Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sunday, December 7, 2008

South End stores become environmentally conscious

By Kate Klinck

It’s a clothing boutique, but the shelves are full of skateboards and soda can tabs.

Fair trade artists in Brazil re-used the aluminum tabs by sewing them together to create an Escama Studio handbag. Another company, Beck(y), uses pieces of old, worn-out skateboards to construct small purses without straps, which are called clutches.

“We’ve always had an eye out for earth-friendly products,” said Storey Hieronymus Hauk, owner of Turtle, a boutique on Tremont Street. “If we have to choose between non-earth-friendly and earth-friendly, we’ll always choose earth-friendly.”

As more people desire to improve the environment, South End stores are increasingly catering to consumers’ demands by selling products such as the handbags at Turtle, t-shirts made from recycled cotton, and Levi’s jeans that have buttons and zippers made from recycled metal.

Eve Belfer-Ahern, 33, a customer at Turtle, said she buys pieces from the Prairie Underground line sold at Turtle because their clothing is made in Seattle from re-used material.

“They’re a cottage industry too, which means people take materials home, sew it and get paid by the piece,” Ahern said. “I also won’t buy anything made in China. I like to buy things made in countries with good environmental laws.”

Parlor, a boutique on Washington Street, sells several clothing lines made from sustainable fibers, organic cotton, recycled or re-used materials, none of which are produced in sweat shops. One line created in 2005, Alternate Apparel, is a T-shirt line designed by shop owners Nilda Martin and Kelly Warner. It is made with recycled cotton and then the images are screened on the shirts by local artists.

Martin said she has seen the demand in the South End this year for environmentally friendly products.

“The South End is a cutting edge neighborhood,” she said. “These people are ahead of the curve—it’s cool and chic to be green. They care about the community and what is good for animals and people. It’s the ethic of the neighborhood.”

Organic cotton is one material used to make products sold in other South End stores such as Motley, a boutique on Tremont Street. For an item to be considered organic, it must be certified by the United States Department of Agriculture. To be certified, the product must meet standards that prove it was produced by using feed or fertilizer from plants or animals that has not been touched by chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics or pesticides.

Motley sells Levi’s Eco-Friendly jeans that are made with organic cotton, organic dyes, and zippers and buttons made from recycled metal. Doug Palardy, owner of Motley, said he decided to sell the jeans in May 2008.

“It seemed like a fun concept,” Palardy said. “And everyone was talking eco, green, earth-friendly this past year, so why not.”

One thing Palardy refuses to sell is bamboo products.

“The process to turn bamboo into weave-able fibers is highly toxic,” he said. “The chemicals used to break down the bamboo are horrible for the environment and groundwater. People forget that cotton is renewable, just as trees are, and just because bamboo grows fast, doesn't mean it the friendly replacement for other materials and fibers.”

James Lionette, owner of Lionette’s Market on Tremont Street, said not all of his products are organically certified, but they are all clean and sustainable.

“Not adulterated, no messing around, no ridiculous use of pesticides, no factories,” Lionette said. “Clean is a much healthier word. Organic is just a marketing term for Wal-Mart and Whole Foods.”

Latino immigrants use cultural arts to maintain diversity

By Kate Klinck

When people think of the South End, they often think of upscale restaurants and luxury housing. The people at the Jorge Hernandez Cultural Center are working to bring one more thing to mind--Latino arts.

“There’s such a stigma,” said Javier Torres, the director of the center for Latino arts, “We’re two streets away, but they [neighborhood residents] automatically think they wouldn’t want to come here. The community is very gentrified and segregated.”

As new upscale restaurants, boutiques and luxury housing units are constructed in the South End, non-profits and boutiques in the area maintain diversity by promoting the influence of Latin immigrants though centers for Latino arts, and the importing of products from places such as Argentina.

The Jorge Hernandez Cultural Center, the center for Latino arts, is affiliated with Villa Victoria and the Inquilinos Boricua in Accion in the South End. The goal of the center is to preserve and promote Latino Arts, according to the website. It includes visual art exhibits, dance classes, and musical performances.

“Our primary mission is to have artistic opportunities for residents to enjoy,” Torres said. “We also want to instill in new generations ethnic pride. They need to see whose shoulders we stand on and where we come from to understand where we’re going.”

Another place that is displaying the Latin Influence in the South End is Diseno, a boutique on Harrison Avenue. The store owner, Frank Campanale, searches for products such as animal skins and leather sofas in Argentina, and then brings them back to America. The boutique also has wine tastings every Friday night to promote Argentinean and Chilean wine.

“He opened the store because he thought that there was a market for his products in the South End,” said Melissa Rousseau, a friend of Campanale’s, who watches the store when he travels to South America. “He thought it would be different and unexpected.”

Washington Gateway Main Street is an organization that helps preserve and transform the area, said Linda Royer, the director.

On Nov. 12, the non-profit has scheduled Necktie, a gala fundraiser that will include a silent auction and free food from several South End restaurants. The money will be put toward improving open space on Washington Street as well as up-keep of historic buildings.

Alison Tomisato, the director of events and marketing at Rocca, said that the restaurant participated in the fundraiser because it would promote the making of a dynamic neighborhood.

“The neighborhood is changing for the better,” Tomisato said. “It is a diverse patchwork that is residential, artistic, and it is always growing.”

Alyssa Shepherd, a manager at Toro, said the restaurant wanted to help the non-profit raise money because it is part of the community.

“I don’t think the construction is making [the South End] it more diverse,” Shepherd said. “There is a lot of high-income housing now, but some areas are still diverse.”

Economic crisis does not hold back South End restaurants

By Kate Klinck

He knew the economy was in a major slump, but he also knew he had all the ingredients for a personal bailout plan.

When Malcolm Aalders opened the restaurant Circle: Plates and Lounge last month, he did not hesitate when the economy worsened.

“For me, it was a drive to push to make sure everything I make is of the best quality as possible,” Aalders said. “Even if people only go out once every two weeks, I want them to come here because it’s affordable dining. It’s the same caliber as what most people get who spend $50 a plate.”

As the slowing economy forces some city restaurants to close, several have recently opened in the South End, such as Circle: Plates and Lounge, the Savant Project and Sage. The new businesses are finding ways to survive, despite difficulties such as rising costs of staple products such as flour and fewer customers who are more likely to order a drink at the bar than a three-course meal.

Peter Holm, the general manager of Sage Restaurant, which recently moved from the North End to the South End, said they have made some changes to the menu because people want to spend less.

“We expanded the menu to do half pastas, and stuzzi, an Italian version of Tapas,” Holm said. “People can order three or four to share.”

Holm also said the price for commodity items such as flour are also rising.

“Funny, where high end places used to give you a bread basket, they are less inclined to do that now,” he said.

The Boston Restaurant Group’s sales are down 25 percent, said Charlie Perkins, the owner of the real estate agency.

Currently, approximately 25 restaurants are for sale through the Group. Perkins predicts he will sell about 35 restaurants this year, where as last year he sold 45.

The Savant Project opened 15 months ago in the South End. Benny Kraines, owner of the restaurant, said business for them has not suffered tremendously.

“September was a little weird with the financial crisis and no one going out, but that passed,” Kraines said. “We didn’t change anything directly through that, but we had a few financial crisis specials on the menu to capitalize.”

The Massachusetts Restaurant Association, a non-profit dedicated to helping the food and beverage industry, has not seen a drop off in members.

“We’re actually adding members,” said Nick Spidalieri, the director of membership services at the association.

“We provide information to folks about health insurance and cheap services for gas and electric. We try to help them save money in whatever way


Saturday, November 15, 2008

BUMC Biolab delays opening to 2009

By Kate Klinck

The laboratory has been built, but it will not be open for research until at least 2009, and if some South End residents have their way, the doors may never open.

Susan Passoni, president of the Ellis Neighborhood Association, said the National Infectious Disease Laboratory bring new jobs to the area, but she worries about the dangers and plans for evacuation in the densely populated area of the Boston University Medical campus.

“The lab is located right next to 93,” Passoni said. “Anyone who’s driven in Boston knows the freeway and how congested it can get. How would they be able to manage an emergency event and coordinate with the hierarchy of city, state and federal authorities?”

As a result of two lawsuits, one filed by the state, and the other by the South End community, The Boston University Medical Campus delayed the Biolab’s scheduled 2008 opening, so risks of the lab can be properly assessed. A judge must properly decide whether the lab is safe to open.

The Blue Ribbon Panel, an advisory panel formed by the National Institute of Health, will asses risks such as how the infectious diseases will be transported, how they will be handled in the Biolab, and the effectiveness of the evacuation methods in the event of an accident.

Dr. Dennis L. Kasper, a member of the panel and professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at Harvard Medical School, said the panel is analyzing the risk of potential problems such as accidentally exposing infectious diseases to residents in the vicinity of the Biolab.

“Things could go wrong in the lab, while diseases are being transported to the lab or even with someone who wants to do evil,” Kasper


The Biolab will be a level four laboratory, which means it will research diseases that require the highest level of containment, such as naturally occurring infectious diseases and potential agents of bioterrorism, according to the Boston University Medical Campus National Emerging Infectious Diseases website. The research will be used to develop vaccines and therapeutics to fight the diseases.

On Oct. 14, the panel held a meeting in the Roxbury Center for the Arts to outline the next steps in assessing the risk of the Biolab.

Tabitha Bennett, the South End neighborhood coordinator said many residents attended the meeting to express their opinions to the panel.

“The people that were against it wanted their voices to be heard, and they wanted to speak out against it,” Bennett said. “I know that some of the benefits include jobs, especially in the biomedical and research field. The concerns with the lab are what are the risks involved, and what kind of safety precautions are going to be taken.”

Ellen Berlin, director of the corporate communications for the Boston University Medical Campus, said the lab will be open in February, and is scheduled to be open for research next year.

Boston University Medical Center is also doing psychological and criminal background checks on scientists who will work in the lab.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

As the Economy drops, South End Non-Profits See Effects

By Kate Klinck

The Pine Street Inn will have the homeless will sleep on floors and in hallways this winter instead of beds that were available last year.

Barbara Trevisan, a spokeswoman for the Pine Street Inn, one of the city’s largest homeless shelters, said the effects of Governor Deval Patrick’s $1 billion budget cuts will affect them when winter comes.

“One thing that has been cut is additional beds for winter,” Trevisan said. “As the weather gets colder, we also feel the pressure with the costs of utilities such as heat and gas for trucks and vans.”

As the economy worsens, non-profit organizations such as the Pine Street Inn and the Haley House in the South End and Roxbury are seeing an increased number of clients, but have fewer resources to offer because of budget cuts and a drop in the amount of donations from local foundations.

Bing Broderick, the bakery director of the Haley House in Roxbury, said he has seen an increase in the number of people applying for the work training program.

“I have a waiting list of 19 people right now,” Broderick said. “That’s increased since last year.”

Noreen Manzo, the director of affordable housing at the Haley House in the South End, said the organization has seen an increase in the applications of people applying for transitional and permanent affordable housing.

Together, the Haley House and the Madison Park Development Corporation in the South End manage 69 housing units. Because of the increase in applicants, the Haley House has started a waiting list. “If the funds for endowments dry up, we’ll be affected,” Manzo said. Linda Royer, the director of Washington Gateway Main Street, said that she does not know of any development plans for affordable housing in the South End at this time.

The Cost of the Silver Line Phase III Rises Again

By Kate Klinck

He won’t be a passenger on a bus that will travel through the new tunnel, but he will still have to pay for the $1 billion project.

John Cater, a member of the T Riders Union based in Roxbury, said the union is opposed to the Silver Line Phase III project because they will have to pay for the project in raised fares, but they will not benefit from the new additions.

Originally proposed as a $756 million project in 2003, the cost of the Silver Line Phase III rose again this year to over $1 billion.

The Phase III project is a mile long tunnel connecting Phase I, the existing Silver Line/Washington Street Service, with Phase II, the Silver Line/Waterfront Service. The tunnel will be used by the Bus Rapid Transit, and will help provide service from Dudley Square and lower Roxbury through the South End, Chinatown and downtown, to the South Boston Waterfront and Logan International Airport, according to the MBTA website.

“We will be targeted because it’s lower income people and people of color who rely on the T,” Cater said. “But we wouldn’t be going where they extended the T.”

The rising costs of the project, the MBTA’s $8.1 billion dollar debt, and construction plans that will re-route traffic and create an eye-sore have caused residents to become concerned.

Chris Betke, the chairman of the Leather District Neighborhood Association said the district did not approve the construction that will take place in Gateway Park.

“A lot of us just don’t see the public benefit. It’s too expensive, with minimal benefit,” he said. “Only recently was the Big Dig finished. Now along comes the Silver Line and wants to use Gateway Park as a stage for the construction for this project. Not in our backyard again.”

Richard H. Doyle, the regional manager for the Federal Transit Administration, said phase III is needed because it is the “missing link between the projects.”

“It will provide better connections for people who want to transfer from the Green Line to the Orange and Red line,” Doyle said.

The MBTA submitted a proposal to the Federal Transit Administration asking for federal funding of 60 percent of the project. Doyle said the administration is in the preliminary stages of considering the project.

The Silver Line Communications and Community Development Office did not return calls regarding the funding of the project.

The project must also be approved by the community. Linda Royer, the executive director of Washington Gateway Main Street, said the organization must write a letter of reference for the MBTA to proceed.

The members of Washington Gateway Main Street are mostly in favor of the project, but Royer said different people want different things.

“Detail is the devil,” Royer said.

Right now there are two methods being considered for the construction. One option is “cut and cover,” which would involve excavating from the surface down almost 120 feet, starting on a section of the tunnel at Charles St. South. The other method is “mine tunneling,” which would be below ground with access shafts at the surface to remove dirt. Both methods of construction would cause traffic to be re-routed.

Construction of Phase III is scheduled to start in early 2011, and be open to passengers in 2016.

According to the MBTA’s 2006 proposal to the Federal Transit Administration, by 2030, the silver line is expected to have 15,100 new passengers as a result of the project. In 2007, 14,000 passengers rode the Silver Line Washington Street, and 15,000 ride the silver line Waterfront.

The increase in buses and passengers would increase the number of bus drivers needed as well. If there is a shortage of drivers, the new buses may not arrive as frequently as scheduled, or routes may have to be changed. The Boston Carmen’s Union did not return calls.