Wednesday, August 03, 2005

World-Class, My Ass

The Mayor of Boston and assorted Movers & Shakers are always going on and on about how Boston is a "World Class City."

"We don't need to keep the bars open all night to be a World Class City!"
(Well okay, but what do you tell the Japanese businessmen who would like a scotch at 3:00 a.m.?)

"We don't need a 'gentlemens' club' to be a World Class City!"
(See above.)

Of course, bar hours and adult entertainment are only two of the more controversial issues that mire Boston in this perennial struggle betwen "small city" and "big city." Here's one of the more mundane incidents that demonstrates more eloquently than any strip club or all-night entertainment why Boston will continue to be just an assortment of small towns within a city limit:

For years, it was a crafts store that sold homemade afghans and a place where mothers in Fairmount Hill gathered for knitting lessons.

Last winter, the shingled Hyde Park storefront took in a new tenant -- a business that neighbors say has turned their quiet streets into screaming raceways, shattering the peace of their summer evenings and terrifying car drivers and pedestrians alike. Scooter X Press has become one of the most popular minimotorcycle dealerships around, selling at least 800 bikes since it opened in March -- and driving many neighbors to distraction.

''It's like having a firecracker store in your neighborhood," said Bob Vance, president of the Fairmount Hill Neighborhood Association.

So, a scooter vendor opens up a storefront in "Hyde Pahk," starts selling them to neighborhood families by the truckload (800 units in five months!!), and the neighbors are clamoring for action because the kids are riding them in the street.

And what are our World Class City Leaders going to do about it?

Just as the City did with Fenway area parking lots during the ALCS and World Series, they've come down on Scooter X Press owner, Steve Davis:
The city has cited Davis for several violations, including repairing bikes without a permit and unpermitted use of the sidewalk for displaying bikes.

Davis says he followed the permitting instructions given to him by the city and that he never used the sidewalk -- only his own property -- for displaying his bikes.
Hassle the store owner. Only in a World Class City like Boston would a business owner need a permit to repair bicycles. A world-class solution to the problem. But that's not all. Surely an issue this grave requires legislative action.

In its latest bid to confront what some call the scourge of shrieking minibikes, the Boston City Council today is scheduled to consider a ban on selling minibikes in residential neighborhoods and local business districts. City Councilor Rob Consalvo, who proposed the idea, happens to live a few blocks from Scooter X Press and says his office has been inundated with residents' complaints.

''We should be selling these bikes in manufacturing zones, industrial zones, away from families, from children, from the elderly," he said. ''Our residential neighborhoods, our local business districts are not the appropriate place for these bikes to be sold."

Can you see how plainly stupid Councilor Consalvo is? Does he not understand that it is not the presence of the scooter store that makes the noise, but the scooter riders? Can he not see that, no matter where the store is, the owners of the scooters will ride them in their neighborhoods, not where the store is located?

Surely someone is going to clue him in to the error of his logic. After all, Scooter X Press is not the only store selling the items.

Since the minibike craze first seized Boston last year, all sorts of retail businesses have rushed in to capitalize. Auto dealers, toy shops, and minimarts have begun selling them on the side. Icon Barber Shop on Washington Street in Dorchester has sold 60 of them this year, according to an employee there.

''We've got computer stores selling them, we've got a clothing store selling them," said Davida Andelman, the director of community health for the Bowdoin Street Community Health Center in Dorchester. ''People are not driving them safely; they're not driving them with helmets on. I've seen little kids riding them. . . . They're loud and they have no redeeming value whatsoever."

No redeeming value. Maybe the kids would be better off hanging on the corner. Would she and the neighbors consider talking to the parents of the scooter riders and trying to work out some fair use rules? Nah. Right to City Hall, where even the smallest problem can be the subject of a city ordinance.

So Councilor Consalvo is proposing a zoning change that would forbid retail shops from selling the bikes, and outlawing scooter sales in residential and local business districts.

Surely the Mayor of this World Class City can see that this is going overboard -- that in a world class city, there are more sensible ways to address such a mundane neighborhood problem.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino would have to sign off; yesterday he said he would. ''Sometimes government has to step in and protect people," he said.

Sometimes? Especially during an election year. It is imperative that the highest powers in the city step in to protect the neighborhoods from teenagers riding scooters by harrassing a neighborhood business and putting him out of business.

Petty politics, certain to prevent Boston from ever entering that vaunted category of world-class.

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