Somerville Journal: Green Line good for businesses and economic justice

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“Green Line would bring greenbacks”
“Editorial: Justice, and not just for East Somerville”
“Letter: Join chamber’s fight for Green Line”

Green Line would bring greenbacks
By Erin Dower/ Journal Staff
Eateries in Union, Magoun and Ball squares are hopeful that the Green Line in Somerville will become a reality and bring hungry customers right to their front doors.
Laddawan Orlando, who works at Great Thai Chef in Union Square, said the restaurant is among the few in the city fortunate enough to have a parking lot out front. But a subway stop nearby would “help a lot,” she said.
Union Square used to be a hub of trolleys running from Cambridge and Boston through what was Somerville’s downtown. Today the square – the intersection of Webster, Somerville Avenue and Washington Street – can be a parking lot of cars on their way to somewhere else.
The Green Line, promised to Somerville to make the Big Dig more palatable to the federal government, could run through Union Square, through Magoun Square and through Ball Square because Somerville is an Economic Justice Community, meaning more than 25 percent of its population is foreign-born, lacks proficiency in English or is a minority.
And the businesses of Somerville, owned by people from around the world, would reap the benefits.
“People call all the time and say, ‘How do I come to you?'” Orlando said. “I tell them they have to take train to Lechemere, then take [the] bus or something.”
“The train [would] come right away,” she said.
Getting from Boston and other communities to Somerville’s Union Square or Broadway business district is currently a challenge without a car and requires transfers on the MBTA bus system. The Green Line extension project was set to be completed by 2011 as a consolation prize to those communities north of Boston where the Big Dig would make traffic and pollution statistics soar.
Mayor Joe Curtatone is calling on residents and business people to attend a meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Somerville High School to show support for the Green Line extension.
Yi Wang, owner of Wang’s Fast Food in Magoun Square, said she is excited at the prospect of a subway stop near her Chinese restaurant.
“If that’s going to become true, that’s amazing,” she said. “There’s no question; yeah, we want it.”
Wang said that while businesses in Somerville serve their own densely populated neighborhoods, many of her additional customers come from places outside the city, including Brookline, Arlington, Medford and Cambridge. Customers particularly from Cambridge have remarked they do not own a car and wish it was easier to get there, she said.
“A lot of people have complained there’s no public transportation,” she said. “We need it. It’s going to help business tremendously.”
Wang said Davis Square and Porter Square were “dead” in the 1970s, but businesses boomed there after the extension of the Red Line to Harvard Square and beyond in the ’80s.
Betty Wong, whose family owns Golden Jade in Ball Square, said the Asian restaurant currently serves locals and Tufts University students, but could draw commuters with rumbling stomachs as they step off the subway.
“If people get off at the stop and they’re hungry, they might see the restaurant” and come in, she said.
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Editorial: Justice, and not just for East Somerville
Why is everybody suddenly yelling about how we need the promised Green Line? A lot of this goes back to Somerville’s roots – or rather, the roots of those who live in Somerville.
We’re an Economic Justice community. That’s a terribly bureaucratic term for the fact that we’ve been pushed around a bit in this city. We’ve got a major highway cutting through East Somerville, and a fairly substantial road running from Assembly Square to Cambridge. Our way to preserve green space is to put a school in the middle of it, and they took all the trolleys and train stops and gave us buses – despite the fact that a ton of trains run through this city without stopping. We’ve had glass factories and trash transfer stations. And don’t get us started on the number of brownfields here.
Asthma rates are through the roof. Some days you can see and taste the air. And some days the pollution is too much for the smallest or oldest of us to go outside.
Much of this was created while we and our predecessors weren’t looking. Much of this was created with not so much our consent, as without our outrage. This is in part because we fit the state’s definition of an Environmental Justice community: That means a quarter of us are a minority; or a quarter of us are foreign-born, or a quarter of us are not proficient in the English language. It is assumed we don’t know how to reach the powerful to stop this from happening to us.
To that we have two things to say:
One: You deserve better public transportation, cleaner transportation. Show up at Monday’s meeting (Somerville High School, on the 88 bus line, 6:30 p.m.) and tell state officials you want the subway, the Green Line, in your city. If you can’t afford a car; if you want cleaner air; if you want a little justice, you need to speak up for it.
Two: While lore tells us the oppressed, the minorities and the less-than-polished live in East Somerville, it is our whole city that is considered an Environmental Justice community. Just look at the map below – this whole city, with the exception of parts of Davis Square, is under-served – and has families from Portugual, Haiti and India; has folks who don’t quite speak English well enough; and aren’t considered white.
It’s not just Union Square and East Somerville that is under-served by the state and by public transportation. Our whole city deserves justice.