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Suffolk Downs

Jurassic Park or Suffolk Downs?

In the opening scenes of Jurassic Park, the death of a creature handler—mauled by a Velociraptor, terrible way to go—prompts an investigation into the park’s safety. A panicky lawyer, representing the park’s investors, travels to the Caribbean to meet with John Hammond, the park’s mastermind, only to be stood up by Hammond. “Hammond couldn’t even be bothered to see me?” the lawyer asks the mastermind’s surrogate. “Hammond hates inspections,” the proxy explains, “they slow everything down.” We meet Hammond in the next scene. He presents as an affable visionary, but ambitious and willing to cut corners to realize that vision. In this scene, for example, he’s attempting to buy off two paleontologists to visit his island theme park and give it the OK, which would reassure the park’s investors and insurers. By the end of the film, we see Hammond and his vision for what it always was: dangerous, reckless, and egoistic.

The film recasts itself in our modern reality play. Off screen, faceless investors see dollar signs in a chunk of land. In the movie, the investors are The InGen Corporation. In our case, it’s William Bruce Harrison, billionaire scion of a Texas oil family. Nary a peep has been heard, nary hide nor hair glimpsed of this primary investor in Suffolk Downs. Where’s Bruce?

In the BPDA, we have our panicky lawyer. There to provide oversight, but not up to the task. In a recent City Council hearing, Lydia Edwards, representative for East Boston, expressed her frustration with the BPDA: “I don’t want to have a more detailed conversation, because they still result in non-answers. That’s what I find consistently. What you’re hearing in my voice is complete and total frustration.” Lydia demanded to know, “Who on your staff monitors whether you keep to [your] core values?” Non-answers. 

In the last public meeting regarding Suffolk Downs before the COVID shutdown, the BPDA’s lack of control was on full display. The project manager for Suffolk Downs, Tom O’Brien, was disparaging a member of the audience who had voiced her concerns with the project. Uncomfortable with the tone, the BPDA tried to wrest control: “This is my meeting. This is BPDA’s meeting.” To no avail, as Tom continued through to the last word.

HYM

BPDA

Rather, the project is firmly in the hands of HYM Investment Group and Tom O’Brien, our stand-in for John Hammond. O’Brien, like Hammond, is amicable until pressed, postponed, or opposed. Jurassic Park was a product of Hammond’s ego. As a narcissistic project, it was doomed to fail its purported goal: to welcome in others, to be a place for others, to bring joy to others. So too with Suffolk Downs: if the goal were truly to build a neighborhood in East Boston, we would see more of East Boston in the neighborhood. We would see homes and rental units that our neighbors and families could afford. We would see a fund to mitigate the displacement that’s currently taking place in our neighborhood. We would see a build that didn’t add carbon emissions to our already burdened air. We would see a plan that preserved our local ecology. We would see commerce that privileged our local businesses. We would see public space publicly managed such that our freedoms of speech and assembly were preserved. And we would see these things because we would participate in their creation. Jurassic Park was built furtively, recklessly, by a small team managing massive responsibilities. PUEBLO and the East Boston community oppose such construction. We are ready to negotiate a community benefits agreement that will ensure the success of Suffolk Downs. We’re ready to provide oversight of the use of the space. We’re here to shoulder the responsibility of building community, because that’s what we always do.

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