, Newburyport, MA


August 27, 2013

A tale of two redevelopment authorities:BRA, NRA complaints very similar

To the editor:

It looks as if the Redevelopment Authority is facing rough sledding: not in this case our very own NRA but the BRA, the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

According to a front-page story in the Boston Globe, the majority of the dozen candidates now running in that city’s mayoral race are either calling for the agency to be shut down or its functions drastically truncated. Not much support for the BRA in Beantown.

A lot of the criticism of the BRA sounds like our local complaints about the NRA. For example, one candidate says he wants to make it “more transparent and accountable.” The Globe notes that “some argue that the BRA has become too friendly to the wealthy and well-connected.” Another familiar complaint: Citizens are not being heard by the BRA.

The history of the two redevelopment authorities, as gleaned from a variety of sources, shows interesting parallels between them. Both were conceived during the Eisenhower administration, together with similar authorities in other cities, to channel federal funding to urban renewal projects, to deal with problems of “urban blight.”

Everyone seems to agree that in their early days the authorities did a commendable job. By the 1970s, however, with many of the problems solved, they began to seem redundant. Now that the basic job was done, people began to wonder why they were still around. Some of the authorities simply went out of business. Not in Boston and Newburyport, though.

The work of the BRA has drawn sharp criticism. Some of its financial manipulations are being questioned. There are those who think projects like the massive Government Center have desecrated the Boston landscape. And there are laments about “characterless towers” on prime waterfront lots.

Today, the BRA faces a growing new challenge: how to protect building on Boston’s extensive waterfront in the face of rising sea waters. (NRA, please note.)

Another striking parallel between the BRA and the NRA: Boston mayoral candidates typically run against the BRA, but the one who wins tends to convert it to be part of his/her power base and becomes its supporter.

Sound familiar, Newburyporters?

James Critchlow


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