Somerville Infill and Small Developments

Equilibria

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The freak-out over the "lost businesses" was premature. There was never any indication that the ground-floor occupants would be forced out except for a (reasonable) fear that this would happen. As soon as this announced so many people were acting as though Burren, Sligo, McKinnon's, etc. were already gone.

This is a good opportunity to talk about policy, like cheap municipal loans to small businesses to allow them to survive temporary closure due to redevelopment.
The problem is that for businesses on the margin like Sligo, the only way to keep them in place is to do nothing at all and keep the buildings and the street frozen in time, often with owners that charge below-market rents. Sligo also benefits from a crappy space, since that's part of the character. Even if Scape were to give the owners of Sligo a space in the new building, it wouldn't be the same.
 

George_Apley

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The problem is that for businesses on the margin like Sligo, the only way to keep them in place is to do nothing at all and keep the buildings and the street frozen in time, often with owners that charge below-market rents. Sligo also benefits from a crappy space, since that's part of the character. Even if Scape were to give the owners of Sligo a space in the new building, it wouldn't be the same.
True. But unless we go hog-wild with historical preservation designations, dives like Sligo aren't going to stick around forever. Does it mean that Davis is becoming "soulless" if places like Sligo disappear or are sanitized? I don't know. That's kind of a subjective opinion. Is Sligo of today really the Sligo of 30 years ago anyway? Is freezing a building in time really protecting a business from the cultural changes going on around it? Once a dive bar achieves museum status, is it really a dive bar anymore?
 

Equilibria

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True. But unless we go hog-wild with historical preservation designations, dives like Sligo aren't going to stick around forever. Does it mean that Davis is becoming "soulless" if places like Sligo disappear or are sanitized? I don't know. That's kind of a subjective opinion. Is Sligo of today really the Sligo of 30 years ago anyway? Is freezing a building in time really protecting a business from the cultural changes going on around it? Once a dive bar achieves museum status, is it really a dive bar anymore?
I haven't been there in a year or so, but I wouldn't call the 2019 version of Sligo a "museum". It's pretty grungy, and the bar has more buttcracks than fedoras.
 

bigpicture7

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I love how discussions on aB about business tenant displacement always turn into an existential debate about whether Sligo is great/historic/important or shitty/over-glamorized.

It's like Boston's entire tortured identity crisis/evolution is embodied by Sligo.
*sigh*
 

George_Apley

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I haven't been there in a year or so, but I wouldn't call the 2019 version of Sligo a "museum". It's pretty grungy, and the bar has more buttcracks than fedoras.
Absolutely, I meant museum in the "it must stay the same because it must stay the same" sense, not that the business has gentrified.
 

bluishgreen

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The freak-out over the "lost businesses" was premature. There was never any indication that the ground-floor occupants would be forced out except for a (reasonable) fear that this would happen. As soon as this announced so many people were acting as though Burren, Sligo, McKinnon's, etc. were already gone.

This is a good opportunity to talk about policy, like cheap municipal loans to small businesses to allow them to survive temporary closure due to redevelopment.
That's kind of what I was wondering before -- whether they were just thinking of building over it or in piecemeal in some way without replacing, or at least without replacing in entirety. It didn't seem that a company that's been doing this for awhile now, with experience in dealing with communities in multiple countries, would be that oblivious and naive, and just walk-in with a scorched Earth plan.
 

bluishgreen

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I love how discussions on aB about business tenant displacement always turn into an existential debate about whether Sligo is great/historic/important or shitty/over-glamorized.

It's like Boston's entire tortured identity crisis/evolution is embodied by Sligo.
*sigh*
While I agree to some extent, the issue is that Sligo has two identities -- it's original customer base, and the scene that started to descend in the 90's. So, different people are addressing two different targets. I've only been to Sligo twice, and both times were in the 90's, although I've passed-by and looked inside countless times in my former years living in Davis. Even then, it felt of another time to me and I felt a bit out of place, even though I did come from a working-class family -- but I was neither the older traditional crowd at the time, nor the newer crowd emerging (who were my age, but seemed more interested in mocking than joining the traditional crowd).

In reality, Sligo is neither great/historic, nor shitty/over-glamorized, but I would say it is somewhat "important" to a shrinking community/dying generation. For some people in Davis who are Gen-X and younger, whether admitting to it or not, going to Sligo has been more of a gimmick for more affluent people treating working/lower-class culture as a prop -- much like every time I hear Lana Del Rey's version of Doin' Time. For both Sligo and Del Rey, it always makes me think that someone needs to force these people listen to the song "Common People" by Pulp, to make them realize that they are not nearly as clever or original as they think they are.

In any case, if Sligo were to close, these newer people would just end-up going to the many other place in Davis that caters to their demographic. But for the traditional customer base of Sligo, there isn't much else in Davis that caters to them anymore, so I would say there are some consequences for them, and there is reason to be sympathetic to them in that sense. I think amongst all the noise, the main sentiment is that, if Sligo were to go away, people would prefer it to be because not enough of its traditional customer base exists anymore to support it, rather than simply being kicked out (but again, we don't actually know Scape's plans yet).
 
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fattony

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While I agree to some extent, the issue is that Sligo has two identities -- it's original customer base, and the scene that started to descend in the 90's. So, different people are addressing two different targets. I've only been to Sligo twice, and both times were in the 90's, although I've passed-by and looked inside countless times in my former years living in Davis. Even then, it felt of another time to me and I felt a bit out of place, even though I did come from a working-class family -- but I was neither the older traditional crowd at the time, nor the newer crowd emerging (who were my age, but seemed more interested in mocking than joining the traditional crowd).

In reality, Sligo is neither great/historic, nor shitty/over-glamorized, but I would say it is somewhat "important" to a shrinking community/dying generation. For some people in Davis who are Gen-X and younger, whether admitting to it or not, going to Sligo has been more of a gimmick for more affluent people treating working/lower-class culture as a prop -- much like every time I hear Lana Del Rey's version of Doin' Time. For both Sligo and Del Rey, it always makes me think that someone needs to force these people listen to the song "Common People" by Pulp, to make them realize that they are not nearly as clever or original as they think they are.

In any case, if Sligo were to close, these newer people would just end-up going to the many other place in Davis that caters to their demographic. But for the traditional customer base of Sligo, there isn't much else in Davis that caters to them anymore, so I would say there are some consequences for them, and there is reason to be sympathetic to them in that sense. I think amongst all the noise, the main sentiment is that, if Sligo were to go away, people would prefer it to be because not enough of its traditional customer base exists anymore to support it, rather than simply being kicked out (but again, we don't actually know Scape's plans yet).
You have an awful lot to say about a bar you haven’t been to in over 20 years.
 

George_Apley

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You have an awful lot to say about a bar you haven’t been to in over 20 years.
Bluish seems to be hitting more at a general observation of Sligo-type establishments. IMO I don't really see anything wrong with the analysis.
 

chrisbrat

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Bluish seems to be hitting more at a general observation of Sligo-type establishments. IMO I don't really see anything wrong with the analysis.
i get that folks co-opting (or "mocking," as bluish puts it. whatever) the blue-collar aesthetic of places like the sligo is "a thing" -- and i guess i'm maybe guilty of that, too. i'm not a roofer or plumber, myself -- and i've been annoyed, at times, by the tufts kids who occassionally descend upon sligo "for a laugh," but honestly i'm talking more about having places to go where you can get a beer and a shot for $5, where you can play darts, load up the jukebox, and have a laid-back, inexpensive and enjoyable night.

other than the sill in allston, i can't think of another in boston (yeah, yeah this is somerville...) that fits that description.

as for the "if Sligo were to close, these newer people would just end-up going to the many other place in Davis that caters to their demographic" line of thought - nope! if sligo closes i (and many of my friends) will likely never go to davis ever for any reason at all. maybe five horses or the painted burro is geared towards "my demographic" (i have no idea), but i have no interest.

yeah, some people go to actual dive bars in a jokey way or treat the experience like visiting an amusement park, but others just prefer the relaxed, no-frills experience they provide -- and you don't have to be a carpenter to feel that way. to suggest otherwise is, itself, elitist and obtuse.
 

bigpicture7

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i get that folks co-opting (or "mocking," as bluish puts it. whatever) the blue-collar aesthetic of places like the sligo is "a thing" -- and i guess i'm maybe guilty of that, too. i'm not a roofer or plumber, myself -- and i've been annoyed, at times, by the tufts kids who occassionally descend upon sligo "for a laugh," but honestly i'm talking more about having places to go where you can get a beer and a shot for $5, where you can play darts, load up the jukebox, and have a laid-back, inexpensive and enjoyable night.

other than the sill in allston, i can't think of another in boston (yeah, yeah this is somerville...) that fits that description.

as for the "if Sligo were to close, these newer people would just end-up going to the many other place in Davis that caters to their demographic" line of thought - nope! if sligo closes i (and many of my friends) will likely never go to davis ever for any reason at all. maybe five horses or the painted burro is geared towards "my demographic" (i have no idea), but i have no interest.

yeah, some people go to actual dive bars in a jokey way or treat the experience like visiting an amusement park, but others just prefer the relaxed, no-frills experience they provide -- and you don't have to be a carpenter to feel that way. to suggest otherwise is, itself, elitist and obtuse.
chrisbrat and bluish,
I appreciate the thoughtful and eloquent analyses you both offer. I'm inclined to just say "ok, good points, let's leave it at that"...

But there's still something tugging me toward ambivalence (e.g., my upthread shrug/sigh about gentrification-related critiques tending to get framed as swan songs for Sligo/Sil-types...)...which is that I am torn as to how much we should be celebrating cheap alcohol fueled blue collar self-appeasement as a key facet of neighborhood/city "identity." Please wait (*ducks tomatoes thrown at him*) before you lambast me as elitist; I am NOT saying society should impart undue control on people's choices, and I am certainly not saying replacing cheap alcohol with expensive alcohol is in any way better. And I am completely morally fine with the free will associated with Sligo/Sil/etc. All I am saying is: I don't know how much there is to celebrate, versus sighing and saying "I don't know what to think, one way or the other." I get that everyone deserves a break and a social outlet, and I am 100% for finding ways to enable small businesses to stay afloat amidst rapid growth. I also very much get the sadness associated with college kids visiting these places as if they're an amusement park.

I really hope I am conveying "this is more complicated than we make it" as opposed to conveying some sore of ignorant value judgement. A lot of bars/delis/diners/etc have had important roles as part of social fabric, and I don't mean to suggest otherwise.
 

fattony

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Bluish seems to be hitting more at a general observation of Sligo-type establishments. IMO I don't really see anything wrong with the analysis.
Its a bunch of generalizations without support or substance. Its not even anecdotal, because he hasn't been there to share a personal experience. How do you draw a distinction between some "old crowd" and "new crowd" that spans 30-some years? How long, exactly, do you have to be around to become the new normal?

This sort of class-baiting is not helpful or constructive. A lot of people like going to dive bars. There is no claim to legitimacy based on your employment type. I certainly disagree that people go to dives to mock anyone. I'll bet you anything that the owners and bartenders at Sligo see everyone's money as the same color green. To me, that's the good stuff of urban living that makes us all closer and more connected as a society. Doctors and plumbers rubbing elbows in bars and on the subway is a good thing, not a bad thing.

Davis Square has seen its price point creep upwards over the 10 years that I've been around, but its hardly devoid of affordable and down to earth places. Nor is the rest of Somerville. And Tufts has been there since 1852, so claiming Tufts students have descended on Sligo out of the blue rings pretty hollow. Tufts students have always been there.

There are 2 sides to the gentrification coin. Granted, new money has moved in, but the old residents (homeowners and their families, obviously its a different story for renters) took that money and left too. They happily moved to the burbs and have been spending their drinking dollars at Chili's and Buffalo Wild Wings for the past 30 years. So if there has been a shift in the clientele of dive bars, you can't avoid considering all the patrons who abandoned their old urban watering holes for the strip mall.
 

kjdonovan

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A history of Davis Square

Boomer townies: "These kids are ruining the neighborhood" ...
<--- Pre-Red Line townies: "These kids are ruining the neighborhood" ...
<--- Pre-suburban migration townies: "These kids are ruining the neighborhood" ...
<--- Pre-automotive era townies: "These kids are ruining the neighborhood" ...
<--- Pre-Industrial Revolution townies: "These kids are ruining the neighborhood" ...
<--- Pre-Massachusetts Bay Colony townies: "These kids are ruining the neighborhood" ...
<--- Deer, fish, trees, etc.: "These kids are ruining the neighborhood"
 

chrisbrat

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A history of Davis Square

Boomer townies: "These kids are ruining the neighborhood" ...
<--- Pre-Red Line townies: "These kids are ruining the neighborhood" ...
<--- Pre-suburban migration townies: "These kids are ruining the neighborhood" ...
<--- Pre-automotive era townies: "These kids are ruining the neighborhood" ...
<--- Pre-Industrial Revolution townies: "These kids are ruining the neighborhood" ...
<--- Pre-Massachusetts Bay Colony townies: "These kids are ruining the neighborhood" ...
<--- Deer, fish, trees, etc.: "These kids are ruining the neighborhood"
admirable attempt at humor, but a) not funny; b) dumb. have you ever been to somerville?
 

George_Apley

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Its a bunch of generalizations without support or substance. Its not even anecdotal, because he hasn't been there to share a personal experience. How do you draw a distinction between some "old crowd" and "new crowd" that spans 30-some years? How long, exactly, do you have to be around to become the new normal?

This sort of class-baiting is not helpful or constructive. A lot of people like going to dive bars. There is no claim to legitimacy based on your employment type. I certainly disagree that people go to dives to mock anyone. I'll bet you anything that the owners and bartenders at Sligo see everyone's money as the same color green. To me, that's the good stuff of urban living that makes us all closer and more connected as a society. Doctors and plumbers rubbing elbows in bars and on the subway is a good thing, not a bad thing.

Davis Square has seen its price point creep upwards over the 10 years that I've been around, but its hardly devoid of affordable and down to earth places. Nor is the rest of Somerville. And Tufts has been there since 1852, so claiming Tufts students have descended on Sligo out of the blue rings pretty hollow. Tufts students have always been there.

There are 2 sides to the gentrification coin. Granted, new money has moved in, but the old residents (homeowners and their families, obviously its a different story for renters) took that money and left too. They happily moved to the burbs and have been spending their drinking dollars at Chili's and Buffalo Wild Wings for the past 30 years. So if there has been a shift in the clientele of dive bars, you can't avoid considering all the patrons who abandoned their old urban watering holes for the strip mall.
I guess I missed the class baiting. I'll just accept your points and go back to my original dilemma... if redevelopment of this space, even if Sligo is given assistance to reopen in the new building, will destroy the DNA of Sligo, then what should we do as a community? Do we fight the new development because Sligo must exist in the space it currently has? Do we salvage the businesses we can using municipal loans so establishments like Burren and McKinnon's can continue to thrive even if others can't? Do we say "damn the small businesses, redevelop with housing at all costs"?

I like esoteric navel gazing as much as the next internet commenter, but what are the practical implications? Is it just nostalgic waxing, or is there a preferred policy behind it?
 

fattony

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I guess I missed the class baiting. I'll just accept your points and go back to my original dilemma... if redevelopment of this space, even if Sligo is given assistance to reopen in the new building, will destroy the DNA of Sligo, then what should we do as a community? Do we fight the new development because Sligo must exist in the space it currently has? Do we salvage the businesses we can using municipal loans so establishments like Burren and McKinnon's can continue to thrive even if others can't? Do we say "damn the small businesses, redevelop with housing at all costs"?

I like esoteric navel gazing as much as the next internet commenter, but what are the practical implications? Is it just nostalgic waxing, or is there a preferred policy behind it?
I think the policy I would like is for the city to support slow and steady growth and development. If it’s not quite possible to have slow and continuous development over time, then at least embrace it when it comes in waves. That creates layers of urban fabric and architectural styles. That means there are always some new buildings and some old ones and some really old ones. It creates a pipeline of quality that allows for a range of price points all mingled in the same space. That’s the type of authentic urban environment so many people crave, but you can’t get those layers if there is never anything new.

A pub has been in the Sligo space for 75 years (with various name and ownership changes). Objectively, that’s a pretty good run for most buildings. Especially one of no architectural merit like the one Sligo is in. If that building gets redeveloped, then ideally there is another building in the neighborhood to absorb the displaced businesses. If development has been stifled for generations and only allowed to burst through when the economics make it inevitable/unstoppable, then that next class-C building won’t be there to house the next cheap watering hole.

If the city had fostered growth when the demand first picked up, then we wouldn’t be doing everything in panic/crisis mode now. But the old guard didn’t appreciate what they had because urban life went out of vogue and they missed a lot of opportunities to have evolution instead of revolution. I’ll give Somerville credit that they are embracing good urbanism in just about every policy these days and they are trying hard to stick to evolution. However, there will be some growing pains and we can only hope that the good policies of today are continued indefinitely.

In the short term, I do think the city should offer to help Sligo and McKinnons and anyone else who is displaced. That could be in the form of loans or help negotiating, but there ought to be a line drawn somewhere so we aren’t creating new market distortions. Recall Johnny D’s closed shop of their own accord. Not every business wants to be saved, even if they have loyal customers.
 

George_Apley

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I think the policy I would like is for the city to support slow and steady growth and development. If it’s not quite possible to have slow and continuous development over time, then at least embrace it when it comes in waves. That creates layers of urban fabric and architectural styles. That means there are always some new buildings and some old ones and some really old ones. It creates a pipeline of quality that allows for a range of price points all mingled in the same space. That’s the type of authentic urban environment so many people crave, but you can’t get those layers if there is never anything new.

A pub has been in the Sligo space for 75 years (with various name and ownership changes). Objectively, that’s a pretty good run for most buildings. Especially one of no architectural merit like the one Sligo is in. If that building gets redeveloped, then ideally there is another building in the neighborhood to absorb the displaced businesses. If development has been stifled for generations and only allowed to burst through when the economics make it inevitable/unstoppable, then that next class-C building won’t be there to house the next cheap watering hole.

If the city had fostered growth when the demand first picked up, then we wouldn’t be doing everything in panic/crisis mode now. But the old guard didn’t appreciate what they had because urban life went out of vogue and they missed a lot of opportunities to have evolution instead of revolution. I’ll give Somerville credit that they are embracing good urbanism in just about every policy these days and they are trying hard to stick to evolution. However, there will be some growing pains and we can only hope that the good policies of today are continued indefinitely.

In the short term, I do think the city should offer to help Sligo and McKinnons and anyone else who is displaced. That could be in the form of loans or help negotiating, but there ought to be a line drawn somewhere so we aren’t creating new market distortions. Recall Johnny D’s closed shop of their own accord. Not every business wants to be saved, even if they have loyal customers.
Right. There's an ideal policy that we wish had been happening for the last 35 years, and then there's where we are and what can be done moving forward.

I agree that the city's role is in providing financial and negotiating support to small businesses. If we want to get to a more healthy development environment over the next decade or two, we need to focus more on community-building, city council elections, government outreach. These are all things that are going in the right direction in Somerville as you've pointed out, but we have to be wary of backlash and an impulse to "preserve" everything by making new development more difficult (which is what happened in Cambridge and clearly doesn't stop the change, it just makes it look slightly different).
 

bluishgreen

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Its a bunch of generalizations without support or substance. Its not even anecdotal, because he hasn't been there to share a personal experience. How do you draw a distinction between some "old crowd" and "new crowd" that spans 30-some years? How long, exactly, do you have to be around to become the new normal?

This sort of class-baiting is not helpful or constructive. A lot of people like going to dive bars. There is no claim to legitimacy based on your employment type. I certainly disagree that people go to dives to mock anyone. I'll bet you anything that the owners and bartenders at Sligo see everyone's money as the same color green. To me, that's the good stuff of urban living that makes us all closer and more connected as a society. Doctors and plumbers rubbing elbows in bars and on the subway is a good thing, not a bad thing.

Davis Square has seen its price point creep upwards over the 10 years that I've been around, but its hardly devoid of affordable and down to earth places. Nor is the rest of Somerville. And Tufts has been there since 1852, so claiming Tufts students have descended on Sligo out of the blue rings pretty hollow. Tufts students have always been there.

There are 2 sides to the gentrification coin. Granted, new money has moved in, but the old residents (homeowners and their families, obviously its a different story for renters) took that money and left too. They happily moved to the burbs and have been spending their drinking dollars at Chili's and Buffalo Wild Wings for the past 30 years. So if there has been a shift in the clientele of dive bars, you can't avoid considering all the patrons who abandoned their old urban watering holes for the strip mall.
I was mainly saying what it felt like in the 90's as a point-in-time, and the fact that these changes aren't anything new (as in the last couple decades), and was defending younger people occasionally being blamed today. I was actually trying to say mostly what you just said (which I agree with), but maybe didn't explain it well.

I agree there are two sides to gentrification, but I wasn't judging gentrification, which is why I specifically used the word change instead. I made a (unnecessary) side statement talking about people pretending to be others when convenient, but I wasn't objecting to the existence or changes in demographics -- just the pretending aspect which I though was demeaning. Demographic-wise, I was the same as them, and was part of that gentrification back then -- I don't deny that I was part of it (too many people try to frame gentrification as occurring after they moved-in). Or at least what the media was complaining about as being "gentrification", since I certainly didn't have much money back then, but was a 20-something moving there, so that was reason enough for them. I had actually moved to Davis from the South End due to rising rents. In any case, change happens every decade, although the 90's may have been bigger than others in Davis because of the T station's opening.
 
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chrisbrat

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In any case, change happens every decade, although the 90's may have been bigger than others in Davis because of the T station's opening.
the davis station opened in december of '84. that's quite the delayed effect if you're saying the redline station explains the square's relative gentrification and "hipness" quotient in the 1990s.
 

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