By Seth Daniel
Few things are more sacred than the weekends for those in the South End who spend their weekdays working hard and on the run.
So it is, the slow Saturday morning coffee in peace and quiet is something that most look forward to, but for years those quiet moments were greeted by the screeching of a circular saw or the pounding of a jackhammer. For years, weekend peace was only a distant dream for Southenders. However, last spring ISD Director Buddy Christopher consented to extend a weekend work ban to the South End, and things this summer went great, he and neighborhood leaders said.
“It’s the kind of thing that isn’t a blanket ‘no,’” he qualified. “If there are extraordinary circumstances, we’ll consider it. If you want to button up a building for the winter or have a delivery from California coming on a Saturday, that’s one thing. But, too many contractors in my opinion were giving us a reason for weekend work as ‘schedule.’ Schedule isn’t a reason to bother neighbors in their homes. The Mayor has been adamant about this too, protecting the peace of neighborhoods when we can…If I do allow someone to work, it’s not going to be a 7 a.m. start. It’s going to be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. so neighbors can have their coffee and bagel in the morning without the sound of a jackhammer.
“The South End is a tight community and they deserve some reprieve for the construction on the weekends,” he continued. “I’m pretty happy with the way it’s going now and I don’t see any changes coming to it. We’ve had a tremendous response and most of the contractors are with us and understand what we’re doing.”
South End Forum Moderator Steve Fox said the stop to weekend work has been one thing that he has received the most ‘thank yous’ about – from all corners of the community.
“In the 15 years that the Forum has been established, I haven’t received as many thank yous for anything else we’ve done as I have for this,” he said. “It’s every walk of life. People say it’s given them their weekends back.”
Fox said the idea began in a very small way under the former Menino Administration in his small neighborhood association. It did go well, and then in the transfer of power, the idea was again championed.
Christopher said the current ban on weekend work started about one year ago in South Boston, and it went very well there. Meanwhile, during that same time, the South End Forum requested the same consideration through the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services.
Christopher looked over the request and was all too happy to oblige. The program went into effect in April.
“It has allowed people to have some influence over their destiny,” he said. “By the same token, some don’t want any development at all. We have to balance that.”
Christopher said he had some contractors initially who were concerned, but most had no problems with it at all in the end. He said he doesn’t always say ‘no,’ but in order to grant weekend work it takes some neighborhood input and some common sense.
“I’ll consider it case by case and in the end they need my signature to work on weekends,” he said.
Fox said the change might seem mundane, but it can figure to be a great, positive change in quality of life. He said there is a construction project near his home that has lasted two years. Were there to be weekend work for two years of his life, he said there might need to be a mental health van in the alley to help him get through it.
“(Peace) is precisely what has happened,” Fox said. “There have been occasional hiccups, but the really great part about this is neighbors seem to be empowered to control their destiny of their neighborhood rather than turning that over to contractors. On any given neighborhood, you could have three or four projects happening and going on. People are saying that having Saturdays and Sunday free of construction work has been nothing short of miraculous for them.”
Meanwhile, Fox said there are some tweaks from the South End already in the works, and the biggest of them is extending the program to official holidays.
“That’s our next step, to get it extended to officially recognized holidays,” he said. “We’re thinking that’s the next logical step.”