West Newton traffic is a disaster

West Newton traffic has never been good. Its design dates to colonial times, long before the invention of motor vehicles. But in the past few years West Newton traffic has gone from bad to worse, to a disaster that threatens the safety of pedestrians and drivers.

west newton traffic map

Increased volume is a factor, as are bad driving habits, and technology platforms like Uber and Google Maps that route drivers through the area. But I believe the traffic reconfiguration that introduced bike lanes in West Newton Square and reset the timing of traffic lights in recent years is also part of the problem.

Case in point: 3 accidents in 36 hours at a nearby intersection, where Watertown street is bisected by Eliot Ave/Eddy Street, about a quarter-mile away from West Newton Square. Someone – a pedestrian – was apparently struck. A stone fence was destroyed. I grew up in the area and have family there still. While accidents have happened in the past, they were never this frequent. Local residents have taken matters into their own hands with “Slow Down” signs and other warnings to pedestrians:

eddy street watertown street accident

The city has since introduced rubber poles on Watertown Street as “traffic calming” measures to slow drivers. But it doesn’t address the root cause.

If distracted drivers and poor driving were the root causes, we would be seeing similar clusters of accidents all over the city. So what’s happening at this intersection?

In a nutshell, more people are using Eddy/Eliot as a cut through to avoid West Newton Square where Watertown Street meets Washington Street, and connects with Chestnut Street, Elm Street, Cherry Street, and Waltham Street.

There are similar detours all around West Newton Square. Webster Street. Auburndale Ave and River Street. Adella Ave. Hunter Street. Eden Ave. Some of these ‘shortcuts’ are used more than others, but it derives from the same truth: people do not want to drive through the West Newton traffic mess.

Local residents noticed the situation getting worse during the pandemic after West Newton traffic was reconfigured to include bike lanes, new traffic light timings, and lanes for cars that force drivers to weave a path through Washington Street as they go through West Newton Square. Quoting West Newton Ward Councilor Julia Malakie from a newsletter in October 2021:

‘One of the most frequently mentioned concerns I’ve been hearing as I knock on doors in West Newton is the reconfiguration of traffic in the Square. “I hate it,” “I avoid West Newton Square now,” and “why are there so few bikes using the bike lanes?” are representative comments.’

west newton traffic disaster malakie newsletter

Now that the pandemic has receded and more people are returning to their jobs and social routines, West Newton traffic has gotten even worse, and more people are using the cut-throughs to avoid it. And more people are getting in accidents, and getting hurt, or nearly getting hit.

Malakie and other West Newton (Ward 3) councilors are raising concerns at City Hall. There are meetings and public comments are solicited. I’m not confident the situation will change, though.

As we’ve seen in the past, Mayor Fuller and Newton City Hall’s idealistic city planners have been focused on prioritizing the demands of luxury developers and small groups of activists over the input of northside residents and local businesses. They only relent when the outcry is too loud to ignore. Quoting “Newton Pulls Plug On Bike Lane Pilot On Washington Street” in the October 19, 2020 Newton Patch:

Earlier this month, the city removed some 200 parking spaces for a bike lane pilot east bound on Washington Street. Now the spaces are back and the pilot never kicked off, according to the city.

The spaces were removed at the beginning of the month along the Mass Pike side of Washington Street between Sullivan Tire in West Newton and Lowell Avenue in Newtonville as a trial designed to last a few months, according to city officials.

Local businesses panicked, as parking for their employers and customers was removed. According to the article, councilor Alicia Bowman from Ward 6/Newton Center had some role in the plan for bike lanes replacing parking on Washington Street in West Newton and Newtonville, but distanced herself from the plan after people complained (“I don’t think they anticipated the level of angst from the business community”). The Chamber of Commerce, usually a fan of Mayor Fuller’s pro-development policies, criticized the city:

Greg Reibman president of the Newton-Needham Chamber of Commerce said he thought the city made a mistake by not communicating the decision in advance or giving stakeholders a chance to weigh in.

What happens now? There is a city website to track West Newton Village enhancements. The city’s presentation on October 20, 2022 about West Newton traffic flows states its goal is to “Maximize Safety and convenience for all travel modes.”

The top bullet points under this heading: “Simplify intersections and traffic patterns” and “Accommodate bicycles.”

When an institution changes its mind: Harvard alumni edition

Harvard University and most other large institutions don’t reverse decisions very often, which is what makes this story worth telling. Earlier this year, the Harvard Alumni Association announced that it was ending a popular service with alumni who graduated in 2021 or earlier: an email forwarding address on the @harvard.edu domain. Here’s the message I received in September:

harvard alumni email forwarding

The unsigned message went on to say that “alumni email forwarding was introduced in the 1990s and no longer functions well with most email service providers,” noting issues with spam filtering and delivery that the HAA is unable to resolve. We were advised to let  all of our contacts and services that still used the forwarding addresses to change them to another email address before our post.harvard.edu or alumni.harvard.edu accounts were switched off.

There was understandable alarm and frustration in the alumni community. Some people really depended on the email forwarding address to stay constant even as they switched jobs or ISP domains. Switching is no small task, either. For alumni who use the email forwarding accounts, myself included, it’s a chore to figure out which services use the EFL and then switch them over to a permanent address. Alerting classmates and friends is also inconvenient, and hoping that they will update their address books is unrealistic.

A few weeks ago, we got another message from the HAA, this time from the outgoing director, Philip Lovejoy:

As I have often said, Harvard alumni and volunteers are the heart of our community—and your voices are critical to so much of our work. In recent weeks, we have listened carefully to thoughtful feedback from many alumni and volunteers about our plan and have decided not to move forward with the discontinuation of Harvard’s alumni email forwarding service. You will be able to use your email forwarding address as you have been doing previously and beyond December 1.

He noted that the technical issues that had precipitated the original decision were still unresolved, and we alumni should be aware of these challenges and take appropriate action. Alumni can find out more about these concerns and make changes to their account (such as updating the destination address) on the HAA website email forwarding page after logging on.

But the fact that Harvard changed its mind on this matter in response to feedback was a breath of fresh air. Some alumni activists praised the HAA in the Crimson:

Sally J. Wolf ’97, who worked with Huang to protest the deactivation, said she was “pleasantly surprised” the University quickly changed course. Still, she acknowledged functionality issues associated with the forwarding services and said further change is needed.

“They were reneging on a promise that they made with words like ‘lifelong’ and ‘permanence,’” Wolf said. “I am hopeful that going forward, that we can all collaborate — that we, the alum, some representation of alumni voices, can collaborate with the HAA and the school to co-create a solution that is ideal and also one that feels fully inclusive.”

Petition co-creator Chris J. Nicholson ’97 called the original decision to deactivate an “unfortunate misunderstanding.”

“It’s to [the HAA’s] credit that they recognized that this was an error and moved kind of quickly to reassure alumni that it will be fixed,” Nicholson said.

Now, if the University would only get moving on the Extension Studies issue

Kirkus Indie reviews worth it? Read this first

Is Kirkus Indie worth it for book publishers? Over a period of roughly 5 years, my publishing company used the Kirkus Indies service to get reviews for a half-dozen books. But we will use the service no longer, after a major lapse in quality and poor handling of our complaint from Kirkus Reviews.

Kirkus Indie is a paid service that lets indie publishers get a Kirkus-quality review without having to take a chance on regular Kirkus slush pile, which, judging by the tidal wave of indie books over the past few years (nearly a half million frontlist titles per year according to NPD), is nigh impossible to breach if your brand or imprint is small or unknown.

Here’s how Kirkus Indie describes the service:

Our indie reviews are written by qualified professionals, such as librarians, nationally published journalists, creative executives and more. While we do not guarantee positive reviews, unfavorable reviews can be taken as valuable feedback for improvements and ultimately do not have to be published on our site. With our most popular review option priced at $425, you can receive an affordable book review that could generously boost your writing career.

The risk of a negative review was real. Out of the 6 or 7 books submitted through the end of 2021, one of them received a review that was negative in tone. Nevertheless, we were happy with the results. The reviews were very well written, even the negative review described earlier.

Several of the Kirkus Indie reviews and the books they featured were even deemed good enough to be published in the regular Kirkus magazine. Here’s an example from September 2020, for Thyroid Cancer & Thyroid Nodules In 30 Minutes: A guide to symptoms, diagnosis, surgery, and disease management:

Kirkus Indie review sample

As you can see from the sample, the Kirkus Indie review was well-written and meets the quality standards that readers expect from Kirkus Reviews. The magazine targets publishers, librarians, and other book professionals. The language and style reflect the needs of this audience.

But the tone of the review and the brand also lends authority to our marketing efforts. We excerpt them our website, on social media, and on our Amazon and B&N listings. We also publish them on the Kirkus website. Moreover, such reviews validate the other indicators of publishing quality that In 30 Minutes guides have received from other sources. They include awards from industry associations and Foreword INDIES, as well as the strong sales enjoyed by several of the titles.

I was therefore very surprised when our most recent Kirkus Indie review came back to us. Not only did it contain sloppy errors, the quality of the writing was abysmal. Here’s what I told Kirkus Indie:

  • Sections of the review consist of basic paraphrasing.

  • The writing is dull and uninspired throughout.

  • The reviewer mistakenly states “In this second installment of the Quick Guides for a Complex World series” when in fact it is the second edition of the book, which is part of the IN 30 MINUTES series. “Quick Guides for a Complex World” is not a series name, it is a marketing slogan.

The point about the series name isn’t hard to figure out. Not only does IN 30 MINUTES appear in giant text on the front of the book, it’s listed as the series name on the copyright page inside the book. The fact that the writer made this basic error is a screaming red flag.

There were other issues, too. Capitalization errors. Language that suggested the topic of the book was obscure. A reference to the use of stock photography, which we had never seen in our earlier Kirkus Indie reviews (despite using stock photos in all our titles) or in any other Kirkus review.

I compared the new review with the thyroid book review from two years ago, and asked if there had been a change in Kirkus Indies’ reviewer pool or editorial processes in the past 2 years. I concluded:

There is no way I can publish [this new] Kirkus Indies review or use it for marketing. It’s not a negative review, but it is amateurish and poorly written. If it were made public, it would reflect badly on my book business and Kirkus. It is certainly not what I have come to expect from the Kirkus Indie program, especially considering the premium price being charged.

The response:

Thank you for reaching out to us. It is Kirkus Indie’s policy to address factual inaccuracies, which we take very seriously. Will you please send a concise, numbered list of the inaccuracies following the below template:

Sentence from the review that contains an error:

Error in this sentence:

We can then begin our investigation process

I dutifully laid out the problems. They corrected two errors, but rejected all of the other criticism. For instance, concerning the mention of stock photography in the review:

Response: When a book contains illustrations or visual elements, it is common for reviewers to comment on them. In the case of photographs used, reviews cite the source of the photography (e.g., personal, historical, stock, or named credits).

I checked this claim. According to Google, aside from a single children’s title and reviews of galleries of stock photos, the term is never mentioned in Kirkus Reviews.

But the big problem was quality. Kirkus claims “qualified professionals” are reviewers, but for the most recent review my company paid for was not only an inexperienced amateur, Kirkus’ editorial process failed to notice anything amiss. Here’s the response from Kirkus Indies:

Factual errors do not often occur, as a review goes through several stages of editing before being presented to an author. However, in such cases we are happy to correct the mistakes. We offer you our thanks again for helping us uphold our editorial standards and our apologies.

However, some of the concerns you raised were directly related either to the reviewer’s opinion or the review format. As you know, book reviews are inherently subjective in nature. Sometimes the author’s intent for his or her work will not align with the reviewer’s interpretation.

At this point, I realized there was no hope. For five years, I had experienced Kirkus’ “A team” reviewers, and appreciated the results, even if the reviews were critical. This time around, the guide was assigned to someone from Kirkus’ B or C team, and the “several stages of editing” failed to catch anything.

So, is Kirkus Indie worth the commissioning cost? At one time, it was for my publishing company. But after this experience in how the review was written and edited, and the totally unsatisfactory response by Kirkus Indie support, We will never use the service again.

Boom and bust: genealogy edition

old farm

There’s a story in our family dating to the late 1800s. At the time, a maternal branch living just south of the Canadian border was engaged in farming – specifically, the farming of hops, which is used to brew beer. My great-aunt takes up the story, in a hand-written written account that is now part of our family history:

“Raising hops was very profitable at one time in Northern New York which caused my grandfather to buy a farm and take up raising this crop. The farm was in Burke, New York. Unfortunately, there was one bad year. When the price of hops went so low that he was ruined. He had to go back to his original trade.”

I’ve heard variations of this tale that this hops-growing ancestor was a millionaire on paper one day, and completely broke the next.

But it wasn’t the end of the world. My great-great grandfather was able to fall back on his original trade – stonemasonry, which his Irish-born father had taught him. Life went on.

I bring up this tale because much of the world is currently headed toward a deep economic crisis. Inflation. Energy shortages. Stock market selloffs. Wild fluctuations in the supply of certain types of goods. Layoffs.

Sure, it’s worrying. But most people reading this can remember recessions, layoffs, gas shortages, and inflation that was even worse. Before the pandemic, I experienced 3 major downturns as an adult – the early 1990s recession, the 2000 dot-com crash, and the 2008 financial crisis. I have childhood memories of the 1970s oil embargoes. A few readers may even recall the darkest days of the Great Depression, when the unemployment rate hit nearly 25% and Social Security wasn’t yet available.

We’ll get through it this time, just as we did back then.

Using fillable genealogy PDFs to pass down family history

We got a great question from a prospective customer about the best way to get back into genealogy … and organize records for the next generation. She wrote:

“I am getting back into researching my family and need your advice on where to begin with the forms you sell. It’s been 20 plus years since I’ve been serious about this and I want to do it correctly so that my children and grands can benefit from my work. This pile of stuff needs cleaning up!”

She went on to say that she likes the idea of our fillable genealogy PDFs, but also likes paper. Here’s our advice:

  • For those who prefer typing but like paper, we recommend using our fillable PDFs and then printing out the results to share with family (preferably on high-quality, acid-free paper, not cheap printer paper).
  • The EasyGenie 6-generation fillable PDF is great because people can print it out on 8.5×11 paper at home, or pass the PDF to a printer for printing on larger 11×17 paper, for a poster effect.
  • We also have smaller 4-generation charts and family group sheet bundled in our large print PDF set. These two charts are also fillable (note: we always recommend using the free Adobe PDF Reader for EasyGenie fillable PDFs).
  • To go back further than 6 generations, we recommend connecting the charts using the numbered spaces and “notes” field on the larger sheet.

Here’s a sample of fillable PDF. Note that the blue fields do not show up when printing.

Fillable genealogy PDF sample

Genealogy binders: What goes inside?

genealogy binderAnother piece of advice: make binders to give relatives. With the fillable PDFs, it’s easy because customers can make as many copies as they need for personal use. Here are some tips related to making genealogy binders for relatives:

  • Common approaches for binders include: one binder for each family branch, or a summary set in a single binder for each grandchild.
  • Include the fillable PDFs, copies of vital records and family letters, and old photos of ancestors.
  • EasyGenie sells basic archival storage kits and expansion sets which include everything you need to get started, including small binders, document sleeves, photo holders, and gel pens for annotating the backs of photos or copies of important documents.

The prospective customer had another requirement:

“Some of my distant family had as many as four spouses with children, and I want to include all of the information.”

This gets tricky. We do have a special PDF set for families with multiple spouses. The pedigree chart has space for one additional spouse of each ancestor, and the family group sheet can handle up to three spouses for a single ancestor. But adding any more is impossible owing to limitations of the canvas – there isn’t enough room to have extra spaces for four spouses.

That time when Newton’s mayor blew off my email about the Fessenden School abuse scandal

My email to former Newton Mayor Setti Warren, dated May 10 2016. This was two days after The Boston Globe Spotlight team (the same group that uncovered the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal) released a report detailing the decades-long culture of abuse and cover-ups at the Fessenden School in West Newton. Here’s a complete copy of the email:

Dear Mayor Warren,

On Sunday, May 8, the Boston Globe published a Spotlight team investigation into pedophilia at dozens of private schools in New England. One of them, the Fessenden School, is located in West Newton. A group of former students have given statements indicating that not only were they victimized by pedophile faculty at Fessenden, but administrators downplayed their reports and failed to report abuse to police and state authorities, as required by law.

One of the faculty members, an assistant headmaster at the school, was brazen enough to brag in a message to his Harvard classmates that “my life seems to have been filled with 250 boys each year to … put to bed and to love” while another faculty member proudly displayed a Nazi flag and other Nazi memorabilia in his dorm room. A third was the school psychologist — the man whom some of the victims (as well as other confused or struggling young students) may have turned to for help and reassurance. 

Fessenden itself has sent a series of letter to alumni (see links below) admitting that 16 former students have come forward since 2011 to describe their abuse at the hands of “at least five individuals who were members of our community” in the 1960s and 1970s. These numbers do not include victims who reported sexual abuse or inappropriate sexual behavior before 2011 or taking place outside of the 1960s and 1970s.

It is important to note that not one person has ever been investigated for abuse of Fessenden students, or charged with any crime. Pedophile teachers may have been able to commit more crimes against children after leaving Fessenden in the 1970s and 1980s. At least two of them are still alive, enjoying freedom while their victims have suffered a lifetime of pain. I have heard that one former student committed suicide in the 1970s, and his classmates believe that he may have been abused by one of these men.

Further, there is evidence that Fessenden administrators failed to notify police and state authorities of the abuse when they learned of it. Up until the 1990s and perhaps later, the M.O. of the Fessenden administration was to settle claims out of court.

I would like to ask you about what reports, if any, did Newton Police or child welfare authorities receive from students, parents, teachers, or administrators concerning physical or sexual abuse of children at Fessenden’s Newton campus? I realize that state regulations require reports of abuse to be filed with state authorities, but I think it is conceivable that some local residents or students may have first approached the Newton Police.

I would also like to ask if the abuse of children, or the failure of private entities (including Fessenden’s administration, board members and legal counsel) to follow reporting requirements falls under any municipal statutes.

Finally, I would like to ask your administration to make a public statement condemning the great evil that occurred at the Fessenden School … and offering support to the victims as they seek justice.

Sincerely,

Ian Lamont
Auburndale

I never received a reply. There was no acknowledgement. There was no statement condemning the abuse. There wasn’t even a note in his newsletter pointing to the Spotlight revelations. I assume that there was no outreach to the legal department at Newton City Hall, or the Newton Police Department.

We now know that during this time period that Howie Leung, a faculty member at the Fessenden Summer ELL program, was allegedly grooming students participating in the Fessenden program. It apparently started in 2015 with a 13-year-old girl, and was about to happen again in the summer of 2016, according to an investigation that took place several years later. This is despite Fessenden’s repeated promises that it had turned a new leaf and was doing everything to protect children under its care. Quoting former Fessenden Headmaster David Stettler in 2011, the safety of students was the school’s “highest priority.”

Here’s the initial report about Leung in the Concord Monitor, dated April 17, 2019:

When he was a teacher at Rundlett Middle School, Howie Leung wrote a letter to a 14-year-old student that police said was “very expressive and emotional.”

“I love you,” Leung wrote, and admitted, “I was pressuring you and you didn’t want to let me down.”

The letter was written to a former Concord student who Leung is accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting at Concord’s middle school and at the Fessenden School in Newton, Mass., a five-week boarding camp for girls and boys ages 9 to 15. The letter was uncovered as part of an investigation by police in Concord and Newton.

… The report says much of the abuse occurred while she was an unpaid helper at the Fessenden School, which provides an overnight English Language Learning summer program to help students gain skills in speaking, writing and reading English.

The victim said Leung assaulted her repeatedly in his office, in the tunnels of the school buildings where the campers were playing tag, and in her own dorm room, assaulting her approximately 20 times over the course of two summers, the report said.

leung booking photo fessenden case

Leung was actually caught, investigated, and charged not because Fessenden School reported it, but because some of Leung’s grooming activities took place near Concord (NH) High School. That school district also dropped the ball, and recently settled with victims. But Fessenden is not party to the agreement:

The experiences of both former students were detailed in an investigative report prepared by attorney Djuna Perkins, who detailed years of inaction by school administrators to numerous red flags and boundary violations between Leung and female students.

In the most recent settlement agreement provided to the Monitor this week and dated Feb. 7, the school district agreed to protect the identity of the former student. The payment was made to the student who witnesses said Leung was kissing in a car near Concord High School in 2018. Despite the school district’s internal investigation, Leung was allowed to remain on the job for three and a half more months before any action was taken against him. However, that report led to Leung’s eventual arrest by Concord Police.

The agreement notes that the Fessenden School in Massachusetts is not released from any claims through this settlement agreement. It also specifies that Leung is not released from any claims in his capacity as an individual.

Even though the Concord school district failed to take action for months, investigators in NH apparently notified their counterparts in Massachusetts. In 2019, This led to charges of

aggravated rape of a child with a 10-year age difference, two charges of aggravated indecent assault and battery on a child under age 14, and two counts of aggravated indecent assault and battery on a person age 14 or older.

I wonder now what would have happened if Mayor Warren had done something in May of 2016, after the Spotlight report came out. Issued a public statement condemning what happened at Fessenden over many decades. Directed his law and police departments to examine relevant statutes, and their historical handling of such cases. Maybe even notified Fessenden that it had to do more to ensure no child under its care would ever experience abuse again.

As far as I know, nothing happened. Which is strange, considering his active participation in the discussions just a few years earlier surrounding Steven Chan, a Day Middle School teacher arrested for child pornography. Here’s how the Newton Tab described his address to concerned parents:

Mayor Setti Warren opened by saying that he had just two things to say to parents.

“Public safety is a priority to this community,” Warren said. “We take it very seriously. I believe that he (Chan) should be prosecuted to the extent that the law allows.”

Warren also told the crowd that his [daughter] began kindergarten today.

“I feel confident as mayor that not only will she get a great education, I am confident she’s safe.”

What about the safety of children at Fessenden? Did they not matter?

Or maybe Warren was focused on other things. I’ve written about him before, in connection with reforming Newton’s real estate development, taking control away from city councilors and giving it to a developer-friendly planning department. Over the objections of Newtonville residents and their city councilors, he was instrumental in getting developer Robert Korff of Mark Development what he wanted at the Orr Building on Washington Street in Newtonville, which later became Trio Newtonville. He also made it possible for developer Dinosaur Capital to lease prime land in Newtonville for the equivalent of just over $10,000 per year. Units at 28 Austin Street now require people with incomes measured in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Warren’s term ended in 2018, and he ended up Harvard Kennedy School, where he is now executive director at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics.

His successor, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, hasn’t once mentioned the Fessenden School even though the Leung case came to light during her first term.

Leung faces trial in Massachusetts in 2023.

To date, Leung has been the only teacher ever charged with abusing children at the Fessenden School, despite decades of reports and the arrest of two teachers in the 1970s for assaults that took place outside of Fessenden. In the 1970s, Fessenden administrators lied to the media and to investigators about abuse on campus by teachers there. At other times, they never reported claims of abuse to authorities. When the older cases came to light in 2011, Stettler claimed the school had changed, but its failure to monitor one of its employees in the years that followed shows it was lip service.

 

 

What happened when Dean Shinagel tried to remove “In Extension Studies”

In 2010, the then-Dean Michael Shinagel tried to change the names of Harvard Extension School degrees to remove the ridiculous and insulting “in Extension Studies”. I recall Shinagel had been talking about it since 2007 or 2008 at various HES events, and was even giving hints to media outlets such as Harvard Magazine. This tidbit appeared in January 2010:

A Century…and Change. Harvard Extension School having attained a landmark age (see “Extension School Centennial,” September-October 2009, page 47), it is considering updating its name. The proposed new title, the Harvard School of Continuing and Professional Studies, would recognize its dual mission of providing both liberal-arts and career-oriented courses and degree programs. If the Faculty of Arts and Sciences approves, the school will confer degrees such as the “Bachelor of Liberal Arts” and the “Master of Liberal Arts” and “Master of Professional Studies,” succeeding the current, but fusty, degrees “in extension studies.”

Although I did not agree with Shinagel on certain HES policies, I recognize that he was a true champion of the Extension School and its students. He was also a Harvard insider, and when it came time to push for change on the “in Extension Studies” issue, did things the Harvard way: Back-room lobbying followed up by a proposal to the faculty.

FAS also took the classic Harvard approach: They punted, and did nothing. Here’s the summary from the March 26, 2010 Crimson follow-up:

“Though the Faculty decided to postpone the vote to approve the name change for the following meeting, the proposal did not make the agenda for the last few meetings.

Dean of Continuing Education and University Extension Michael Shinagel said in a statement yesterday that the University will continue to evaluate suggested name changes, but is not prepared to make a decision at this time.

‘Any proposal to change the name of any Harvard school or the name of any degree awarded by the institution warrants thorough study and consideration,’ Shinagel said.”

Shinagel tried his best within the University’s decision-making framework, but at the end of the day he could do no more. That issue and a few others aside, he accomplished a great deal for HES (I urge those who are interested to read his book about the Extension School, “The Gates Unbarred”) and retired not long after.

Since then, we have had two deans and some people within the DCE administration who have vacillated between inaction and outright hostility to students pushing for a degree name change, judging by DSO trying to rig HESA elections a few years back to exclude a certain student activist and others like him. It’s clear the powers that be don’t want to rock the boat, and don’t want to advance students’ interests.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The only way to get FAS, Mass Hall, and the rest of the University to actually do something about the degree name is through sustained public awareness (which ESRI has done very well) and visible public demonstrations that highlight the second-rate treatment given to Harvard Extension School students. This is how marginalized groups on campus get better treatment, as demonstrated by the recent grad student demonstrations and unionization drive.

If FAS doesn’t listen, turn up the volume a notch. If they still don’t listen, turn it up two more notches and expand activities to Mass Hall and other decision-making groups. Don’t give up or trust anyone in power until the deed is done and these three ridiculous words – “in Extension Studies” are removed from ALB and ALM degrees.

What are “census substitutes”?

census substitute definition

Over the weekend, I was catching up with research on some Irish branches and re-read parts of the the excellent Genealogist’s Handbook for Irish Research by Marie E. Daly. The book mentions a useful concept that can help genealogists and family historians break through brick walls: census substitutes.

A census, such as the sample above, tallies the population of a particular area. It’s often conducted by a national, regional, or local government. The basic idea of a census substitute is to provide an alternate list if an official census is unavailable or incomplete.

Consider the 1890 U.S. census. Most of the paper records were destroyed in a 1921 fire in a Washington, D.C building. The census records are therefore not available on Ancestry, FamilySearch, MyHeritage, or anywhere else.

However, a genealogist trying to verify whether an ancestor lived in a certain town in rural New York might turn to a map of property owners in that county published in a state atlas the following year. While the 1891 atlas doesn’t duplicate the data on the 1890 census, it provides enough information for the genealogist to verify the head of household as well as his or her address, which may provide clues for further research.

map of census substitute

In other cases, a census substitute may provide information that was never tallied in any census. Such is the case for a list of military-aged men residing in a region of the Scottish Highlands in 1696, as well as the Virginia Slave Birth Index from the 1850s and 1860s, a period in which the U.S. federal census did not record the full names of African-Americans who were enslaved.

In Ireland, the first official census started in 1821, and were carried out every 10 years for the next 90 years. However, urban combat in Dublin during the Irish Civil War in 1922 resulted in all of the paper census records from the 1800s being destroyed. It was a huge, seemingly irreplaceable loss.

irish census records 1922 destroyed ucd archive

That is, until genealogists and historians determined two census substitutes for the destroyed 19th-century Irish census records:

  • Griffith’s Valuation – provides detailed information on where people lived from the 1840s through the 1860s.
  • Tithe Applotment Books – compiled between 1823 and 1838, they serve as a survey of land in each civil parish to determine the payment of religious tithes. Unlike Griffith’s Valuation they do not cover cities or towns.

I have already used Griffith’s Valuation to determine the exact place of origin of one branch of my family in County Mayo. The next step: Digging into the Tithe Applotment Books. These census substitutes can provide answers in the absence of official census records.

Ancestry Survey: Only 53% of Americans know all 4 grandparents’ names

This was a shock: An Ancestry survey of 2,113 Americans published in March found more than half (53%) can’t name all four grandparents.

What could be behind these numbers? Ancestry didn’t say. But looking at pre-COVID survey data from a better source, the Pew Research Center, provides some insights:

Pew family survey 2004In 1960, divorce was not common, and could even be forbidden by family pressure or religious authorities. Women were more likely to stay at home raising kids, and less likely to have careers, outside of a limited set of professions such as nursing and teaching.

But in the 1960s and 1970s, there was a huge social and family shift that continues today. As the number of “traditional” two-parent families declines – from 87% in 1960 to 69% in 2014 – there are tens of millions of Americans who grow up with one parent. We believe this explains why some children are less likely to know the grandparents from the other side of the family.

The Pew data had another chart that’s worth examining:

Pew family structure

In the Pew survey, “two parent” families can include two parents through remarriage, or other parenting arrangements. This means that some children may have more than four grandparents, including step-grandparents. Others may live with grandparents or other relatives, or may live in foster homes and not know any biological relatives.

Family is a complicated topic. Everyone’s family tree includes families that were not traditional, or involved separation, remarriage, adoption, or other special relationships. (We recognized this fact with the creation of some truly unique genealogy charts for adoptees and blended families).

It’s also important to recognize that while families today may not have the same structure of yesteryear, helping younger relations understand family history is a critical mission for any genealogist. Indeed, the Ancestry survey also mentioned that 66% percent of respondents they want to learn more about family history and over half (51%) want stories about when their ancestors were young and what life was like at a moment in time.

Newtonville residents sue city over Newton Senior Center (updated)

(Updated) Neighbors For a Better Newtonville (NBN) announced on June 3 it is suing the City of Newton over the proposed Newton Senior Center on Walnut Street. There’s a lot to unpack. Here’s the documentation that NBN prepared. Here’s the press release:

Neighbors For a Better Newtonville sues city Newton Senior Center

A couple things stood out to me, such as insufficient parking. NBN states that the city’s proposal:

Has 31 parking spaces when it needs 97 according to the feasibility study and 210 according to the zoning guidelines

The report by the traffic engineer hired to assess the Newton Senior Center lays out the usage challenges (peak demand depending on the program schedules, staff needs, etc.) but concludes with a hand-wavy solution around NewMo picking up the slack, seniors carpooling, or people walking from the Austin Street lot or street parking on Walnut Street.

As someone who regularly drives Newton seniors to appointments and hears a lot about seniors’ concerns about traffic (Auburndale was recently put through the ringer by city planners and southside ward councilors over the unsafe removal of the traffic light at Ash Street and Commonwealth Ave) this is wishful thinking at best, and dangerous at worst.

For instance, parking on Walnut Street has become more treacherous since the street was narrowed, with less visibility and reduced reaction time for drivers when people cross Walnut street or open car doors. I know this because my small business has dropoffs every week at the UPS store. It’s dangerous as a driver, and it’s dangerous for anyone who needs to step into the street. As noted in the NBN release, the city’s proposal:

Requires seniors with canes and walkers, who are not dropped off or able to park on-site, to walk a block or more from the Austin Street parking lot or nearby streets, to access activities.

NBN is absolutely right on this point. Carpooling or the NewMo car ride app is not a magic solution for seniors who can’t walk far, or who worry about COVID, or have trouble downloading, using, and updating an app.

Newtonville residents are clearly concerned about the Newton Senior Center plans. Quoting from Newton City Councilor Tarik Lucas (Ward 2, representing Newtonville) in his February 25 newsletter:

In December 2021 Neighbors for Better Newtonville (NBN) led a petition drive to collect signatures of Newton residents who would like to see the site landmarked. Last month they collected over 500 signatures and issued a press release which you can read here. As a result, on January 28th I co-nominated the Senior Center site for local historic landmarking. I was joined by Ward 3 Councilor Julia Malakie, the Chair of the Newton Historic Commission Peter Dimond, Newton Historic Commissioners Amanda Stauffer Park, and Mark Armstrong.

This approach failed, as evidenced by the lawsuit.

Newton’s northside residents ignored by Mayor Fuller

Another things that’s clear from reading the NBN press release and other materials prepared by the Newtonville residents: They clearly feel misled and let down by the Fuller administration. Local people were promised the building would be preserved, and now they’re being told that’s it’s not going to happen.

Should anyone be surprised? In Newton’s northside villages, including Newtonville, The Lake, West Newton, Auburndale, and Newton Corner, residents are regularly promised something and hear soothing words that the mayor is listening. At the end of the day, their concerns are ignored, the promises are broken, and the planning department and luxury developers end up getting what they want.

We saw it with Riverside in Auburndale (with developers ripping up an agreement 3 times in order to realize their demands). Mayor Ruthanne Fuller’s response? She doesn’t want to “push a developer away” so projects “become uneconomic.” Then there was Mayor Fuller’s farce of “listening” to local concerns about developing Washington Street which ended up with a plan that seems tailor made for Robert Korff and Mark Development.

Newtonville has been especially impacted by large building projects that line the pockets of developers, despite the concerns from local residents. Consider the 99-year lease granted to 28 Austin Street developers Dinosaur Capital for just $1,050,000. Or Mark Development’s luxury Trio development on Washington Street, which had visible cracks under the sidewalk overhang and pieces of building material peeling off the structure less than a year after opening (See Substandard “luxury” housing construction, from New York to Newton).

What will happen with the Senior Center? It obviously needs to be modernized and made more accessible, and many seniors support a completely new design. NBN’s leadership acknowledges that the current facility is outdated and insufficient:

“The petition asks only to preserve the historic exterior,” said Fred Arnstein, president of NBN, in a letter. “Within and beyond that exterior, we agree that the city needs an updated facility to better serve our senior population.”

I don’t know if the lawsuit will be successful, but it will force the city to pay attention.

UPDATE 6/7/2022: Someone pointed me to former Newton City Councilor and mayoral candidate Amy Sangiolo’s newsletter from this morning, which notes the multiple public construction projects in the city of Newton currently being handled by NV5:

NV5 was recently selected as the Owner’s Project Manager, OPM, for the Horace Mann Elementary School project by the Designer Selection Committee and the Mayor. According to this announcement from Building Commissioner, Josh Morse, “NV5 has a tremendous amount of experience managing school projects throughout the state, but they also have ample Newton experience as the OPM for Angier, Zervas, Cabot, and the project to replace the Newton Senior Center. They have worked with our project design firm, Raymond Design Associates, RDA, on several projects, and they’ve helped manage many occupied addition and renovation school projects.”

UPDATE 6/12/2022: Rightsize Newton asks in its newsletter, “Why does the Mayor claim to support historic preservation but oppose any attempt at landmarking the building?”. RSN goes on to note:

On Monday, May 13, Peter Dimond, Chair of the Newton Historical Commission, received a call from Barney Heath, Director of Planning & Development. Peter was informed that his term on the NHC had expired the previous Friday and the Mayor had decided not to reappoint him. In short, Peter Dimond was no longer a member of the NHC.

A few months earlier, Jennifer Bentley was informed by the mayor that she would not be reappointed to the NHC when her term was up in May.

Why would Mayor Fuller “clean house” at the NHC?

Peter Dimond has a theory.

A few weeks ago he wrote to his former colleagues on the NHC the following:

Peter Dimond Newton Historical Commission forced out

The mayor pretending to “listen” to experts and passionate residents about issues that are important to them, then turning right around and dismissing those views (or dismissing the experts) should come as no surprise.

The mayor, a Chestnut Hill resident, has been hammered for years by complaints that she doesn’t listen, particularly from residents of northside villages disproportionately affected by development plans, including Newton Corner, the Lake, Newtonville, West Newton, and Auburndale. For instance, she was put on the defensive on this point in the past, as the Newton Tab reported in 2019:

“We are listening,” Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said in response to questions about whether the community’s feedback will be taken seriously. “We all care desperately about Newton. We care about this site. I, too, want the right size here,” referring to the green “RightSize Riverside” stickers distributed by the Lower Falls Improvement Association’s Riverside Committee.

I’ve also criticized the mayor on this blog for putting on a charade of listening and then doing pretty much what she, her consultants, and luxury housing developers seek to have built:

Another side of this trend is the tactics used by some of our own elected officials and the city planning department to steamroll opposition and discussion. A few years back, it was holding neighborhood feedback sessions (“Hello Washington Street“) in which the mayor, planning department officials, and highly paid consultants made a big show of listening to local residents in West Newton and Newtonville about the plans. After the sessions were over, they promptly turned around proceeded to ram through the high-density plan that they and big developers wanted all along.

Then there’s the issue of the Fuller administration not even bothering with “stakeholder input,” as local businesses in West Newton and Newtonville discovered last fall when hundreds of parking spaces along Washington Street suddenly disappeared to make way for bike lanes.