Sunday, December 07, 2014

Short Shrift for Long Island

Drumlins are relatively uncommon landforms found in periglacial areas; sea drumlins are much rarer features that can be found where glacial processes interact over time with processes affecting sea level to create a drumlin field surrounded by ocean water. One such place is the Boston Harbor Islands, a National Recreation Area within view of Boston and surrounding communities.

We became gradually aware of these islands during our early years in the region, and about a decade ago made our only visit (so far), when we took an MBTA ferry from Hull to Georges Island for a summer afternoon visiting the old fort there. Last year, I became vaguely aware of Long Island when we took an informative working harbor cruise with Boston Harbor Cruises (this particular route is not in its web site, as it is offered only once a year or so). As we passed under the bridge that connects it -- via Moon Island -- to the mainland, our guide told us that access to the island is restricted.

I did not learn of the modern uses of the island until they had been abandoned in October of this year. The island that was used for military, vacation, medical, and human-services purposes for several hundred years suddenly became inaccessible. The bridge that had replaced regular ferry service in the early 1950s had become so unsafe that Boston's mayor ordered it closed, and the island abandoned so quickly that many homeless people sheltered there were not able to collect their belongings.

This week, a brief radio report confirms that the out-of-sight-out-of-mind solution provided by the island is not easy to replicate elsewhere in the Hub. As winter sets in, no place has been found for the hundreds of people who have relied on the shelter it provides, and no other Boston communities seem willing to fill the void.

The predicament of those stranded by the closing of this bridge raises some difficult questions. Bridges throughout the United States have begun to collapse, and many more are in danger of doing so, as ideologies opposed to public investment preclude the funding of appropriate maintenance. But this seems an extreme case: how could a bridge serving the homeless be considered useable one day and not the next? Note that Google has already eliminated the map (shown above in satellite imagery) entirely:
Officials estimate that it will take three years to replace the bridge. That would be a reasonable estimate for a new bridge, or for a bridge that does not provide unique access. But given the importance of the bridge for the people who have relied on Long Island, that delay is an indictment, as is the failure to reinstate the ferry service that once connected Long Island to the city it serves.

UPDATE -- March 30, 2015

Globe reporter David Abel takes the administration to task for continue to fail those displaced by neglect described above. As city leaders crow about the suitability of Boston for the 2024 Olympics, it comes to light that the replacement shelter will not be ready by April.


As I was writing this piece, I noticed an image from the Paravani River in Georgia (former S.S.R.) that shows the kind of creativity that has not yet been mustered for the people of Long Island. I am reminded of the adage "If they can put a man on the moon, why can't they ..."
Image: ©Yuriy Buriak on PizzaTravel

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