A Magazine Capturing the Story of Health- For People, Environment, Economy & Habitat

Live from my Local Neighborhood in Boston – Jamaica Plain

Can local government lead sustainable economic change and impact global change?

I think not. I describe the basis for this view in my last article on government and sustainability drawing on research by the Rockefeller Foundation and in support as a independent registered voter supporting the Bob Massie’s Democratic Senatorial Campaign for 2012.

This week, I carried with me memories of a time in Boston that was less about silos and politics and more about community.   I have lived in many neighborhoods of Boston and have tracing back to Franklin Park, Mattapan, Brookline and Somerville.  Early in life my dad  was a Board of Trade Association President in Mattapan for 16 years until Kevin White was elected.

With this memory, when Matt O’Malley, Councilman for Jamaica Plain (JP) called a team meeting Monday night, I decided to attend.  It appealed to the part of me that really believes that you need to think globally and act locally.  

For someone only 3 months on the job, Matt has done an incredible job as a facilitator with the goal to build common ground between business, government and private citizens – who live in the neighborhood.

Matt defined his job description and what he able to do as a City Councilman.

It became clear to me while Matt spoke and other asked questions and commented that the structure of Boston government and the role of the City Council cannot address the most difficult issues facing every American today that are economic and globally driven by issues of food security, environment, oil pricing, global warming and unstable global economy.

These issues form the 4 walls key to how Bob Massie describes the stability that every American needs that gives every person the right to an education, a home, a doctor and a job.

Bob knows personally and speaks clearly that if one of those walls is not sturdy, a person cannot have stability. If two walls fall away for anyone, this usually forms into a downward spiral and continuous challenge to survival.

And at last night’s JP Town Meeting, the economic basis for what has eaten away at JP residents for years – gentrification and spiraling inflationary cost of living in Boston,  could not be addressed.

This is not an issue that can be addressed in isolation on a local basis. These are weakness in the US economic that are complex and systemic.  They require the creation of an economic  measures  that can only form out of collaboration government, business and citizen groups (NGOs) move the conversation and define a response that is centric to citizen need.

Citizens of all sectors can form these conversations by forming open space centers or learning that build trust between people with the intent to build a road map that benefits a diverse group of citizens who organize around a specific purpose.

These accelerated forms of learning communities to spark innovation do not succeed when  dominated by institutional organized forums. These type of forums historically have left citizens the only recourse to  need  protest, fund  media/advertising and resource forms of advocacy that do not result in change that builds future value that can sustain.

This kind of movement take their best form when they receive collaborative investment from all government, philanthropists, business and private citizen.  When the investment is shared these initiative has the best shot building future value that is lasting for our kids and their kids that can eradicate poverty and improve health of the environment, people, earth and economy.

Sustainable value builds accountability.

Protest and reactive response does not  open pathways for economic development is that the neighborhood meeting would have been facilitated by an person independent of reliance on a payroll from the City or NGO, where political pressures of winning a position or supporting a written policy or satisfying a bosses agenda dominate.

To address these kind of issues requires education and an the authoring of a new basis for conversation. How this might of worked at this neighborhood town meeting is if the key driver for presentation was education rather than presenting a performance report.

What would an education format and briefing from a person skilled and trained in capacity building and sustainability look like?

Let’s begin with the biggest thorn – Whole Foods rental of Hi Low supermarket in Jamaica Plain. JP continues to be bogged down in a style of protest that is not productive, lacks education and does not serve to put the conversation into an economic context.

  1. Whole Foods as a national chain was actually established here in Boston before the word Whole Foods was incorporated, in a small store on Harvard Street, Brookline MA that began as a local market called Bread and Circus;
  2. Whole Foods founder & CEO, John Mackey acquired Bread and Circus from Texas and took the branding and system from Bread and Circus and used that model to adapt to local markets around the country;
  3. Whole Foods has a system of establishing links between local farms to distribute their products locally;
  4. Each Whole Foods (within a regional and neighborhood format) is organized to build local cooperation and address local concerns;

In addition, Whole Foods has demonstrated based on the established value of Bread and Circus a system of pay and benefit that is leader in the industry. Avram Goldberg, when he resigned as CEO of Stop and Shop with his business partner and wife, Carol Rabb Golderg, joined the board of Whole Foods in 1989.

When CEO John Mackey broke SEC regulations by anonymously posting to a blog oppositional comments to a competitor, Wild Oats during Whole Foods acquisition of this company; Boston-based Goldberg guided the company through a difficult growth phase based on the values that on the community values fostered through the Goldberg Foundation and Stop and Shop (before it was acquired by a New York company).

Whole Foods rocky history includes a reality of being an expensive market.  As a response to the recession, Whole Foods has become competitive to local chains, e.g. Roche Brothers and offers a private brand 365 that is priced similar to Trader Joes.


In my opinion, while Matt reported on a job well done as a City Councilman, what his job description does not permit him to do is to organize  change intiatives that assure transparency for the diversity of all local players and represented interests.

From a global view, Whole Foods is a company that has learned to participate in this context by filing an annual sustainability report that meets Global Reporting Initiative requirements that were introduced into practice by Bob Massie, when he founded and was President of the Global Reporting Initiative.

From a local view of the economy, what was not addressed last night is the growing concern nationally of the increased cost of food everywhere, issues of food security and the United Nations focus on eradicating poverty, which is something the United States has not on a federal scale, let alone a local scale addressed.

This need represented by questions reflected socio-economic issues;

The issues that surfaced relate to recent local episodes of violence, zoning, and public schools; while a city councilman like Matt can facilitate solutions to problems between people related to police force, city hall, zoning matters and safey.

Some of the questions raised last night by JP residents that Matt that were factored into the resident and local business community questions; that deserve an explanation in the context of socio-economic analysis.

1.  More and more children in our community in Jamaica Plain of any class are effected by the rate of unemployment and derailment of the State and Federal economy; insuring kids of any background, economic and cultural group the stability of a home during their foundation years is impossible and not in city political control.

This is the time when kids lose faith in a future  and turn to guns and violence. This is why kids are being pushed out of their homes in Egleston Square or families losing their home to foreclosure in any neighborhood.

2. The political processes and policies of the City of Boston are simply out of date.  While we talk about a neighbor to neighbor community approach the control is still in the hands of landlords regarding rents, which spills over into the Whole Foods issue.

As Matt O’Malley explained, the Hi Lo owners did not respect the community process and simply rented direct to Whole Foods. Rents are set by landlords which in turn effect food prices in markets of any size.

3. Violence is growing in this City. The response in this city historically is to make it a police agenda which traces back to 1989 when I had a 11 year old daughter and lived on Mission Hill during a rampage of 125 young kids under 25 shot to death.

Violence is an issue of economic unrest and cannot solely be solved by the police force of the Mayor.

4. The neighbor to neighbor process is out of date. This value and process of communication does not protect long time residents from gentrification, environmental toxins and excessive repair assessments at Jamaicaway Towers and construction overages and errors at Cabot Estates.

People owning homes who can afford attorneys can move their changes through the building department if their neighbors object and cannot afford to hire an attorney to sue, which is how issues are controlled in wealthier suburbs e.g. Dover.

I would like to influence change in our community. In line with of the United Nations Program for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women,

I made the decision last night to make a difference and construct the right kind of dialogue and let some women in this community take power and leadership. It is on this basis, I am forming a women in leadership learning community in Jamaica Plain open to women in all neighborhoods by invitation.

If you are are interested in participating, let me know by commenting here and subscribing to this magazine. Through the subscription entry, I will obtain your email and correspond with you on my next steps.

After this article is published, I will ask our media associate in Spain to translate this post into Spanish as we did my endorsement of Bob Massie. I support education for everyone in my community even when I cannot speak their language.


Lavinia Weissman



1 Comment»

[…] directora de, “piensa globalmente y actúa localmente”. En un artículo reciente para su revista, dedicada a líderes y profesionales del mundo de la sostenibilidad, Lavinia […]

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