By Dan Murphy
Mayor Martin J. Walsh was on hand at the Copley Square Branch of the Boston Public Library’s Rabb Lecture Hall on Monday for a “community discussion” sponsored by the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay.
Walsh counted himself among the estimated 20,000 who descended upon Copley Square one day earlier to protest President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily banning immigrants from seven Muslim countries from entering the U.S.
“It’s caused a lot of harm to a lot of people…and it’s very irresponsible and very unfair of the President and his administration,” said Walsh, who was also participated in the Boston Women’s March on Jan. 21, which drew a reported crowd of 175,000 to the Boston Common to oppose Trump’s election.
Walsh also reiterated an earlier pledge to open City Hall, including his own office, as a last-resort sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.
Speculating that Trump’s new policies could deter foreign investors and global tourism from the city, Walsh said he intends to meet with leaders from Boston hospitals and universities, as well as consul generals, to address potential ramifications. “The impacts could go far beyond what we can imagine,” he cautioned.
Still, Walsh said Boston is currently experiencing unprecedented growth, citing the addition of 60,000 new jobs, 30,000 new residents and 19,000 new housing units within the past three years.
Regarding Millennium Partner’s proposal to build a skyscraper on top of the Winthrop Street Garage site, Walsh said he and his administration didn’t fully anticipate its potential shadow impact on the Boston Common and Public Garden. He added that the Boston Planning & Development Agency (formerly the Boston Redevelopment Authority) would routinely conduct shadow studies for future projects in the city.
While proceeds from one of its last-owned parcels has reportedly brought the city a windfall of $153 million, Walsh said the design wouldn’t move forward without the support of his Boston constituency. And if that happens, he has pledged to earmark $28 million for improvements to the Common, among other proposed investments in city parks.
Also, Walsh announced a comprehensive plan to rehabilitate the Copley Square Mall, details of which will be unveiled in April, just in time for the Boston Marathon.
“The whole square will be reconstructed,” Walsh said. “I promise you that.”
Although violent crime and property crime have fallen 9 and 16 percent, respectively citywide, along with a 25-percent decrease in overall arrests, Walsh cited a 10-percent spike in homicides.
“There’s no rhyme or reason to it,” he said, adding that Boston’s homicide rate is still lower than that of many other major U.S. cities.
Boston is taking a different tack to fighting crime with Operation Exit, Walsh said, which provides job training in construction, the culinary arts and other trades for individuals with at-risk and criminal backgrounds.
“We’re trying to take a new approach when it comes to crime, by putting people on a different pathway,” he said. “And now, we’re looking to expand this program.”
Meanwhile, Walsh said the closure of the Long Island Shelter in the fall of 2014 forced city officials to reconsider how they deliver services to the homeless population, and that today, Boston provides housing for 1,056 individuals described as chronically homeless (i.e. living on the streets for 10 years or longer).
“The key here is not just to house people, but also to put them in homes with wraparound services,” he said.