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Red Sox Ballpark Expansion Editorial

By Steven J. Wolf and Don Hill

(From the Boston Globe)

The Boston Red Sox and the City of Boston have begun an earnest campaign for a new Fenway Park along Boylston Street in the Fenway neighborhood. Media coverage of the issue has mostly ignored the fact that the existing ballpark--and the sites where a new one may be built--sits in the middle of an established residential neighborhood. Some of us live so close to the stadium that we can sing along with the organ and read by the light of a twi-night double header.

When you live next door to an institution, you expect some problems. That's why, for the most part, this neighborhood does not absolutely oppose expansion of Fenway Park. But the Red Sox have been lousy neighbors over the years, and that's what gives use reservations about expansion.

The more than 30 hospitals, schools, and museums in the Fenway make this a pretty stimulating place to live--and also bring serious traffic, parking problems, litter and crowds. Some institutions--with Northeastern, Beth Israel/Deaconess, and the MFA leading the way--have learned how to be good neighbors. They've worked with residents, not only to address problems but also to create new opportunities for themselves and the community. The Red Sox have not shown an interest in such efforts.

Anyone who's seen Kenmore Square or Boylston Street on game days has glimpsed the problem. From April to October the neighborhood becomes a traffic quagmire, as fans by the thousands, acting as if they've just pulled into a shopping mall, jockey for parking spots close to the stadium. Thousands of other fans, meanwhile, stream through the streets on foot, dumping fast-food litter, trampling Olmsted's Back Bay Fens, and frequently relieving themselves in the neighborhood's front yards. On many days, the only traffic detail is the one guarding the players' entrance to the stadium.

These problems are already intolerable. A new stadium, with a 25% increase in seat capacity, could aggravate them . . .or it could solve them. Here's how.

First, we need a Red Sox organization that listens to and works with residents and public agencies to find solutions for existing problems of traffic, litter, vandalism, damage to the Back Bay Fens, loss of resident parking spaces, and the disproportionate number of surface parking lots in our neighborhood. (These lots seem to breed in the shadow of the ballpark: by some counts, 40% of land in the West Fenway is devoted to parking.) Stricter enforcement, more public transit, and rezoning are key solutions the community has continually asked for. The Sox could make them happen.

Second, if the Red Sox must remain and rebuild in the Fenway they need to look seriously at building in the opposite direction -- north toward Lansdowne Street and the Mass Pike. The current plan to move the ballpark directly to Boylston Street could easily to worsen the existing problems. For years, long-term residents have fought transience, floods of students, and real estate speculators in a painstaking effort to build a stable community. Bringing the ballpark to Boylston Street threatens the neighborhood's ability to attract more long-term renters and homeowners and its ability to keep the ones already here.

Finally, and most important, we want concrete plans--not just promises--for tackling these problems aggressively as part of planning and design for any new or rebuilt stadium. We need the Menino administration to collaborate on the creation of planning processes that judge projects like the new ballpark or the redevelopment of the former Sears building by their impact on the long-term economic, social and physical health of our neighborhood.

With these things, a new Fenway Park becomes an economic engine for our community, more accessible and enjoyable for fans, and a greater asset for the entire city and the region. Without these things, no one can expect Fenway residents to welcome or even accept what many rightly foresee as a disaster for our community.

Thousands of people make their home in the Fenway, which in turn gives Fenway Park its intimate and uniquely urban flavor. In recent weeks, Red Sox management has contacted the Fenway Community Development Corporation and City Councilor Tom Keane to say that they're considering something they haven't done in years: sitting down and talking with their neighrbors. That's a crucial first step. We welcome that process and sincerely believe that we can work together to assure a win-win proposition for the neighborhood and the club. Some of us even want it to happen because--believe it or not--we're Red Sox fans.

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Steven J. Wolf is president and Don Hill is vice president of the Fenway Community Development Corproration. The Fenway CDC is a 25-year-old, community-based organization dedicated to affordable housing, economic development, and community revitalization.

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