Friday, April 17, 2009

Local news (Arlington, MA)

Living Richly. We have had two more Living Richly dinners. Briefly, the third dinner had quiche, home-made bread, home-made hummus and more, and the agenda was singing songs and playing board games together (one can't have meetings about frugal living every month!). The fourth dinner had a great Louisiana rice dish, and the agenda was an update on projects we started at the second dinner, including an informal babysitting coop, a small home gardening project, worm composting, food storage, and, most importantly, shared participation in a new Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project at a site in East Arlington.

Enterprise CSA. The CSA dropoff in East Arlington, MA, will get a weekly delivery of food shares from Enterprise Farm every Wednesday afternoon at Calvary United Methodist Church. There are large shares and small shares available. The prices are high in one respect (more money than one usually pays for produce in one lump sum or even monthly) and low in other respects (less expensive than equivalent pounds of organic produce). I am most looking forward to meeting the same neighbors every week at pickup time and chatting about what food is in season and how best to prepare it. The whole community will have the same seasonal produce at the same time, much as most humans have had throughout history and around the world. Contact me by email for details if you would like to participate.

Dinner Diaries. The next, fifth, Living Richly dinner will be Sunday, May 17. We will have have an after-dinner talk and book reading by Betsy Block, a local resident and author of The Dinner Diaries -- Raising Whole Wheat Kids in a White Bread World. The book offers an entertaining account of trying to live better in our crazy food environment. A funny feature is the diversity of advice she gets from experts, such as my colleague Susan Roberts. Contact me by email if you live nearby and would like to come to the dinner and talk.

Earth Day at Calvary Church. I will be the lay preacher at our neighborhood church, Calvary Church United Methodist, this coming Sunday, April 19, speaking on an Earth Day theme. The address is at 300 Massachusetts Avenue, and the service starts at 10:30 am. The place is welcoming to all people.

Massachusetts Avenue Corridor Project. A project is underway to transform the major road in East Arlington into a much better shared-use transportation corridor for cars, bikes, and pedestrians. But I fear it is at risk of never happening.

Transportation engineers did better at planning, so far, than at communicating. They have a plan that seems to me likely to improve the neighborhood without harming traffic flows, but they haven't succeeded in explaining how this is possible to a skeptical business community and residents. To take just one example, traffic in the neighborhood is congested largely because of three major intersections which act like "spigots" on a water pipe, causing backups and cut-through traffic onto side streets. The new plan reduces lanes in parts of the corridor from four lanes to three lanes, while marking lanes more clearly so that traffic patterns and turning behavior are more sensible. The three lanes suffice for long stretches of the avenue, because the pinch points are what limited traffic flows anyway, and hardly any more cars could travel this stretch even if there were six lanes.

At a neighborhood meeting a couple weeks ago, business people and neighbors were really terrified. A few spoke eloquently about shared use that benefits everybody, but most spoke against the proposal. Honestly, some sounded deeply prejudiced against cyclists. One business person gave at length a conspiracy theory that the transportation project was just a cycling agenda, when it really addresses a wide range of safety and traffic problems (.pdf), and includes bike lanes as one of many improvements. East Arlington Livable Streets Coalition, which includes all sorts of neighbors -- come to a meeting and see it's true -- has a web page on the Mass Ave project. EALS is planning an outreach effort to local businesses, probably on Saturday, April 25, to say essentially, "we love local businesses, and are some of your many customers who arrive by cars, bikes, and on foot." Can the malls say the same thing? No, malls are for cars and cars are for malls, but people come to local businesses in East Arlington with all sorts of mixed transportation. I think the transportation corridor project, if it happens, will be a boon to business.

If you want your voice heard on this question, visit an East Arlington business by foot or bike on Saturday, April 25, and tell them how much you love them. The next chance after that to be heard is a Selectman meeting on Tuesday, April 28, at Hardy School, 52 Lake Street, ay 7 pm. Though my confidence has been shaken, I hope people turn out and speak with a high spirit.

Update: Date for Betsy Block dinner corrected.

Update: The EALS group wants to coordinate with the business community and other organizations about a good time for the "support local business" event, so the organized event will be postponed a bit. Since I already told a bunch of people, my family and some other friends and neighbors will still also visit the East Arlington business district on April 25.

No comments: