The Beacon Hill Civic Association
Case Study: The Nimby Power
NOT TOO LONG AGO, City Hall was in the habit of steamrolling neighborhood opposition to development, and indeed, whole neighborhoods. It’s since decided there are more votes in appeasing constituent discontent than in hurling a wrecking ball at it. And so it is that anyone looking to put up a building, serve booze, or so much as engage the services of a valet company in Boston’s politically active quarters first has to meet the locals and kiss their rings. "Some residents are more interested in preserving the character and quality of their neighborhood," says someone close to the development industry. "Then there are professional community activists. For them, it’s a sport."
While similar groups in the Back Bay and Brighton have exerted plenty of influence in the past, at the moment it’s the Beacon Hill Civic Association that’s flexing its muscles better than anyone in town, led by chairman
John Achatz, president Lori Bate, institutional planning committee co-chair Ania Camargo, and executive director Suzanne Besser. "It’s amazing the way they’re organized, their depth," says the development source. "It’s fantastic. I don’t envy Suffolk, having to deal with that."
Suffolk, of course, would be Suffolk University, which two years ago, with the mayor’s support, tried to plop a 500-bed dorm by the Adams Courthouse—not a charming residential block by any stretch. Neighborhood residents, spurred on by the association, rose up against the plan, waging a campaign the Globe neatly summarized as "bruising." Menino withdrew his support; the university shifted the dorm project to Downtown Crossing, where, not for nothing, there are few neighbors to mount uprisings. Suffolk is now drafting long-range development plans that will include the target of housing most of its students on campus; Achatz’s group, meanwhile, continues to push the school to "channel expansion" away from Beacon Hill. As one City Hall source says: "It’s clear where they won’t be able to build." —Paul McMorrow
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