In defense of Boston

belmont square

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Ablarc, did Boston beat up your grandmother? Clearly there has been some serious falling out between you and your former home, given that your negative and dismissive posts outnumber your positive ones by at least 20 to 1. In fact, were one to read only your posts to this forum, they might think the topic of discussion was Schenectady or Erie, and not one of the nation?s handful of great cities.

That?s right?one of America?s greatest cities. The scale of New York makes comparisons between it and other US cities a foolish exercise, but I happily accept NYC as the greatest American metropolis. But other than San Francisco, which brings too much to the table, a strong case would have to be made that any other American city is superior to Boston based on the urban assets that those on this forum seem to value most (mixed use development, density, vibrant neighborhoods, diversity, public transportation, human scale, history?even tall buildings!). I will entertain debates with people favoring Chicago, Philadelphia or Washington, but even these great cities have too many obvious faults for me to elevate them to Boston?s level. After that, the drop-off is precipitous and comparisons with Boston become, quite frankly, insulting.

The unending drone of Ablarc?s negative (albeit well-informed, interesting, and often enlightening) posts serves, in my opinion, to lessen their impact over time. Boston, like almost every city, has much that can be improved, and even more that can be learned from other cities. But Ablarc seem to suggest the infallibility of his favored cities. Sure, the pace of development in Boston can be frustrating. But if it is a lack of drive that prevents there being a Green Line connection between Union Square and Porter Square (as has been suggested, and which would optimistically generate a few hundred extra transit trips per day), then what do we call the failure to build the Second Avenue Subway in Manhattan, a project that if open today, would serve half a million passengers each day, and has been on the drawing board since the Wilson administration?

And if it is a lack of vision that prevents Ablarc?s Aqua Line along the Greenway from emulating San Francisco?s Embarcadero trolley service, then what can we say about San Francisco?s inability to improve upon its urban rail service that in its entirety is currently less expansive than the MBTA?s Green Line alone (I don?t include BART, which functions more as commuter rail than urban rapid transit).

And as much as I love Boston, what can honestly be accomplished by shaming it with comparisons to Paris, a European capital more than ten times its size that for centuries has been viewed as the pinnacle of western civilization? David Ortiz is no Babe Ruth, but is it really necessary for me to hammer that point home every time he hits a pop up, or worse?when he hits a home run?

In closing, I actually enjoy Ablarc?s perspective and his wealth of knowledge and references in the world of urban design, urban planning and architecture, all of which are an asset to any forum. But knowledge should not be assumed to be a guarantee of fairness. And even legitimate criticisms become tiresome, as they grow increasingly negative in tone, and ignore the obvious successes and strengths of Boston which must serve as a reference point to any discussion of improving our fair city.
 
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The point isn't that he doesn't like Boston, it's that he likes it so much that he can't stand to watch its new developments be so mediocre and do the city such a disservice.

His point is that Boston's a great city being made less great instead of greater by shitty development
 

statler

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^^ Exactly.

Plus I tend to think he is trying to get readers fired up about this stuff. Making them think, egging them on so they will write letters, join neighborhood groups, go to meetings or do anything to get involved to encourage good development in the city.

That said, I liked ablarc's longer, photo-laced posts a lot more than his quick and dirty one liners.
But I guess he figures if we don't care enough about the city to put in the effort, why should he?
 

Beton Brut

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DudeUrSistersHot said:
The point isn't that he doesn't like Boston, it's that he likes it so much that he can't stand to watch its new developments be so mediocre and do the city such a disservice.

His point is that Boston's a great city being made less great instead of greater by shitty development
Christ in a tree -- I agree with the Dude...

Add to your list, corrupt pols, piss-poor public policy decisions at the state and city level, and a raft of ineffectual state agencies which have, over time, betrayed their charge of serving the public's needs and interests to function as cradles for patronage jobs...

belmont square said:
I will entertain debates with people favoring Chicago, Philadelphia or Washington, but even these great cities have too many obvious faults for me to elevate them to Boston?s level. After that, the drop-off is precipitous and comparisons with Boston become, quite frankly, insulting.
You're right about the good, but too gentle with what's wrong...

I love this town, from Fenway Park, to Jordan Hall, to Santarpio's, but in a ton of ways, the wheels are coming off the wagon...Remember when Kenmore Square was "someplace" -- take away The Rat, DeliHaus, Planet Records and even the friggin' I-Hop, in favor of that abominable new hotel, and now it seems more like "anyplace." (My solution would have been, leave the block alone, and build a 30-story hotel in the lot next to the old HoJo's)...

The T -- don't get me started...I know you live(d) in East Boston...Have you ever actually seen someone working on Maverick Square? Notice the 2x4's holding up the platform at Orient Heights and Wood Island? See where I'm going here?

As a person who grew up in Boston, I've developed some tolerance for a lot of the city's characteristics that drive "outsiders" nuts (bad behavior of pedestrians and drivers, demeanor that ranges from world-weary to smug), but as a taxpayer, I expect better than what I get...Occasionally, the BSO, or a walk-off homerun make me forget that Boston can be mean-spirited, close-minded, bitter, self-involved, and filthy...Take away the top tier of universities, cultural institutions, and life-science centers, and Boston is Detroit on the Atlantic...

This is why I don't post more...
 
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Joe_Schmoe

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"The point isn't that he doesn't like Boston, it's that he likes it so much that he can't stand to watch its new developments be so mediocre and do the city such a disservice."
This post perfectly summarizes my point as well. If you follow ablarc's statements enough you will find that he loves the great things about Boston: Beacon Hill, North End, South End, Back Bay... It's just that we don't discuss these places much since they are "finished." But who can dispute that much development in the last 40 - 50 years has been dull, and now is under the threat that we're going to overcompensate for this by going way in the other direction of being loud and obnoxious?
 

belmont square

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I liked ablarc's longer, photo-laced posts a lot more than his quick and dirty one liners.
I agree--the photo essays emphasized Boston's strengths and then pointed to the soon to be or already missed opportunities.

Take away the top tier of universities, cultural institutions, and life-science centers, and Boston is Detroit on the Atlantic...
But how many cities would hold up if you took away two of their top industries and their cultural industries? Wouldn't DC become Gary on the Potomac without its schools, the federal government and cultural institutions? And while NYC would still be great, would it be as great without its cultural institutions, financial and communications industries?

But who can dispute that much development in the last 40 - 50 years has been dull
I don't pretend the development during this period has always been inspiring, but perhaps we should celebrate the fact that Boston has gone from being considered an economic backwater in 1956 to one of the nation's more dynamic cities in 2006, apparently without the benefit of any good development.
 

Beton Brut

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But how many cities would hold up if you took away two of their top industries and their cultural industries? Wouldn't DC become Gary on the Potomac without its schools, the federal government and cultural institutions? And while NYC would still be great, would it be as great without its cultural institutions, financial and communications industries?
You make a valid point, but I think you're missing mine...Why does a city with such fine universities have a school system with a dropout rate over 20%? Why does the city with some of the world's best art museums have neighborhoods that share all too many qualities with lawless failed states...Boston deserves to be better, and I don't expect any measurable improvements to come out of the Menino cabal...

NB: I attend monthly community meetings in Orient Heights -- the pols run unopposed, technocrats from state agencies treat the neighborhood like a litterbox, and decent from my neighbors' not-so-subtle racism against the growing Latino population guarantees that I get shot by both sides...

Go Pats!
 

cityrecord

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Beton Brut said:
Why does the city with some of the world's best art museums have neighborhoods that share all too many qualities with lawless failed states...Boston deserves to be better, and I don't expect any measurable improvements to come out of the Menino cabal...
Which neighborhoods share all too many qualities of lawless failed states and what would those qualities be? I don't see it at all.
 

lexicon506

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neighborhoods that share all too many qualities with lawless failed states
Although I agree that Ablarc's comments are through legitimate frustration, the above comment I think is a good example of Belmont's concern with unfair trashing of Boston. What neighborhoods exactly are you talking about? If it's Roxbury or Dorchester, than I don't even want to hear what you think of Washington, Detroit, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Atlanta, Houston, Richmond, St. Louis, Camden, Flint.....the list goes on. None of Boston's neighborhoods share the qualities of lawless failed states. And while some may have your usual, big-city crime problems, that is just taking it too far.

And also, every city in the world would become Detroit (and worse) if you took away their industry and culture (yes, even New York).
 

Beton Brut

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For starters, my own -- you may want to read up a little on the activities of MS 13 in East Boston, Chelsea and Revere...

Any neighborhood where the true power-class gains its power through illegal activity, and enforces its will on the general populace with violence is on its way here.

I'm not going to suggest that the criminal enterprises and attendant violence on Eagle Hill, in the Charlestown projects, or in Grove Hall are on par with Chechnya or Darfur, but it's nothing for City Hall to be proud of, and I'm far from convinced that our elected officials have the will ore where-with-all to do anything to make it right...

The current raft of social problems in Boston (and other American cities) finds its sources in racism, ill-conceived social policy (in particular, housing and development policies) and greed...There's room under the bus for working-class whites who abandoned Boston in the 50's and during the busing-crisis of the 70's, the apathetic post-collegiates who'd rather watch Survivor than go to a neighborhood meeting, the career pols who line their pockets and stash their cronies in no-show jobs, and the effete rich who wall themselves off in the safety of their brownstones...

This thread is starting to go down an unintended path, but it may lead to a compelling discussion -- Briv, do you think this thread should be moved to "General?"
 
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statler

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Beton Brut said:
The current raft of social problems in Boston (and other American cities)
I think this is the key point of your statement. Which major American city doesn't share these problems?
Hell, even our beloved Paris had riots not too long ago.
What do feel make Boston worse than most cities and how is that related to the way the built environment is developed in Boston?
 

Giorgio

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DudeUrSistersHot said:
The point isn't that he doesn't like Boston, it's that he likes it so much that he can't stand to watch its new developments be so mediocre and do the city such a disservice.

His point is that Boston's a great city being made less great instead of greater by shitty development
I couldn't agree with Dude more. I love Boston as much as anyone on this board and honestly think it is a top 5 US city no matter which way you slice it. That said, I must say that I strongly agree with 99% of what Ablarc has to say, almost to the point that I sometimes believe he is reading my mind! Thus to assume that he is so anti-Boston is way off base and an unnecessary and unwarranted accusation.

This site would be quite a different and boring place if all we did was pat ourselves on the back and talk about was how great Boston is and about all of the great buildings and developments the city already has. However, since this Board is supposed to be about "new development", it would be disingenuous to think that Boston's current development process (and the products thereof) is a good model/process that is beyond reproach.

While this tortured, NIMBY appeasing and empowering process has certainly saved us from the over-zealous Charles River Park scorched earth development model, the relentless red tape and dumbing down of most current developments consistently leaves us with the lowest common denominator result. This Board's, and particularly Ablarc's, critical, well-informed, entertaining and good-intentioned commentary is the natural and necessary foil to the current development process. It should be required reading for all those involved.
 

ablarc

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WORLD CLASS BOSTON
Its cutting-edge architecture and urban design.

By any realistic measure, Boston is one of the USA?s big six real cities, along with New York (the undisputed champ), and in arguably descending order: Washington, San Francisco, Chicago and Philadelphia.

All are world-renowned and contain architectural monuments, precincts and cultural treasures that are considered iconic.

All are also real cities. A real city is one you can live in unhandicapped without a car: walkable, endowed with near-ubiquitous public transport (all have rail), continuous because largely free of parking lots. I can steer a European visitor on [somewhat circuitous] walks through Boston that will make him think we have the same anti-parking-lot policy as cities in his own country.

Whether or not they can put their finger on it, that helps account also for American visitors? rave impressions (?Why, Boston is like a European city!? That?s right, it?s nearly intact.)

That continuous fabric linking landmarks gives Boston and all the above cities (leastly Chicago) their special magic for Americans, for most of us simply aren?t accustomed to urban continuity back home --where nobody walks and zoning mandates on-site parking.

Los Angeles is also world-class, but unlike most world-class places, it?s not really a city. It has a large metro population, and as a cultural fountainhead, it breeds manifestations that normally emanate from cities --such as philosophies, cults, artistic trends or fashion movements. But it?s not really a city because it?s a big hardship to live there without a car; it?s not walkable.

(So you could say the defining characteristic of a real city is that it has a parking problem!! It?s a place where you?re wise to leave your car at home. If it?s easy to park you know you?re in Suburbia, with all that entails.)

Because most Americans aren?t used to thinking about cities, most would single out Boston?s historic monuments as the source of its charm. But you need only go to San Antonio or Richmond to see how charmless monuments are when surrounded by parking lots instead of urban fabric.

Megalopolitan Houston, Dallas, Miami, Detroit, Phoenix and Atlanta are neither cities nor world class (Atlanta proved that to the world with the Olympics.) None of these are walkable, and all exhibit the cultural and social drabness that accompanies unwalkable places. (You can expect their electorate to vote red.)

* * *

BOSTON?S WORLD CLASS BUILDINGS

All world-class cities feature renowned buildings that are simultaneously historic venues and works of art. Boston is well endowed with these. The top ten, imo:

1. New State House, 1798.
Boston?s most prominent building by any measure: by function the most important, and simultaneously the most commandingly sited. Rhythmical, dignified, sedate, self-assured and serenely beautiful. "The swan-song of the 18th century, the final manifestation of classicism, of simplicity and clarity, in the face of the approaching Romanticism, for whose course no one was to blaze the trail more decisively than [Bulfinch]." Those words were actually written about Beethoven and his First Symphony, the exact analog of Bulfinch?s great work and composed the following year (1799). (Bulfinch was born in 1763, Beethoven in 1770. Jeffersonian democracy summarized in the Federal style a few years after Washington?s inauguration: the new era had arrived, you no longer had to wear a powdered wig.

2. City Hall, 1968. When opened, this was the most famous brand new building in the world. Every city in America has at least one debased replica (where I live, one houses classrooms for a community college and another contains the city?s daily paper). This building?s bold, top-heavy and complex massing and its uncompromising structural clarity made it the envy of the world, to the four corners of which it trumpeted Boston?s regeneration. Instant prominence came to both the city and architects Kallmann & McKinnell, the Piano & Rogers of their day. Boston became the bold world epicenter of visionary Brutalism, and City Hall?s architects were lionized around the world. Not incidentally, they had beaten their mentor Corbu at his own game: clearly based on La Tourette, this building seemed even more iconic --and maybe while it was still clean and fresh: better looking.

3. Christian Science Center, 1894, 1906, 1974. Like the Vatican, this complex houses the world headquarters of a global sect. Like the Vatican, its present form grows from successive building campaigns harmoniously and seamlessly integrated by a near-genius (Pei) working in the style of an earlier genius (Le Corbusier); the colonnade building is obviously Chandigarh, and the tower is the (unrealized) Algiers skyscraper. Brutalism without the roughness: smooth steel forms and exquisite workmanship morph subtly into Classicism in a stupendously successful work of Modernist contextualism. In fact the design can be seen as pioneering Postmodernism; the guru of this design?s theory is clearly Kahn. The exquisite ink drawings (especially the site plan) were widely circulated and had enormous international influence; they made architects yearn again to draw classical patternst. Where would Ricardo Bofil have been without them and the ideas they represented?

4. Old State House, 1713. Startling in its quaint antiquity, this polychrome refinement stuns visitors into rapt awareness of Boston?s ancient and distinguished history. This is after all a historic relic of European quality from the age of periwigs, like its exact contemporary, Hawksmoor?s Christ Church Spitalfields (begun 1714). Old State?s florid color and dainty detail beguile the eye; though tiny, it dominates through sheer prettiness the hulking highrise that serves as its boffo backdrop, contributing grandiloquence through sheer lumbering bulk. That view up State Street is one of Boston?s premier set-pieces. Old State is my number one Boston candidate for immortality; keep it forever. That a major historic event occurred right in front of this building doesn?t hurt, but it?s not the main source of its iconic stature. (Parenthetically, exiting the subway from this building was as casually cool as The Fonz. To undo it for propriety?s sake misreads a city?s nature.)

5. Custom House. This perfect collaboration over time between Beaux-Arts eclecticists Peabody and Stearns (1915) and Greek Revivalist Amni B. Young (1847) produced a building with greater artistic unity than exists in many a building by a single designer. The later architects milked the earlier one?s puritan severity and found it to contain ?sumptuous opulence. Enhances more Boston views than any other building

6. Hancock Building. When proposed and under construction (1972), this was the building to hate. The flower children hated it because it stood for Pig Amerikka, rapacious corporate greed and power. The building?s political content overwhelmed these folks? ability to see, so they declared the building ugly when in fact it was beautiful. After the plywood got replaced by glass, and after the flower children got jobs of their own in corporate America, the veil slowly slipped from their eyes, and they saw that it was beautiful (the building, not corporate America).

7. North Church, 1723. Not so much known throughout the land as known of throughout the land, courtesy of Longfellow. Every schoolkid knows the story, few can tell you how it looks, the belfry tower of Old North Church. This is especially fortunate, for a visit thus yields unexpected architectural beauty to the receptive.

8. Faneuil Hall (Smibert, 1742; Bulfinch, 1806) and Quincy Market (Parris, 1826, Thompson, 1976). Here the Continental Congress made history, generations of butchers made prime rib, and developer Rouse made money. Here famously, Ben Thompson again put Boston on the global architectural map by inventing the Festival Marketplace. The formula repeated a thousand times elsewhere has grown stale, though that?s not Boston?s fault. What is Boston?s fault is that Faneuil Hall Marketplace has lapsed into the same suburban staleness as its imitators.

9. Trinity Church, 1877. H.H. Richardson?s portly self-portrait counts as Boston?s premier building in art historians? minds. World-class genius once bubbled in the Athens of America when it was populated by a race of intellectual giants like Emerson, Thoreau, William James, Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, William Lloyd Garrison, John Greenleaf Whittier, Daniel Chester French, Louisa May Alcott, Emily Dickinson, Charles William Eliot, Gridley Bryant, Edwin Austin Abbey, John Singer Sargent, Mary Baker Eddy?(whew)

10. Public Library, 1895. Richardson?s apprentice, Charles Follen McKim created a sumptuous Renaissance palace for the storage of books. He enlisted Abbey and Sargent in its decoration, but pride of place goes to French muralist, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes.

About the above ten selections there can be little rational dissent. Even the much-hated City Hall must be granted a heavy dose of significance by its most fervent detractors. It?s at an age (nearly forty) when most buildings get unpopular. It?s likely to survive another twenty years, when the inevitable renovation or restoration will resurrect it into a new life. I doubt that anyone would be inclined to dispute any of the other nine.

But?but?but?the newest building on the above list is nearly forty years old!!


* * *

You got it right: I'm severely frustrated by Boston's uninspired architecture of late.

They may not be liked today because the style has gone out of fashion, but those Sixties and Seventies projects by Kallmann and McKinnell, Sert, Rudolph, Corbu (Carpenter Center), Pei and Saarinen put Boston/Cambridge on the architectural map globally. Cutting-edge Boston: that's what it used to be. We still coo over the Hancock Building and the Christian Science Center, but have we matched them in decades?

What: 111 Huntington? Manulife? Millenium? Silver Line?

Provincial and forever second-tier Charlotte has better recent buildings and more ambitious transit projects.

In Paris the grands projets come thick and fast, even if some are perhaps duds: Pompidou, La Defense, Bibliotheque Nationale, Institue du Monde Arabe, Nouvel?s new Museum of Non-Western Art, Viaduct des Arts, La Villette.

Not just architecture made Boston great, but ensembles of architecture:

MEMORABLE PRECINCTS
Beacon Hill (early 19th Century)
Charlestown (early 19th Century)
Bay Village (early 19th Century)
South End (late 19th Century)
Back Bay (late 19th Century)
North End (late 19th Century on a 17th Century street grid)
Financial District (20th Century on a 17th Century street grid)
Harvard Square (continuously and mostly harmoniously developed 18th-20th Centuries)
Harvard Yard (18th-19th Centuries)
Public Garden (late 19th Century)

TODAY?S EQUIVALENTS?
Seaport District: sucks.
North Point: sucks.
Kendall Square: sucks.
Longwood: sucks.
Why? Why, oh why? Why?when there is so much here to point the way? Why have Bostonians struck themselves blind?

WORLD CLASS STREETS AND SQUARES
Newbury Street (late 19th Century, modified 20th Century)
Commonwealth Avenue (late 19th Century)
Charles Street (19th Century)
Union Park (late 19th Century)
Louisburg Square (early 19th Century)
Post Office Square (20th Century)

WORLD CLASS CULTURAL TREASURES
Harvard: Widener Library, Medical, Business and Law Schools, Collections
MIT
Boston Symphony
Museum of Fine Arts
Gardner Museum

BOSTON LACKS:
An enclosed produce market
An extensive post-19th Century district worthy of respect
Cutting-edge recent architecture
An optimistic vision for a hopeful future
Public transport as a facilitator of brilliant growth (compare with New Jersey or London)
A forward-looking and progressive mindset

How quickly we forget.

The Sox showed us how a couple seasons back.

COME ON, BOSTON, WAKE UP!!!
 

belmont square

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Thanks ablarc. Your ability to intelligently skewer Boston's development is clearly matched if not over-matched by your ability to praise it. I won't apologize for preferring the latter, and the above post will serve as a welcome read whenever the negative tone of the board gets to be too much for this lover of the city (even some of its newer pieces).
 

ablarc

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You should praise a child when it does well. You should correct a child when it does badly. If you praise a child that has done badly, you will have a bad child.
 

vanshnookenraggen

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That was beautiful man. I hope when they set up the new site there is a separate section for your awesome posts.
 

atlantaden

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You should praise a child when it does well. You should correct a child when it does badly. If you praise a child that has done badly, you will have a bad child.

Problem is, too many parents are never satisfied with the child's progress, even when the child consistently brings home 93% test scores or breaks records in whatever sport he/she is playing. Just the negative is seen...that 7% that could have been or the one off-the-mark pass thrown that was intercepted...the parent is just never satisfied and can't see the awesomeness and talent that makes up the whole child.
 

bosdevelopment

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atlantaden said:
You should praise a child when it does well. You should correct a child when it does badly. If you praise a child that has done badly, you will have a bad child.

Problem is, too many parents are never satisfied with the child's progress, even when the child consistently brings home 93% test scores or breaks records in whatever sport he/she is playing. Just the negative is seen...that 7% that could have been or the one off-the-mark pass thrown that was intercepted...the parent is just never satisfied and can't see the awesomeness and talent that makes up the whole child.
Sounds like someone's a little embittered.
 

ablarc

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vanshnookenraggen said:
That was beautiful man. I hope when they set up the new site there is a separate section for your awesome posts.
Thanks.

I think we also need a permanent repository for things worth keeping because they're not time-related. An example: those maps of yours showing potential new MBTA lines. And I seem to recall transit lines superimposed on aerial photographs. Was I mistaken?
 

atlantaden

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Bosdevelopment wrote:

Sounds like someone's a little embittered.

LOL, Bosdevelopment, stay away from Phychiatry. I was referring to the many parents I've had contact with over my 30 years of classroom teaching where the parents would accept nothing short of perfection. Or the student herself/himself put the same sort of pressure on themselves. The point being, some people can never be pleased.
 

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