By Seth Daniel
When Ken Kruckemeyer waits on his bicycle at Columbus Avenue traffic lights, he is no longer alone.
The long-time South End resident/activist and former project manager for the Southwest Corridor Park now sees dozens of bikers accompanying him and it’s a dream realized – much in the same way the neighborhood has blossomed since he and his family moved here in 1967.
“When that was first built, for a long time I was the only one on a bicycle,” he said. “That has changed. I might be at the crossing of Ruggles Street and see 20 or more bicycles lined up at the stoplight now. There are some days on Columbus Avenue I see more bikes than cars on the street. I can tell you for sure that wouldn’t be the case if the highway would have come through.”
Kruckemeyer has become famous in the neighborhood for his activism to push back the planned highway that would have run through Jamaica Plain and the South End to downtown. Kruckemeyer recently accepted the Arthur Howe Award from the Ellis South End Neighborhood Association for his life-long activism.
Kruckemeyer moved to the neighborhood in the late 1960s with his late wife, Ann, in order to purchase a home close to downtown. They had been living on Beacon Hill and saw the South End as an affordable alternative with fantastic architecture. While many said to never go near the South End, Kruckemeyer said he didn’t hold those notions.
“The buildings here attracted us,” he said. “We had only lived in Boston for four years and didn’t have the built in skepticism that the media and local lore had about the South End – like it had all the bars and trouble and was full of poor people. That wasn’t instilled in us because we hadn’t grown up in the Boston area. We were more open and unafraid of the opportunity to have new and different neighbors.”
Kruckemeyer worked and raised his children in the neighborhood, even staying put through the contentious busing period in the Boston Public Schools.
The Holyoke Street resident had become involved in the neighborhood from the first day when neighbors at the Harriet Tubman House welcomed him, and the old-timers who grew up in the South End in the 1930s told him about being called the “Little United Nations” neighborhood due to its diversity.
However, it wasn’t until the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) planned a highway for his street that he began to become very active.
“They were starting to push people out of their houses because a highway was planned,” he said. “No one told us that the original plan to take two houses at the end of the street had become seven houses on each end of the street…That ended up being a major fight.”
It ended up being a win as well for the neighborhood, and created lots of open space that included the Southwest Corridor Park, Back Bay Station and the Orange Line.
As for what might have happened if he and his many neighbors, including key allies in JP, had given in to the BRA highway plan – he said to look no further than Somerville.
“I think you can probably look at Somerville and see what putting I-93 though the heart of Somerville did to it as a city,” he said. “It cut right through the City and cut off an awful lot of people.”
Kruckemeyer said the challenge for the neighborhood going forward is keeping gentrification in control. While he said some gentrification is a good thing, he cautioned the current pace is nearly a runaway train.
He said affordability and keeping property taxes low for long-time residents is key.
“There are some people whose property taxes are higher than their entire year of social security,” he said.