Michelle Wu Speaks at NABB Annual Meeting

The Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB) held their Annual Meeting on Sept. 26 at Fisher College. NABB Chair Martyn Roetter delivered remarks about the state of the organization. He said 2018 has been a busy year for NABB, and looking forward, it looks to be “much of the same.”

“We have had some significant successes in the past year,” Roetter said. NABB, along with other local organizations, helped to pass a Boston City ordinance that places a limit on the kinds of of short-term rentals that can be offered in the city. “This ordinance was designed to protect buildings from being converted or used for short term rentals; buildings which should be or remain in the residential housing stock,” Roetter said.

“Today’s Back Bay, its character and qualities, did not develop automatically or accidentally. It grew thanks to the dedication, determination, political skills, and above all, values of previous generations of NABB members working with some politicians, developers, and others,” he continued.

Roetter also said that NABB has been “increasingly active” with other organizations in the city where there are common interests in goals. He reminded everyone that NABB is an all-volunteer organization, and that it is “important to us to develop good relationships with elected officials who have influence over the issues that are important to us,” Roetter said. He also praised the many committees within the organization, specifically Sue Prindle’s and Elliott Laffer’s, calling them a “huge help.”

“We tackle a number of controversial issues,” he said. “I predict more sweat, toil, and sometimes tears—as well as cheers.”

City Councilor Michelle Wu was the keynote speaker. She opened her speech by saying that “NABB has a reputation citywide for being a very well-organized and effective group.”

Much of her speech was focused on population growth over the years in the City of Boston. She said that today, there are 670,000 residents, and projections show that there will be well over 700,000 people by 2030. “We’re starting to see already what that means for Boston,” she said. There are increasing demands for ride share services like Uber and Lyft, as well as greater pressure on the housing market.

She also said that with the current state of politics, “more people are focusing on us at the local level now more than ever. It’s the role of state and local government to fill that void.”

She told those in attendance that she would like to “support you all in doing what’s most important,” which is creating a platform for community because all residents have a stake in the city. Wu praised the work that NABB has done and continues to do: “If we could just bottle up NABB and ship it across the country, we’d be much better off,” she said.

The daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, Wu shared her story of how she got to where she is. After getting a business degree, she learned that her mother was struggling with mental illness, so she headed back to her native Chicago to be with her. Wu realized she wanted to be a part of the solution for issues like her mother’s, so she headed back to Boston to study law at Harvard. She was a student of Elizabeth Warren and realized that politics were very important to her, so she eventually ran for City Council.

Wu then took questions from the audience. One community member asked how to keep young families in the city. Wu said “it’s not as simple as just housing, though that is a foundation.” She said that housing has to be matched with education and schools. She said that the unpredictability of the lottery system for schools affects the quality of a child’s education, saying that her son did not get chosen from the lottery and they will have to try again next year.

There was also a question about the possibility of an elementary school in the Back Bay/Beacon Hill area. “BPS is still experiencing a shortfall of resources,” Wu said. She said it is expensive to give a quality level of education across the city, and elementary schools are in high demand. Wu also said that they are planning for future projections of people, as well as looking at standardizing levels within the schools (right now some are K-5, some are K-8, etc). However, she said “I think it would be difficult to build brand new here.”

At the end of the meeting, two NABB members were presented with Community Service Awards. Don Carlson won the Paul Prindle Community Leadership Award for his dedication over the years to many aspects of NABB, including chairing the public safety committee.

“Anyone receiving this award is doing so only because of the opportunities through NABB,” Carlson said. Carlson minored in criminology at Northeastern University and spent three years in the military police. “We are the headquarters of shoplifting and car break-ins,” he said. “I learned a lot about how the city operates. NABB is an amazing an unique organization.”

The Mary Natale Citizenship Award was given to Fritz Casselman, who provided two examples of personal benefits that NABB has provided. In his first year as chair of NABB, Casselman started Friends and Neighbors, which provides different groups for NABB members to share common interests. Friends and Neighbors is 30 years old and “it’s still going strong,” Casselman said. “It’s very humbling and it’s good.”

Casselman also said he met with developers who wanted to build more stories on top of the Park Square building. He said he showed them a picture of the Berkeley Building, and they ended up replacing the spires and the flags. “Every time I walk down the street, I think ‘I had something to do with that!’” Casselman said. “It’s a wonderful experience to do work for this organization.”

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