Putting the ‘Progress’ in Progressive

Brookline TAB, January 21, 2009

A wonderful thing about Brookline citizens is their ability to get things done. For although we govern by mind-numbing process and suffocating studies, when something needs to get done around here, we do it.

Witness the recent, necessary override of Proposition 2 1/2, without which we would be in much deeper financial trouble than we are. Or, look at the excellent disabled-friendly, highly effective crossing lights in Coolidge Corner and Washington Square. And then there are two recent additions to Brookline’s positive progress, large and seemingly small: the formation of Brookline Quest, and the installment of a new four-way stop.

Stop, in the Name of Love

Is it possible to be in love with a stop sign? I now know that it is. Or I just simply love my active, cranky neighborhood. Because of a group of passionate and concerned neighbors — Sheryl and Frank Casey, Rob Daves, Maria Conor and the High Street Hill Association — it is a whole new world at the intersection of Allerton and High streets. The fact that the town could also move as quickly as it did is also cause for amazement and gratitude. Because now we can actually get safely across High Street at any time of day — even during the school morning drop-off. Now, because of the four-way stop, High Street traffic has to go slower (and it does) and stop, one car at a time. We all learn how to take turns in our earliest days of school, and now, we are. No more High Street bullies; we are all equals at the four-way stop.

Of course, no solution is ever perfect. The stop sign is new, and drivers need to retrain their reflexes so that they actually see it when they approach the top of High Street. And though there are warnings here and there along High Street that tell drivers about the upcoming stop at the top of the hill, there are not enough of them, and they are not visible enough. If Walnut Street had to have adequate warnings about imminent speed bumps, brightly painted crosswalks and flashing lights, then so does High Street, which is far faster moving and has had more than its share of accidents: one a month, documented by Frank Casey, until the four-way stop was instituted.

Sure, stop signs and flashing lights may not be as pretty as the historical district would like, but let’s face it, neither are car crashes. In the end, the four-way stop is as brilliant and near-perfect a solution as we are ever going to see over here, short of speed-bumping High Street or stationing a police car there 24/7. I may even allow my children to walk to school on their own if adequate warnings are installed. If I could ever get them to do anything outdoors, but that’s a different column.

Girls (and Guys) Just Wanna Have Fun

Moving on from my little corner of Brookline, I find another, broader and equally significant change for the better in town, over at the Eliot Street Recreation Center: Brookline Quest, a social and recreational group designed for special needs teens.

Brookline Quest meets pretty much every other Friday night. Founded just a year or so ago by four Brookline parents — Kathy Mayotte-Jansky, Dyanne O’Brien, Bob Suwinsky and Laura Creedon — Brookline Quest has changed my family’s life.

A decade ago, the recreation opportunities within Brookline for guys like Nat, my autistic son, were so shamefully absent that I wrote about it in one of my very first TAB columns. Quest is an answer to that need. This organization has gotten Brookline Parks and Rec. to help with this endeavor. Now, every other Friday night, Nat comes home from his week at school, and he is happy and engaged with us because, well, he knows he gets to leave us and hang out with his friends that night. Like any other teenager. For a modest fee, Quest takes Nat and his gang (with a few well-trained chaperones, not parents!) to laser tag, the Harlem Globetrotters, BC hockey games or The Cheesecake Factory and a movie. And we get a break from Nat, which any parent of teenagers can understand.

Because of a few concerned and energetic neighbors, Nat has a social life (better than my own). And, because of a few concerned and energetic neighbors, my family can now safely get across our street. I guess it really does take a (Brookline) Village.