The Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB) held its first ever virtual annual meeting on September 16, where the organization also celebrated its 65th anniversary.
The meeting consisted of remarks by NABB’s current chair, Martyn Roetter, a video outlining the organization’s history, presentation of awards, an update on a community survey, and election results for new officers and directors.
In his remarks, Roetter spoke about the past, present, and future of the Back Bay and how NABB has been involved over the years.
He said that many women have held leadership roles in NABB over the years, including the first woman president in 1984 and the first woman chair in 1992.
“Within NABB, men and women operate as teams and take on leading or supportive roles,” Roetter said, and the roles are not based on “gender specific biases or preconception.”
He also spoke about the state of the world with the pandemic, and how everyone has had to adjust their lives to adapt to changing circumstances.
He said that in terms of future business operation, “we do not know what the future holds,” whether it be offices becoming obsolete or changes in transportation methods. He also mentioned the impact of the virus on educational institutions and whether or not some of the changes being made on that front will remain permanent moving forward.
“I am confident…that the NABB team, bolstered by links with the business community,” as well as other neighborhood associations and elected officials, will “play a part” in creating a better neighborhood,” Roetter said.
NABB Video Tour
The video tour of NABB’s past and present was narrated by longtime NABB member Ellen Rooney, who explained that NABB was established in 1955 when residential buildings were being torn down in the neighborhood. When the organization was first established, it was very heavily focused on preserving architectural integrity in the neighborhood. Today, while that is still a strong pillar of what NABB believes in and advocates for, the focus has been expanded to also include preserving and improving the quality of life for all Back Bay residents, as well as encouraging a sense of community.
Rooney narrated over a series of pictures that showed the neighborhood over the years and how NABB was involved. She said that NABB advocated for the creation of the Back Bay Architectural Commission (BBAC), which was established in 1966 by the Massachusetts Legislature.
Since the 1970s, Rooney said, NABB has been actively involved in development proposals in the Back Bay, including helping to stop the building of a 60 story high rise on the corner of Boylston St. and Massachusetts Ave.
“Every project has come out of the community process in which NABB has taken a leading role much better than it went in,” she said.
She also said that “NABB is concerned about uses” of buildings in the neighborhood.
“A thriving commercial district is vital to the health of the residential area,” she said. NABB saw a need for children to have a place to play in the neighborhood, and “persuaded the City to take over an empty lot at the corner of Commonwealth Ave. and Clarendon St.,” and the Clarendon St. playground was born. To this day, the playground is supervised by a committee of NABB, and “heavily used by area preschools and elementary schools,” Rooney said.
NABB has been involved in other green space endeavors in the neighborhood as well, she said. The Commonwealth Avenue Mall Committee, which works with the Friends of the Public Garden, helps to take care of the Commonwealth Avenue mall “beyond what the Parks Department can provide,” she said.
Additionally, the Graffiti NABBers have worked to clean structures throughout the neighborhood that have been vandalized, and NABB has also worked to keep alleys clean over the years. The organization has also helped to support the Boston Groundwater Trust in conjunction with the Back Bay Association.
But NABB isn’t all work, Rooney said. “NABB has provided many opportunities over the years to meet and greet each other…and to have fun,” she said, with many parties and other social events.
“The organization remains a vital part of the neighborhood and of the city we’ve worked so hard to preserve and improve,” she said.
Two awards are distributed each year at the NABB Annual Meeting: the Paul Prindle Community Service Award, and the Mary Natale Citizenship Award. They are given to NABB members that have contributed significantly to the neighborhood.
The Paul Prindle Community Service Award was presented to Vicki Smith by Jackie Yessian. This award is based on “important and sustained leadership” in the neighborhood, Yessian said. Yessian cited Smith’s involvement in working with Fisher College to preserve the historical nature of the block when they proposed in 2012 to turn the first block of Beacon Street into their own campus. Smith also helped organize the Homeward Bound benefit for NABB.
Smith said she was “humbled to receive this award.” She added, “I’m also amazed by how much NABB has accomplished in the past 10 years.
Margaret Pokorny presented the Mary Natale Citizenship Award to Susan Juretschke.
“Susan is a woman of many talents,” Pokorny said, citing her “passion and talent for all things horticulture,” as Juretschke is a member of the Garden Club of Back Bay and as a landscape designer, many of her first clients lived in the Back Bay.
Juretschke thanked her fellow members of the Garden Club. “For many years, I’ve been truly glad and honored to call the Back Bay my second home and I hope that will continue for a long time,” she said.
NABB created an anonymous questionnaire that was sent out in mid July through the end of August to NABB members to see how they felt about the COVID-19 pandemic and how NABB could be of more assistance.
NABB member Patricia Corrigan said that to date, about 366 responses have been received, along with 92 comments.
NABB members reported that they were most concerned about COVID-19, followed by personal safety, social justice issues relating to racism, personal safety, their health in general, finances, and housing.
She also said that NABB members were “generally concerned about changes to the business community of the Back Bay.”
She said that there is a group who is working on creating a section of the NABB website (nabbobline.org) that will include resources for addressing social justice issues and racism.
“This was helpful to us,” Corrigan said of the survey, adding that it “will help direct efforts and resources on what we should be focusing on for the months and years to come.”
She said that NABB “hopes to be actively engaged in the areas of concern in the Back Bay district.”
Each year, NABB votes on its officers and directors, and this year, voting took place by either electronic ballot or a mail-in ballot. About 140 people voted on the officers and members of the board this year.
Martyn Roetter stepped down as chair and passed his gavel along to NABB member Elliott Laffer, who will take his place.
“I think we’ve been a good team,” Roetter said of his fellow officers and board members. “We have not always agreed, but that, to me, is the essence of being a good team.” Roetter said that he has enjoyed working with everyone as chair over the past three years, and he will still be serving NABB as a director moving forward.
Elliott Laffer, NABB’s new chair, said “I think we all owe a major thank you to Martyn and Paula Griswold,” who is NABB’s president, “dealing with a situation that none of us anticipated.” He said he looks forward to working with them and the rest of the board as NABB continues to work on the issues at hand.
Laffer explained that he grew up in Bayonne, NJ, and has lived in Boston since the 1970s. His daughter grew up in the Back Bay as well.
“Clearly, when we moved here, the city wasn’t treating this like a residential neighborhood,” he said of the Back Bay. He said there were no street lights on many streets, and it was a “dark and scary place at night, and few went out.”
With parking meters at every parking spot, he said that the City was insinuating that many people in the neighborhood were transient.
“This has become a thriving, vital place to live,” Laffer said. “While certainly not all is perfect, it is immensely better than it has been.”
He also mentioned that it is “unfortunate” that people in the middle class, “and those who have not yet reached that point” cannot afford to live in the Back Bay.
“I promise that we will gather when it is safe to do so,” Laffer said. “We will get through this…”