In Brown v. Board of Education it was determined that separate but equal was by definition unequal. If we compare how Mayor Menino has treated Ruggles Place v. Columbus Center it is clear that separate but unequal is absolutely unequal. Columbus Center is in the heart of the business district, in an affluent neighborhood hardly touched by the recession. Ruggles place is in heavily minority Roxbury, an area with high unemployment and unrelenting crime. Menino and our government have sought $79 million dollars in public subsidies and a 30 year timeline for Columbus Center, they have sought no public money and only 5.5 years for the Elma Lewis Partners to get Ruggles Place finished. This is unfair and unequal and is an example of how unfair our development process is in Boston.
It is amazing how physically similar the projects are: each one is near an Orange Line Station, on approximately 7 acres of land with 1.3 million square feet of space. However, the politics of the projects is divergent. The Columbus Center project has faced stiff resistance from many in the community from the beginning, whereas Elma Lewis Partners has had and continues to have strong support in its community. Maybe Elma Lewis Partners should not have changed their relationship with Menino friend and contributor John Kavanagh, but should that determine whether a project goes forward?
Menino used the excuse that Elma Lewis Partners did not have the financing lined up so he had to take back their designation. After an outcry from the community he made the BRA re-designate the parcel after BRA director John Palmieri insisted at a public meeting in Dudley Library that there was no process for that to occur. Palmieri spoke the truth, there is no process in Boston. What he left out is that there is only what the Mayor wants done. What the Mayor has done is not to treat Elma Lewis Partners and Roxbury equally.
The City is littered with projects that have been put on hold but whose designation has not changed. At Hayward Place Menino gave a away $30 million dollars of public property for free that has not been developed. The historic Gaiety Theater was knocked down and is now just an empty lot. Downtown Crossing is a giant crater. Just recently right in Dudley Square the Mayor has put his own project, the Ferdinand Building, on hold because of the bad economic conditions 5 years after he announced he was going to renovate it in 2004.
The Mayor needs to stop treating people separately and unequally. Elma Lewis Partners should be granted a more realistic timeline to build this project that has such strong community support. It is the only fair thing to do. A real leader would figure out how to get this public asset completed, not shelved.