Snow and Holiday

So the Boston area got a few inches of snow today which means:

Just after 7 Sunday evening, with another 2.9 inches of fresh snow blanketing Boston, the National Weather Service in Taunton announced that the city notched its snowiest winter since records started being kept in 1872.

The official total at Logan International Airport reached 108.6 inches — one inch more than the previous record, which was set in the 1995-1996 winter, according to the weather service.

It could be that will be all we get, but there are still a few weeks for more possible snow.

For some reason this reminds me of Green Day:

Ok, not really but I was thinking back to the time this came out. The days of ‘Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists’, being called traitor if you didn’t like all the parts of the Patriot Act, being asked why you loved Saddam Hussein and hated America if you questioned going to war in Iraq. A time when all of America came together, until Republicans decided it made for a good campaign issue. This song was one of the first loud attacks against these attitudes and it made me very happy.

Sun sun sun

Given that the area is supposed to get another 8-10 inches of snow tonight and tomorrow, this is looking really good (Credit: NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory):



So, it seems that the Boston area needs a bit more snow. The latest says that there could be a total of up to 2 feet by tomorrow. This adds to the 41 inches from the last two storms in the last two weeks–the record for the year is about 108 inches (the average is about 41 inches). Oh, and just for fun, it’s supposed to get nice and cold for the weekend.

I assume this means that Northeastern University will be closed on Monday which would be the third snow day (for me, Tuesdays have also been cancelled but I don’t teach on Tuesday). Since there are 3 Monday holidays that means I’m missing two weeks of classes. A short semester.

Here’s a bike path near me (it is plowed, so this is snow from the current storm):



Boston Olympics

It seems that Boston will be the US nominee for the 2024 Olympics:

Scott Blackmun, USOC chief executive, said the decision was “gut-wrenching” for the panel, but that Boston came out on top in part due to the business people and elected officials who drove the effort.

“One of the great things about the Boston bid was that the bid leadership and the political leadership were on the same page,” Blackmun said, in an exclusive Globe interview at the Denver airport.

The commission also liked Boston’s strong sports culture, and the opportunity to create an Olympic legacy in a new city, he said.

This part seems a little backwards:

City, state, and Olympic officials have scheduled a press conference in Boston at 8:30 a.m. on Friday, where they are expected to outline the next steps in the process. The organizing group must in coming months fill in the details of bare-bones Olympic venue and transportation plans, galvanize public support, and convince a chorus of skeptics that Boston can effectively pull off the world’s most prestigious international sports festival — without relying on taxpayers’ money — a mere nine years from now.

Boston 2024 organizers have promised to hold extensive public hearings around the city this year as the bid becomes more defined.

Shouldn’t they have the public hearings before they made the bid? Well, the people pushing this are mostly CEO types so they probably don’t think about those type of things.

The Boston Globe put together some things to think about:

Boston doesn’t have a large stadium or an aquatic center or a velodrome (for biking), and these are three of the most expensive Olympic facilities. What is more, finding places for them could be just as challenging as raising the money. For example, while there has been talk of building an Olympic stadium at Widett Circle, off I-93 south of downtown Boston, there’s already a meat and seafood wholesaler business at that spot whose owners don’t seem eager to sell.

That’s what eminent domain is for right?

Recent Olympic games have tended to cost at least $15 billion, and sometimes far more.

And in virtually every case, final costs vastly exceed the initial estimates.

While the Olympic Games do generate some revenue — from ticket sales, advertising, and TV rights — it’s not usually enough to cover the full cost. “Boston 2024 partnership” has said that Massachusetts taxpayers would not have to make up the difference, but for now there’s no plan to ensure that.

A lot depends on how you think about the $13 billion in already-approved transportation funding. Ultimately, that’s taxpayer money, so diverting some of it to pay for Olympics-related infrastructure — like a stadium — should probably count as public funding. But it’s also possible to argue that since that money has already been authorized, it’s not really a new taxpayer expense.

If money goes to buy a stadium instead of upgrades for the T, that obviously should count as public funding.

Here’s something else to consider:

Chicago’s failed Olympic pursuit five years ago cost more than $70 million, included endorsements from President Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan, and culminated in embarrassment when the IOC dismissed the U.S. bid early in its selection process despite a personal appeal from both the president and First Lady.

This could get expensive even if Boston only bids for the Olympics.

In general I like the Olympics but they really have jumped the shark with the Beijing and Sochi Olympics–those were both obviously chosen purely for monetary reasons (that’s why there are only two bids for the 2022 winter Olympics, no one else wanted them; also, given how they lied to get the summer Olympics, China should not be getting the Olympics again). The IOC claims they’ve changed, but I still think that the group No Boston Olympics is winning the argument.

Happy New Year

Another year is almost over which means it’s time to upload some pictures that show I need a better phone.

First, here’s a photo from a hill in Malden–it’s not bad:


The problem is lights as you can see with these photos of fireworks over Boston today (or you can say I’m trying Expressionism):

WP_000970 WP_000971 WP_000972 WP_000973

Anyway, Happy New Year.

New housing in Boston

Sadly, this is the type of housing being built in Boston:

The penthouse in Millennium Tower Boston just went on the market for $37.5 million, among the priciest properties in the state. Due to open in summer 2016, the 625-foot skyscraper will be the first ultra luxury high-rise to be constructed amid a building boom that is attracting an influx of wealthy international buyers and billions of dollars of investment.

The claim is that somehow this housing will trickle down to the rest of us, but this is one reason it probably won’t:

“The wind is at their back,” said Blair, the firm’s president. In addition to local residents, she said, luxury units in Boston and other US cities have become a popular investment for international buyers looking for a place to store their cash.

With real estate prices rising, Boston is seen as a safe haven for those buyers, as well as an increasingly attractive place to own a slice of the skyline.

Mayor Walsh has said some good things:

Boston needs to build 53,000 housing units by 2030 to keep pace with rapid population growth that is already increasing prices and squeezing out low- and middle-income residents, according to a city report.

The report by Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s administration, previewed by city officials on Wednesday, calls for $21 billion in private and public construction that would increase Boston’s overall housing stock by 20 percent over the next two decades.

Walsh wants to limit further real estate price inflation by creating 20,000 units for middle-income residents, largely built by private developers. His plan would loosen zoning restrictions and provide financial incentives to encourage construction of taller buildings in outlying neighborhoods. It would offer developers tax incentives and other assistance to help reach that goal.

He also wants to increase annual city funding for low-income housing by 65 percent, to $51 million, and require developers of downtown luxury complexes to pay more and build affordable units at other locations.

Sounds ok, but there are some problems–one note the amount targeted for low-income housing and notice it’s not much more than the one condo for sale at the new luxury place. You can see the full report is here. In it we get:

The City is defining its middle class as households with incomes between $50,000 and $125,000. The range begins at $50,000, reflecting Boston’s median income of $53,000. Household income of $50,000 is also the level where eligibility for most government-assisted housing ends, so market-based solutions become critical.
Boston still has a sizable middle class, representing 34 percent of its households. Compared to the region, however, Boston’s middle class is smaller, younger, and has a lower homeownership rate (43 percent) compared to the region (69 percent).
Middle class households face unprecedented difficulties in accessing the market. Today, a household with an income at the midpoint of middle class range ($80,000) can only afford the bottom 23 percent of the homeownership market in Boston, and is priced out of seven of Boston’s 15 neighborhoods. That same $80,000 income is currently enough to afford 51 percent of the rental market; however, rents are rising at five times the rate of income, making the rental market increasingly unaffordable as well.

So, they are defining middle class as households that make more than the median–seems a funny way to define it. In any case, remember that when you see tables such as:

Production Source New Units
City Assisted Low-Income: Non-Senior 6,500
City Assisted Low-Income: Senior 1,500
Middle-Income Inclusionary/Assisted 4,000
Middle-Income Unassisted: Non-Senior 11,000
Middle-Income Unassisted: Senior 2,500
Middle-Income Units Released via Dorm Production 5,000
Market-Rate Unassisted: Senior & Non-Senior 18,500
Market-Rate Units to Support Market-Stabilizing Vacancy Rate 4,000
Total 53,000

You might notice that 8000 are for ‘low-income’ households which make up about 50% of households in Boston right now. Compare that to the 22,500 for market-rate (read luxury) units.

That’s better than what we’ve been getting:

Without financial incentive, the mayor’s report concludes, developers will continue to focus on building luxury complexes that command the highest rents and offer the best returns. More than 8,000 new apartments are expected to be completed in Boston during the next three years, but the vast majority are expected to rent for $3,500 a month or more.

but still not good enough. And now let’s look at the mayor’s comments to another luxury building:

In a statement, Walsh praised AvalonBay’s project. “We are getting the mix of housing that we really need, and it’s coming in the form of a signature high-rise that will be a great addition to the area’s historic buildings and all of our new parks,” he said.

Yeah, I’m not holding my breath that Walsh will actually follow through on his plan. If you go to the BRA’s page listing affordable units available you will find there are none.

Assembly Square

So, the new Assembly Square station on the Orange Line is now open which means my commute will now take a bit longer and be a bit more crowded (although almost no one actually got on or off from there yesterday or today). What’s interesting is that buses will replace the subway on September 14, so I guess it’s not done quite yet–they probably wanted to open it as soon as possible to make things look better. I also love how everyone talks about the new neighborhood:

“We invest in infrastructure to increase private development, revitalize urban neighborhoods and bolster growth and opportunity across the Commonwealth,” said Governor Patrick. “The new Assembly Orange Line station is a concrete reminder of what can be achieved through public-private partnership and investment in our communities.”

“A demand for enhanced access to transit, for smart development centered on transportation access and for livable, workable communities has been heard loud and clear by this Administration,” said MassDOT Secretary & CEO Richard A. Davey. “The opening of the new Assembly station today is a direct response to that demand that will provide easy, affordable access to rapid transit in this new neighborhood of Somerville.”

“The first new MBTA station in 27 years is a testament to the key role that access to transportation plays in the growth and redevelopment of our cities and towns,” said MBTA General Manager Dr. Beverly Scott. “Assembly is a modern, fully accessible, environmentally-friendly Orange Line station that will serve this blossoming new neighborhood and the City of Somerville well for years to come.”

“Assembly Row is an excellent example of a well-rounded development project that aligns our jobs, housing and transportation needs to better serve our residents,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Greg Bialecki. “Through these types of collaborative efforts we are making our communities great places to live, work and play.”

“The opening of the Orange Line Assembly Station is a win not only for Somerville but for the Commonwealth, and I want to especially thank Gov. Patrick for his deep commitment to this project and to forward-looking transportation policy overall,” said Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone. “The smart, transit-oriented development taking place around this T-stop that our community outlined in our SomerVision plan will not only connect more workers and residents to sustainable and healthy transit. It represents tens of thousands of construction and permanent jobs, more than a billion dollars in private investment into our local economy, and a commitment to the infrastructure we need to thrive in a 21st century economy. As we get projects like this moving forward, we get the entire state moving forward.”

“The development of an Assembly Row T station has been a true public and private partnership as Federal Realty, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the City of Somerville have come together to improve a city’s economic future and connect a region through public transit investments,” said Don Briggs, President of Federal Realty Boston. “Assembly Row is a neighborhood unfolding that is now more accessible to all of Boston and beyond. From nationally known outlet retail to locally loved dining, interstate access to corporate campus amenities, Assembly Row is quickly becoming one of the region’s top destinations for the next-generation of work, live, shop, eat and play. ”

The new Assembly station is a true public-private partnership, funded through a combination of federal, state and private investment. The total cost of the station is $56 million with the Executive Office of Housing & Economic Development contributing $25 million through a MassWorks grant, $16 million in federal funds and a $15 million investment from Federal Realty Investment Trust, the developers of the Assembly Row project.

What no one mentions, an oversight I’m sure, is that this is pretty much exclusively luxury housing–so all this work, public money, and private-public partnership is to help the rich get some nice housing on the T. Great job guys.

It would have been nice if they had upgraded the system before they added the extra traffic, but since ridership is up it’s not really a priority.

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