Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Menino’s recycling program reaches Beacon Hill

By KC Cohen

BEACON HILL—Every Friday morning, John McCarthy hikes up the steep slope of Joy Street, his eyes scanning the sidewalks for clear, bulging plastic bags. The city recycling coordinator is tracking the community’s recycling efforts.

“No calculations have been made,” said McCarthy who works for the Boston Public Works Department. “This is just something that I do on my own.”

The city is trying to increase its recycling rate, and Beacon Hill is the latest neighborhood to adopt Mayor Menino’s “Recycle More, Trash Less” campaign. The program seeks to simplify recycling by allowing residents to place all recyclables in one container, a method known as “streamline recycling.”

The program began in Jamaica Plain in July 2007, where residents received a 95-gallon cart for all types of recyclables.

“The results were staggering,” said Jim Hunt, the city’s chief for environmental and energy services. “There was an immediate 53 percent increase in recycling, and that level of effort has continued.”

Because of limited space in Beacon Hill, the Public Works Department worked with the Beacon Hill Civic Association in September to distribute 30-gallon clear trash bags to be used to streamline recycle. The department mailed each household a description of the new program and a 30-gallon bag.

Hunt said that the department has seen an increase in the amount of recycling on Beacon Hill, but he doesn’t have any statistics to show for the increase.

Some residents are still confused about the recycling process, despite the civic association’s efforts to educate the community.

“We don’t recycle,” said Megan Blanchette, an Emerson College student who lives on Joy Street. “Back home…I'm really strict about recycling, so I'm not really sure why I don't do it here.”
Blanchette said she doesn’t understand the recycling process and does not know where to buy the clear plastic bags.

The civic association frequently receives calls from Beacon Hill residents asking where to purchase the bags, said Suzanne Besser, executive director of the association.

A box of 60 bags can be purchased at Charles Street Supply for $16.49.

“We’re concerned that residents don’t want to use the plastic bags,” Besser said. “They continue to use the old blue bins, which let recycling blow away and then sit empty on the sidewalk all day while the residents are at work.”

Suffolk University has also increased its efforts to recycle, said Erica Mattison, special projects coordinator for campus sustainability at Suffolk. The university has increased its recycling levels from 5 percent to 33 percent through the purchase of additional recycling receptacles and the launch of an education campaign run by student volunteers.

The Beacon Hill Civic Association is meeting with John McCarthy and Susan Casino, director of the Boston Public Works Department’s Recycling Division, on Friday to discuss the state of recycling on Beacon Hill since the adoption of the program.

Beacon Hill unaffected by bill failure

By KC Cohen

BEACON HILL—Last March, the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Coalition Association and state lawmakers butted heads over a bill that would allow citizens to notify their local government of suspected employment of illegal immigrants.

Sen. Bruce Tarr, a Gloucester republican, said the bill would make it easier to regulate the employment of illegal immigrants, but the association called it anti-immigrant.

“We were worried it would lead to discrimination and prejudice, especially from people who had animus toward a business or an employee,” said Carly Burton, acting deputy director of the association. “They could call up, say that that person was undocumented, without any proof of it.”

Senator Tarr did not return phone calls.

A year later, the bill’s failure to pass has not affected the Beacon Hill community, most likely because the neighborhood’s immigrant population is nearly nonexistent.

In the 19th century, the North Slope of Beacon Hill was home to a large population of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe. As of 2000, 85 percent of the Beacon Hill population was white, and 83 percent of families speak English at home, according to the Department of Neighborhood Development.

“There is not a large population of immigrants here,” said Suzanne Besser, director of the Beacon Hill Civic Association. “We wish we had more diversity.”

The Act to Promote Fair Employment and Security proposal would have imposed a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison for the use of false identification to obtain employment. It also would have created a 24-hour hotline to report suspected wrongful employment of undocumented immigrants.

Immigrants make a large contribution to Massachusetts, said Burton, but most immigrant legislation affects districts with a larger immigrant population, such as Somerville and East Boston.

Beacon Hill is well known for the high cost of real estate, but the neighborhood has never been targeted as an area of housing discrimination, said Vera Schneider, director of investigations for the Boston Fair Housing Commission.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Locals find room for one more course of gourmet dining

By KC Cohen

BEACON HILL—On a recent Saturday evening, Jocelyn Riley extended a long fingernail to tap the flat screen of a computer resting on a tall, wrought-iron table. Her fingers expertly conjured a long list of reservations for the night.

“Right now, our Fridays and Saturdays are booked a week and a half in advance,” Riley said.

As Americans cut back on luxuries with a recession looming, Beacon Hill's gourmet steakhouse, Mooo..., remains packed. The restaurant, attached to the four-star XV Hotel, continues to fill its dining room with patrons hungry for Mooo…’s expensive modern steakhouse dishes.

“We attract a certain clientele that is freer with its money,” said Diego Rivera, general manager of Mooo…. “If someone was going to spend $120 on our plate of Kobe beef before, they’ll still do it.”

In July, national restaurant chains, such as Bennigan’s and Steak & Ale, closed because of decreasing income. While casual dining restaurants continue to suffer from the poor economy, gourmet restaurants appear to be flourishing on Beacon Hill, said Donna Petro, president of the Beacon Hill Business Association.

Jamie Mammano, owner of the South-End bistro Mistral, opened Mooo… last August. The restaurant, which offers steaks ranging from the eight-ounce Filet Mignon for $38 to the plate of Kobe Beef for $120, was named one of’s “Best of the New” this year.

Mooo…’s dining room, which seats up to 66 guests at a time, sees 150 customers on a typical Saturday night, said Michelle Strand, the reservations manager at Mooo…. But the restaurant is not immune to the failing economy.

“The change isn’t in the volume of diners, but the amount of courses they order,” Rivera said. “Instead of ordering five courses, someone might order three.”

Executive Chef David Hutton has not added more moderately-priced items to the menu, and the restaurant’s gourmet plates remain in high demand.

“Mooo… is successful because its owners are…profoundly aware that the customer experience is paramount to their success,” said Benson Willis, general manager of Flat Iron restaurant in the West End’s Bullfinch Hotel. “Customers’ discretionary spending plays a significant role in the success or failure of a restaurant.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"Gay before May"...and it's okay

By KC Cohen

BEACON HILL—During her freshman year at Emerson College, Janie Olson decided she no longer wanted to keep her sexual orientation a secret. Olson decided to come out to her friends—that she was straight.

“They were like, ‘Wait, you’re not even bisexual?’” Olson said. “They couldn’t believe I only like men!”

At Emerson, students have learned not to assume heterosexuality. In fact, Emerson students have adopted the phrase “Gay before May,” joking that if they’re not gay when they apply, a student will be by graduation.

This summer, the 2009 edition of the Princeton Review named Emerson College the most gay-friendly college or university in the country, placing it at the top of the review’s “Gay Community Accepted” list.

The ranking is based on an 80-question survey that asks students at 368 schools to rate their college on several topics, such as condition of residence halls, availability of financial aid, and overall quality of life.

“I definitely notice a lack of straight men here,” said Megan Blanchette, a senior at Emerson who also said she gets hit on more often by women than men. “It’s good that everyone is so accepting, so I think it’s worth it.”

The “Gay Community Accepted” list and the alternative list, “Alternative Lifestyles not an Alternative,” are based on students’ answers to the statement, “At my campus, students, faculty and administrators treat all persons equally regardless of their sexual orientations,” said Jeanne Krier, a publicist for Princeton Review Books.

“[Emerson] students’ answers to that question indicated the highest level of agreement with that statement,” said Krier.

The University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., holds the No. 1 spot of the “Alternative Lifestyles not an Alternative” list.

EAGLE, Emerson’s Alliance for Gays, Lesbians, and Everyone, provides a voice for students of all sexual orientations, according to the alliance’s website. The group sponsors events such as “Dragtoberfest,” hands out pins brandishing “I [heart] boys,” and puts on an annual “Gayla” for homosexual, bisexual, and transgender advocacy.

The college also has an active Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender section of its Student Life office, which provides educational resources and support for students.

The alliance and the Emerson Student Life Office both did not return phone calls.

“We’re pleased to be recognized for being friendly to all different kinds of people,” said David Rosen, vice president for public affairs at Emerson. “It’s part of our culture and tradition at Emerson to be accepting of people as individuals.”

The “Top 20” Princeton Review lists are published annually in The Best 368 Colleges. The information the company gathers has an 80 percent accuracy rating, said Seamus Malarky, senior editor of the book.

“The better educated a student is, the more likely they are to find the best fit,” Malarky said. “We’re dedicated to helping them find that.”

Emerson also ranks No. 1 on the “Best College Radio Station” list and No. 12 on the “Dodgeball Targets” list.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Beacon Hill-the new Allston?

By KC Cohen

BEACON HILL—The apartment buildings on
Joy Street look like many other Beacon Hill homes: antique molding lines bay windows, surrounded by a smooth brick fa├žade.

But something’s different about this street.

“The majority of people around here are Emerson or Suffolk students,” said Meghan Blanchette, a senior at Emerson College who lives on Joy Street. “My whole building is full of college students.”

More students are seeking off-campus housing on Beacon Hill because of the neighborhood’s proximity to Suffolk University and Emerson College. In a neighborhood with a median household income 167 percent higher than the rest of Boston, according to the US Census, the influx of college students is changing the feel of the neighborhood.

“Someone was throwing pumpkins on the street the other night,” said Suzanne Besser, executive director of the Beacon Hill Civic Association. “The homeowner called the police.”

The young residents do not cause an increase in crime, said Besser, but they often do not consider neighborhood etiquette. Older Joy Street residents deal with littered trash and late night noise, both uncommon on other parts of the hill.

Suffolk uses a video to educate students on off-campus life and courtesy, said Besser, who added that Beacon Hill residents have a better relationship with Suffolk students because of the university’s efforts.

Emerson College does offer workshops to educate their students about moving off-campus, but the programs do not emphasize etiquette.

“Students do their own thing sometimes,” said Brian Rosenthal, who works for Emerson’s Off Campus Student Services.

Despite occasional annoyances, Joy Street residents live harmoniously. Blanchette said she doesn’t know her neighbors very well, but she never feels unwelcome.

Students seeking off-campus housing have avoided Beacon Hill in the past because of the high price of real estate in the neighborhood. The average home price in Beacon Hill is $975,000 and the average monthly rent is $2,500, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Because students attempt to divide the high rent between as many roommates as possible, apartment overcrowding has become an issue on Joy Street, Besser said. The Beacon Hill Civic Association monitors the street for landlords who house more than the legal number of residents.
In December 2007, the Boston City Council passed a petition to make it illegal for more than four students to live in one apartment.

“There is legislation in Boston that does not allow more than a certain number of unrelated people in one unit,” said Vera Schneider, Director of Investigations for the Boston Fair Housing Commission, who has had neighbors inquire about the number of students packed into a single apartment.

While the proximity to campus is alluring, Beacon Hill is not all cobblestones and ivy.
“You may think living in Beacon Hill is nice,” said Janie Olson, a senior at Emerson, “but there are mice and cockroaches that are basically impossible to get rid of!”

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Beacon Hill addresses parking problems with garage expansion proposal

By KC Cohen

BEACON HILL—Beacon Hill is famous for its windy, lamp-lit cobblestone streets—and its lack of parking spots. Steep hills make parking difficult, and the tenement-converted apartment buildings usually lack off-street spaces.

The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority has recently proposed an expansion of the Boston Common parking garages, which would extend south beneath the Boston Common baseball field, said James Rooney, executive director of the authority.

“Parking—it’s a nightmare,” said Suzanne Besser, executive director of the Beacon Hill Civic Association. “It’s been a problem in Beacon Hill since at least 1922, when the BCHA was founded.”

Some restaurants and vendors offer valet parking for patrons as a solution. The Civic Association frowns on valet services, but it allows businesses to use them, with the expectation that they will park outside neighborhood boundaries.

As an alternative to valet parking, businesses suggest their customers use the Boston Common parking garages a few blocks from Charles Street.

“Hotel guests and restaurant patrons simply have to fend for themselves,” said Benson Willis, former general manager of the Beacon Hill Bistro. “The confusing issue is getting back to the hotel from the garage because of the difficult traffic flow on Beacon Hill.”

The Beacon Hill Civic Association does not have an official stand on the expansion, said Besser, but the association does not support the increased amount of traffic it would cause.
Beacon Hill’s famed Cheers Bar has only six parking spaces, and general manager Billy DeCain said he often steers patrons to the Common garages. The Hampshire House uses the garages for off-site valet parking.

Beacon Hill residents are allowed street parking with a residential parking permit. There is no limit on permits per family, which causes overcrowding and counts for a considerable amount of the neighborhood’s available parking spaces.

Besser estimates there are four times as many residential parking permits as available parking spaces.

The civic association’s volunteer Transportation Committee is attending meetings with the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority to assess the plan’s feasibility. They will consider construction costs, parking demand, and impact on historic sites. It not been determined who would pay for the expansion.

“We are still very much in the beginning stages,” Besser said, “but it seems like parking has been a problem in Beacon Hill since the invention of cars.”