"Hands-On" Menino

There are several reasons that Sunday's Globe story about development under Tom Menino is important -- first and foremost, because now you know the answer the next time an out-of-town visitor asks why there's a monumental erect uncircumcised penis in the middle of Boston's skyline.

For folks who carp about Menino's heavy hand in the planning and development process -- and that would include me -- this article is a perfect encapsulation of the problem. Menino, and his supporters, honestly believe that there's nothing wrong with hizzoner dictating everything. After all, it's his city, right?

But that's not how it's supposed to be. And, it's not how it was before Menino, and it's not how it is in other cities. And, to be blunt, Menino kinda sucks at it.

Seriously. First off, his aesthetic taste runs between mediocre and atrocious. Second, like most people he often makes decisions based on personal feelings while convincing himself that his intentions are pure. (The Globe's Brooks Pharmacy tale is a great example.) But more importantly, he gets constantly jerked around by the developers he favors, while he in turn jerks around the developers or projects he doesn't favor -- which leads to underdeveloped fiascos all over the city: the South Boston waterfront; Roxbury Crossing/Melnea Cass corridor; Downtown Crossing; etc. etc. etc. Mayoral challenger Michael Flaherty has his own list, including D Street, Hayward Place, and others. The Gaiety Theatre, which I wrote about, was one small but perfect example. Menino wanted Kensington Place built, so he pushed through the OKs over serious objections, rushing to get the wrecking ball out to make the argument moot. The building came down. Suddenly, the developer wasn't in such a rush -- and five years later, the lot is still just dirt.

The Globe article also does a nice job depicting how Menino's attention flits from one grand, legacy-making idea to another -- which is what makes his choice of the phallic rooftop so perfect.

Boston is supposed to have this independent authority, the BRA, through which serious city planners make fair, impartial decisions. That's become a joke. Perhaps most telling, Menino has mostly left the key position of City Planner unfilled. After its most recent three-year vacancy, Menino elevated Kairos Shen to the position last year. Shen is such a Menino yes-man that he told a reporter, in a Globe Magazine profile, "I feel sometimes that the mayor is not only a mentor... but also an old wise professor that you keep learning things from."

Anyway, the Globe story puts the subject out on the table. Menino supporters will argue that there's nothing wrong here; Menino opponents already think there's something wrong. The big question is whether the issue has any effect on those Bostonians who like Menino but feel like it may be time for a change. Too soon to tell. But I imagine the WBZ mayoral debate this Wednesday might give us a sense of how big a campaign issue it will be.
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