss modifying Brookline's two-hour parking limit until the fall. I got the timetable right, but omitted co-chair Fred Levitan's explanation that too many people leave town in the summer to address the issue sooner. Now I see what he means, and regret implying that the board was stalling. I look forward to the fall meeting.

Transportation Board members weren't the only ones escaping urban heat. I almost wrote about the joyful ease of crossing empty streets to reach uncrowded restaurants and movies, but I restrained myself.

Or I could have described my own getaways. I spent a week on the Cape with relatives and, apparently, just about everyone else from Brookline -- my daughter bumped into one of her old town swim instructors, life-guarding at Nauset. I wondered at the time how many Brookline residents own second homes on the Cape, inflating property costs there as well as here.

Last Monday I went to New York and back to see my son on his 30th birthday, on one of those Chinatown-to-Chinatown buses. Sure, the driver got pulled over in Connecticut for driving in the wrong lane, but $20 round trip is still a lot better than Greyhound.

The quick trip was my first chance to wander to the World Trade Center site, now a construction zone surrounded by tourists like me taking pictures. Of most political interest were the omnipresent American flags and the writing wall filled with personal messages: "God Bless America." "Get 'em Bush." "Don't fight terror with terror." "Nationalism kills."

My favorites were these: "Amplify Love, Dissipate Hate" repeated on hundreds of stickers. And "This place will be the end of the rainbow again ... one day." Maybe not, if the developers get their way.

Another column I almost wrote would have listed random musings about unrelated topics, sort of like this one but with less detail: Why don't Brookline parks have restrooms? Why doesn't the Farmer's Market open in the morning, before it's too hot to go? Might town Selectmen trying to fill committee vacancies appoint me to the Transportation Board? I could have gone on.

I also could have garnered 700 words about Brookline's new Financial Policy Review Committee, if I had the faintest idea what it's supposed to do. I decided instead to wait for Stanley Spiegel to explain it again.

More promising -- here's a whole series of columns struggling to emerge once the heat goes for good -- I could write about the impending sale of Coolidge Corner's southwest corner building. How will town officials persuade new owners to add a floor or two of taxable space onto the low row of small stores? Will they bargain away yet another town-owned parking lot? What promises will everyone involved make, which ones will they eventually break? Will new owners tear it all down to build another big bank, or maybe a cell-phone supermarket to consolidate the Corner's half-dozen wireless operations? Stay tuned.

One Corner development does look good so far -- the Harvard Street Arcade renovation. That's a great mural facing the Centre Street lot. Maybe it will lure more customers inside in search of the quaint and useful. I wonder, though, if spiffing up the entrances will lead to rent increases and the subsequent conversion of the café and other independently owned shops into another cookie-cutter chain-store mall.

I doubt the higher rents will quickly push out the Arcade's most interesting denizen. Grand Opening! -- the woman-owned and friendly-to-everyone double-entendre sex shop discreetly hiding upstairs -- seems busy enough, selling just the right novelties for hot summer nights and cool autumn breezes. But that's another column I don't have the energy to write just yet.

More on development and related issues

Note: this version may differ from the published version.

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