Re: The Colors of Socialism

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Date: Fri Oct 20 2000 - 06:41:04 PDT

In a message dated 10/20/2000 1:21:33 AM, writes:

>For better or worse, there are a lot of people who live in Cambridge who
>just want it to be what it used to be: a really great city to live in.
>They don't want for Cambridge to be a big shopping mall, or a big office
>or a big apartment complex. There are lots of those elsewhere in the Boston
>suburbs, and lots of other places in the metro Boston area to put more
>of those things.

>The end of rent control really has changed the character of the city, and
>Ihave a sense that it's spiralling into a condition where the only people
>living there are students and the very wealthy.

It's both more complicated and more interesting than that. You have to go
back to post-WWII Cambridge--actually, farther back than that, to ancient
town-gown rivalries. In the 1920s there was actually a march on the State
House by the good Irish and Italian, I think lots of italians, in Cambridge
calling for Harvard to be taken over by the state because it was trying to
put a quota on Jews. This wasn't because the townies so liked Jews--it was
because they were resentful of the fact, and fearful of the fact, that the
university was beginning to outgrow the Yard and move into other buildings,
spreading into their homes, driving up real estate prices, etc.

Flash to post WWII, and returning veterans. During the war, given the
inflationary pressures of war, rents come under strain in many cities, but
how can you raise the rent on a GI's wife when her husband is off being shot
at for his country? Likewise, how can you raise the rent on returning heros,
when they need to start their lives. Hence rent control in Cambridge, NYC,
and other places. It made not economic sense--but political-economic sense.
It was a trade-off.

And tradeoffs become entitlements.

Now the fight is about an other expansion of Harvard, which is maybe twice as
big, in terms of its effects on the Cambridge economy, as it was when I was
there. Back then, Inman Square was no man's land--the residence of those
Italian working class townies. Now both MIT and Harvard have exapnded, drivng
those people out just as surely as suburban sprawl eliminated black-footed
ferret habitat. Further: back when, Harvard and MIT didn't spawn
start-ups--not local startups in garages. There were a few --Polaroid
mostly--but the others were out on Rte 128; or people went to work for big
companies. so the students came, and the students went--but they didn't stay.
Now they do.

Add a further filip, and this is a key one: The nature of the urban
middle/working c lass has changed. 30 years ago--WHEN THESE PEOPLE WERE
SIGNING THEIR LEASES--the urban middle-/working class was blue-collar,
industrial, small shopkeepers, plumbers, electricians, etc. Now it's an
information-age group of flight attendants, stock traders, and so on. (The
best analogy I can think of comes from Chicago: The current Richard Daley,
relatively hip mayor, is the son of old Boss Dick Daley. Both BRILLIANTLY
speak to the interests, concerns, and fears of the middle class of their
time; a Daley is still a Daley--the group that butters Daley's daily bread
has moved up from Wonderbread to croissantwiches, however. Cambridge is still
a great city to live in--for a different group of people. Sure, they;'re a
richer group. But GDP/capita has gone up, so you'd expect that. I wonder if
Cambridge is RELATIVELY richer than it was. Probably so, but not as
drastically so as you might think.

So the old townies are holding on to old Dick Daley's middle class, of which
they are a part. There are few of them, and they are getting old, and they
are holding on like grim death, which is getting hold of them. They don't
want to move to Somerville. They blame Harvard for ALL their troubles, not
surprisingly, though Harvard is directly to blame for only some of them. Some
are caused by large economic shifts--the changing nature of them middle class
and the changing nature of entrepreneurship.


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