Events, People, Photos

Everything is Free and Zero Waste Arlington

On a crisp, sunny day in early November, Arlingtonians gathered in Thompson Elementary School in East Arlington. Some walked in empty-handed or toting shopping bags, while others brought in broken bicycles, torn clothing, or dysfunctional toasters.

Everyone was there for a joint event put on by Zero Waste Arlington (ZWA) and Sustainable Arlington in conjunction with other local waste-reduction organizations. The school gym was stacked with donated clothes for a clothing swap organized by Everything is Free Arlington (EIF Arlington). Across the hallway in the cafeteria, Fixit Clinic had set up a space for people to repair their broken belongings.

EIF Arlington is a Facebook group, one of a set of Everything is Free groups originally started by Medford resident Amanda Sulham to make it easier for Medford moms to swap items and parenting information. A post by Veronika McDonald King, one of the moderators, describes EIF Arlington’s goal: “[T]o build a better Arlington with a stronger community through giving, sharing, and caring.”

EIF Arlington primarily operates through individual listings, where a group member will make a post saying they have items to give away or that they’re looking for a specific item. But the group has also collected donations of clothes, shoes, and accessories to host several clothing swaps where anyone, group member or not, can come by and take things for free. It’s a great way to get rid of unwanted clutter without throwing things way and to update one’s wardrobe without the stress of sticking to a budget or the guilt of buying new.

The other entities at the event were also promoting ways to cut down on waste and give potential trash a new life. Zero Waste Arlington, a town government committee that, as the name suggests, is seeking to shift Arlington’s waste production closer to zero, had a table set up with information about how Arlingtonians can reduce, reuse, and recycle…as well as refuse (buy fewer items in disposable packaging), and rot (compost food scraps).

ZWA coordinated with Fixit Clinic, an organization that stages “pop-ups” where volunteers known as Fixit Coaches help people fix stuff they would otherwise throw away.

Ray Pfau reattaches a toaster’s cover with the help of its owner.

Ray Pfau, who organizes events through Fixit Clinic and Repair Cafe (a similar organization) out of Bolton, Massachusetts, was there with a small squad of these coaches. They set up stations at Thompson’s cafeteria tables, with supplies for everything from woodworking and soldering to jewelry repair and bicycle tune-ups.

Amos, one of the Fixit Coaches, said that specialized technical knowledge is not a requirement to volunteer, hence “coaches” rather than “repairpeople”.

“It’s more about the willingness to try taking something apart,” Amos said. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? If the item was destined for the trash anyway, failing to fix it isn’t such a big deal.

This event saved hundreds of clothing items and dozens of household items from winding up in a landfill. Locals interested in attending similar events in the future can look for updates on ZWA’s Facebook page and Bolton Local’s website.

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Events, Places

Feast of the East

This past weekend, Capitol Square threw its 21st annual Feast of the East, an outdoor event to celebrate East Arlington’s community and local businesses. The event takes place along Mass Ave in East Arlington. Mass Ave, Arlington’s main street, stays open during the event; police block off parking lanes for businesses to set up booths in.

The Fox Library kicks off the event with its Fox Festival Parade, after which local brass bands play outside for the rest of the afternoon. Restaurants offer street food from cultures all around the world, and “Kid Zones” around the event have entertainment ranging from clowns to sand art for Arlington’s younger residents.

It’s a great way to spend an early summer day in Arlington.

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Events, Photos

Porchfest

Porchfest is an annual music festival that takes place yearly in June, put on by the Arlington Center for the Arts and community volunteers. Local musicians and homeowners sign up to participate, and the organizers match them up so everyone has a porch to play on.

An audience gathers in front of O.T.A’s performance at Menotomy Beer & Wine.

According to Porchfest’s website, last year more than 170 bands performed at the festival. The musicians work in a variety of genres and the festival gradually travels from West to East Arlington over the course of 8 hours. Performance and visual artists showcase their work as well.

Singer-songwriter Laleler plays guitar and sings in East Arlington.

Locals attended the festival in in huge numbers, most walking or biking between porches, many accompanied by their kids and dogs. A few had come from the Pride parade in Boston, which took place earlier the same day, and were sporting rainbow accessories and flags representing sundry LGBTQ+ identities.

In Arlington Center, the Jefferson-Cutter House hosted a beer garden on its lawn, with beer from Aeronaut Brewery, food from local restaurants, and an info booth staffed by ACA volunteers.

(If anyone can identify this band, please comment! They were playing in the beer garden and are not listed on the Porchfest website.)

Right across the street in Uncle Sam Park was Arlington Public Arts’ annual “Chairful Where You Sit” art show, in which the organization raises funds by selling abandoned chairs that artists have rescued, refurbished, and embellished.

Porchfest ended this year with a dance party at Arlington Global Service Station, a gas station collaboratively decorated by its owner Abe Salhi and local artist Johnny Lapham. Street band School of Honk and funk/R&B group Bittersweet Band provided the music.

Porchfests began in Ithaca, NY, and now take place across the country. PorchFest.info has a schedule of New-England-based porchfests. The next is on June 15 on the Boston Fenway.

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History, Photos, Places

Minuteman Bikeway

The Minuteman Bikeway is a paved multi-use path that runs from the Alewife MBTA station in Cambridge through Arlington and Lexington to Bedford. Both ends of the bike path connect to other paths, bike and otherwise — four at the Cambridge end and two in Bedford.

The bike path is a rail-to-trail path, which is to say that it’s built on the route left behind by disused train tracks. The MBTA closed the Lexington Branch commuter rail route in 1981, proposing an underground extension of the Red Line through Arlington to Route 128 , topped with a linear park and rail trail. Arlington residents voted against the Red Line extension, citing a fear of congestion and of outsiders entering the community. As a result, the state never built the Red Line extension. But in 1992, it built the Minuteman Bikeway. Some footage from the bikeway’s construction, dedication, and early life can be seen in this Arlington Public News video about the bikeway’s 25th anniversary.

The bikeway was popular from its inception, and traffic has only grown since then. It’s especially busy during the morning and evening rush hours. Arlingtonians and members of surrounding communities use it to walk their dogs, ride their own bikes or shared ones like the new Lime Bikes, jog, stroll on foot or in wheelchairs, rollerblade, and skateboard.

Arlington Public Art installed five temporary art projects on it as part of the Arlington Commission on Arts and Culture’s bid to get the area between Arlington Center and Capitol Square recognized as a cultural district.

In 2017, the town revamped Arlington Center‘s main intersection and added new features like a push-button crosswalk to make crossing through the Center safer for bikeway users. Cyclists generally say riding on the path is more pleasant and feels safer than using a bike lane on a road meant for cars, especially in comparison to the busy Mass Ave.

Brian Ristuccia, an Arlington resident and member of the Boston Bike Party Facebook group who’s been riding the bikeway almost every day for the past three years, says “It’s been a pleasant west-to-east trip completely bypassing peak commute automobile traffic congestion, noise, and pollution.”

Avoiding cars doesn’t promise total safety, however. A March 24 collision between two cyclists on the bikeway in Lexington resulted in the death of 71-year-old Cary G Coovert, according to the Boston Globe and raised concerns about bikeway congestion and users’ awareness of the ‘rules of the road’. Accidents involving only cyclists rarely kill anyone; a cyclist-car accident is much more likely to cause a death.

Despite the specter of the recent accident and complaints about police hassling people who use the path after 9pm, the bikeway remains well-loved, and traffic is picking up as the weather gets warmer.

Ristuccia, who uses the bikeway on weekdays to drop his daughter off at preschool and commute to his office, says “We ride year round rain, shine, or snow…Beautiful green trees in summer, colorful foliage in fall, and snow that stays pretty and white in winter.”

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Events, People, Photos, Places

The Little Fox Shop

11 years ago, Susan Dorson and Amy Weitzman opened a nonprofit resale shop in the Edith M. Fox branch of the Arlington Library. They collected donations of toys, kids’ and maternity clothes, and childcare items like high chairs and strollers, furnished the store with any cheap or free furniture and clothing racks they could get their hands on, and recruited volunteers to help run the store.

Faith, a Little Fox Shop volunteer, organizes clothes to put out in the store.

When The Little Fox Shop first opened, it was only open one day a week, but Dorson, Weitzman, and later Stephanie Murphy (a store manager who joined about 7 years ago) were able to gradually increase the store’s operating hours until it was open 5 days a week. The Little Fox Shop raises funding for the Fox Library. According to its website, the store’s revenue has enabled the library to host more events, decorate, buy new fixtures, books, and video games, and stay open two more days a week.

Last year, the store was more popular than ever, Dorson says. The community loved it. And it came as a surprise to the store’s patrons and managers when it closed unexpectedly that August. WickedLocal Arlington reports that the Friends of the Fox board, who were in charge of dispersing funds raised to the town and approving major funding expenditures for the shop, fired Dorson and Murphy after a series of disagreements about Dorson and Murphy’s request for a raise and for the board to consider them payroll employees instead of volunteers with a stipend. Dorson says she was hurt the board was unwilling to negotiate with them; the store is very important to her and she, the store’s employees and volunteers, and the community were all disappointed to see it shut down.

Arlington’s government opened a Request for Proposal for applicants to open a resale shop in the space the shop had been. Dorson and Murphy teamed up with Weitzman to apply to reopen The Little Fox Shop. They won.

Dorson and volunteer Sandy discuss where to put a donation the shop received.

“The community support has been tremendous,” Dorson said. “People seem really excited for us to open up again.” After two hectic weeks of collecting mountains of donated goods, cleaning, and organizing, Dorson, Murphy, and their staff reopened the store on May 1st.

A parent shops for clothes during the grand re-opening.

The library threw a grand re-opening event on May 11. Dozens of parents and kids showed up to drop off even more donations, browse the newly set-up shelves, and eat donut holes. The store was noisy and crowded — at one point, a line stretched from the checkout counter to halfway through the store — but the managers and volunteers kept everything moving and organized with smiles on their faces.

Volunteer Victoria rings up a customer.

“[Running the store has been] kinda like raising a child,” Dorson says. Her kids were three and five when the store first opened. This year, her older son is a junior in high school and starting to think about college. And now that the Little Fox Shop has re-opened, she and Murphy have one more child’s future to think about again.

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