This seems to be an ideas era. It’s as if we need a fresh start, that we’ve run out of old ones, that surely there’s something we can do to make this old city come alive.

The biggest idea, the Olympics, didn’t do it, except for introducing us to Widett Circle, a large acreage everyone had forgotten. Mayor Walsh has been asking for ideas for a project he calls Imagine Boston 2030—you might be surprised to realize this is only 15 years away, as short a time it has been since Y2K, which was predicted to be the end of the universe, or at least computing, as we know it.

We will know more about the Mayor Walsh-inspired ideas after the community process concludes early this winter. UMass has instituted IDEAS Mass Boston, the ideas of which haven’t gotten a lot of play, but, hey, they’re only ideas.

So why not have some publicized ideas right now. Ideas are cheap. You don’t have to build infrastructure, make sure women and minorities are represented, include affordable housing, or go through zoning. We’ve been talking so much about ideas, I wanted to hear some. I figured it was going to be up to me to ask.

So I did. I contacted friends, public officials, civic observers and just plain folks. I asked them what their ideas were for making Boston a better place to live. Wacky, unrealistic, silly or fun was all okay, since sometimes really good ideas evolve from such way-out thoughts. Serious was okay too. Some idea people wanted to remain anonymous. Others said, what the heck, use my name, so in this column I am doing so.

The most common ideas involved transportation—a challenging arena in this traffic-clogged city.

Matt Conti, who runs the popular neighborhood news website,, was inspired by Venice, Italy. He would like a more extensive water transportation system in the harbor. “Right now,” he wrote in an email, “water taxis and ferries are point-to-point and not well used.” He predicts that a “roundabout loop” of small boats that could accommodate people hopping on and off from East Boston to Charlestown, the North End, downtown, Fort Point, the Seaport District and Southie, would be better used, especially if it were “regular, flexible and cheap.”

Those attributes are true for all public transportation.

State Rep. Jay Livingstone  also focused on water transportation. He likes an idea suggested by the Cambridge City Manager of developing a water taxi service between Boston and Cambridge with several stops along the river and into Boston Harbor.

Since we can’t add many more vehicles to our streets, these water routes might be an attractive option.

Jay also wanted a continuous bike and pedestrian path from the North End to Watertown on the Boston side of the Charles and from Charlestown to Watertown on the Cambridge side, with improved connections between Boston and Cambridge. Those connections would include a long hoped-for, but buried-under-design South Bank Bridge, which would get people safely across the train tracks at North Station.

While an underpass at the Anderson Bridge on JFK Street between Cambridge and Boston is now in the works, other bridges still prevent bikes and pedestrians from freely moving along the river in safety.

Jay said he was also pushing for a better pedestrian and bike crossing near the Museum of Science.

The transportation theme continued with both former Downtown North executive director Bob O’Brien and architect Brad Bellows thinking we don’t need a new idea.

We’ve got an old one, they said. The North-South Rail Link should have been constructed long ago, but there is no time like the present. They suggested this old idea long before Governors Dukakis and Weld met with Charlie Baker this summer. They pointed out that such a link would reduce commuter trips as well as traffic within Boston itself. They say this link would support expanded real estate development opportunities and economic growth.

They think Boston is way behind other cities in this kind of transportation planning. So even though their idea is not a new one, they say it is the most obvious idea that can be brought to fruition.

Next week, there will be other ideas—not all about transportation.

Your house? Think again.

It is September so my thoughts naturally turn to property rights.

It’s not so outlandish. In September, downtown Boston has many new permanent residents—new owners of houses, condominiums, lofts. Those new to downtown Boston may have to learn new attitudes toward their property.

You may be one of these new owners. You may have a deed to your property now. But it is likely that there have been many owners before you. And there will be many owners after you. You’re a part of a continuum. Your property is not all about you.

This is especially true if you live in one of Boston’s historic districts. If you want to change anything that can be seen from a public way, including new paint in the same color, you have to get permission from your neighborhood’s architectural commission at City Hall.

Small changes are easy. You submit an application and a staff member okays it if it is in keeping with the history of your building. If not, or if you are applying for more extensive changes, you have to appear before the architectural commission overseeing your neighborhood and gain their approval before the city will issue you a construction permit.

Novices complain about this. People whose mindset is “it’s my property, and I can do what I want,” will also complain. You wonder—why did people buy property in a historic district if they didn’t want a home that fits in and enjoys the historic district’s protections?

Because that is what these rules are about—protecting the historic nature of the environment. It keeps neighbors from erecting a huge television dish next to your house, as one of ours did in New Hampshire long ago. It keeps neighbors from building a monstrosity next to you. It keeps the value of your property from eroding.

A good example of the protections in action was the matter of a once-popular singer who bought a house in a 19th-century historic district in downtown Boston and proceeded to remove the original interior, replacing it with a southwestern theme.

Nothing could be done about the inside, which is not protected, but when she applied for a permit to change the entryway into something vaguely southwestern, the architectural commission said no. You might wonder why someone would buy property in a 19th-century New England neighborhood and want a southwestern theme, but then you would also remember that some people are crazy.

In any case, the singer departed, sold her house, and the new owners promptly restored all that she had destroyed inside. Even better, the value of the neighbors’ houses were not eroded by interrupting the pattern of entryways on the block. These things are important when houses are so close together.

Several historic neighborhoods in Boston have no protection against weirdnesses like this. The North End and Charlestown, the oldest neighborhoods in Boston, have no architectural protection for their buildings. On Soley Street in Charlestown a new owner tore down an old house. Maybe the replacement will fit in with the neighborhood. Maybe not.

Even the neighborhoods who do have protection sometimes lose. On Beacon Hill, a Chestnut Street owner got permission over neighbors’ objections to tear down a house he claimed was unstable, even though several other houses about to fall down have been saved. Years ago in the same neighborhood, the architectural commission denied permission for an owner to change the façade of his house. Mysteriously, one night the façade fell down. Hmm.

After living in a historic district for many years, I would have reservations about owning property in a place without those protections. Nearby owners with little knowledge about architecture or peculiar taste could affect my property’s value if they decided to “remuddle” their house, as an old house magazine used to call it.

Studies show that property in historic districts tends to be more desirable, to keep its value better than property elsewhere, and to provide a more pleasant environment in general. Giving up the chance to choose a favorite paint color seems a small price to pay for keeping a historic property appropriate for owners 100 years from now.

Fall advice

Students? There are lots of them downtown.

We also have another large group of newcomers. They are the newly minted and less-newly minted college graduates on their first or second job. They want to live within walking distance of their work in the downtown, Back Bay, Kendall Square, the hospital areas or the Seaport District. From Charlestown to the South End and in between, these neighborhoods offer that easy commute as well as bars, restaurants, museums and sports. Who wouldn’t want to live here?

These young people are more permanent than students. They live here year-round, and they are more likely to stay for several years until they get a new job, marry, have kids or move to another city. They used to be called “yuppies.”

Sometimes these young people, though, remain outsiders in the neighborhood. Long-time residents can look upon them with suspicion.

It’s not because of their color or their styles of life. A wonderful aspect about the new Boston is that all the downtown neighborhoods welcome diversity. What the long-time residents care about is neighborliness.

So young people, I have suggestions for you that will make you love and be beloved in your neighborhood.

  1. Learn the rules about trash and recycle storage and pickup and follow them. The rules are different in every neighborhood, but they are all online on the city’s web site.

We have these rules partly because of rats, which are plentiful in downtown Boston. To keep the rats away, put out your trash and recycle containers just after 7 a.m. instead of the night before, as city regs allow. Rats can get into buildings if they are enticed by what is lying outside. Surely you don’t want them in your living room.

  1. Throw good, safe parties. Now that you are old enough to legally consume alcohol, you can have a grown-up soirée. But stay off your roof. Every once in awhile a young person falls off, and the survival rate is poor.

While you are at it, notice the time. Most neighbors, even the old, crotchety ones, are familiar enough with city life to tolerate music, chatter and the clinking of glasses into the evening. But if the party is too loud and late at night, those old, crotchety neighbors will sic the police on you.

  1. Dogs. You may decide that now that you are an adult, you should have one. When visitors come to Boston, the comments I hear most are not about the history, architecture or walking convenience. Instead they say, “I’ve never seen so many dogs!”

With so many dogs, if owners are not responsible, we’ll have a big, smelly mess. So pick up after your dog. Your IQ is probably high enough to remember to buy one of those little plastic bag dispensers for your dog’s leash so you’ll always be prepared. After you pick up, take the bag home with you and drop it into your trash. Do not put it in your neighbor’s tree pit. It’s not just for the cleanliness of your block. Dog poop is a taste treat for our rats.

  1. Get to know your neighbors. If you go to work, hang out with friends, and go back to your small, pricey, downtown abode, you’ll never meet anyone new. Join the neighborhood association — they all have special events or activities for people in their 20s and 30s. Participate in neighborhood cleanups or holiday decorating. A few people have met their mates while hanging laurel ropes. Local newspapers have extensive neighborhood calendars.
  2. So read your neighborhood newspaper, which also might be online. You’ll learn about neighborhood matters and concerns as well as activities.
  3. Ditch your car. You will spend time and gasoline driving around trying to find a place to park unless you can afford a monthly parking space. Walking, T-riding, Zipcar-reserving, Uber-calling and taxi-hailing should get you around just fine. Rent a car for the weekend if you want to get out of town.

After you’ve become a good neighbor and love your neighborhood, you might have a revelation. City living isn’t just good for people your age. You’ll notice all ages—kids, old people and everyone in between—live downtown. Instead of that boring style of life that previous suburban generations practiced, there’s a better way. Stay.

Stay while you change jobs. Stay after you get married. Stay when you have kids. It is possible. Many of us did it.

Then you won’t have to move back into town when you have that empty nest and long for the city life you left while raising kids. You’ll already be here.

City Council blahs

So last Tuesday, I go to vote in the city council preliminary election.

I think I’m pretty smart, but not smart enough I guess. There was no election—at least in my precinct. My district city councilor had no opposition. There were not enough candidates running at-large to hold a preliminary election anywhere.

“For an at-large preliminary election, there must be at least at least nine candidates,” said Elections Department chair Dion Irish. The preliminary winnows the field down to the eight candidates who will be listed on the ballot for the four at-large seats in the general election. This year only five candidates are running at-large, including incumbents Michael Flaherty, Stephen Murphy, Ayanna Pressley and Michelle Wu. The fifth candidate is Annissa Essaibi-George, a teacher and Dorchester shop owner. No winnowing needed.

Two city councilors, Frank Baker and Timothy McCarthy, faced only one challenger, Donnie Palmer and Jean-Claude Sanon respectively. So these districts did not need a preliminary election either.

Only two district councilors, Charles Yancey and Tito Jackson, had two or more challengers. So in their districts the preliminary was held and reduced the number of candidates to two. Yancey came in a far second behind newcomer Andrea Campbell but will face her in November. Jackson will face Charles Clemons Jr., who came in a distant second.

According to Irish, the turnout was only seven percent of the 78,000 eligible to vote in the two districts, plus me.

Walking home after my failed voting attempt I wondered why there was so little interest this year in running for the city council, no to mention voting.

The official barriers are low. Candidates must be 18 years old and registered to vote. District candidates must have lived in their district for a year. At-large candidates have to live in Boston at the time they apply for nomination papers, which was May 11. They had to fill them out and return them by May 19.

At-large candidates had to gather at least 1,500 registered voters’ signatures. District candidates had to submit at least 200. These were due on June 23. Candidates who wanted to withdraw had to do so by June 30.

Pretty straightforward. Since you now know how to do it, you too could run. Two years ago, with a heavily contested mayoral race, there were plenty of city council candidates. What’s this year’s problem?

Demographics, reduced local news coverage, expanded opportunity for minorities, fewer kids and air conditioning, said attorney Larry DiCara, a city councilor from 1972 through 1981. These factors have reduced interest in local elections.

The people who consistently vote, he observed, are older folks, public employees and political junkies (like him and me.) But the city’s population is bifurcated, he said, between poorer residents, who tend not to vote, and up and coming, well educated or wealthy residents who tend to vote only in presidential elections.

Mayoral elections might also attract some of those people. About 140,000 voters turned out for the last mayoral election, DiCara noted. But 255,000 voted in the presidential election the year before. “That’s more than 100,000 people who vote only once every four years,” he said.

Another factor in a declining interest in the city council is an unfamiliarity with city politics. “The reality is that young people understand national issues, but don’t understand what is going on down the street,” he said. Part of the reason might be that more Bostonians are from somewhere else, rather than having grown up here.

When DiCara grew up in Boston in the 1950s, “working in campaigns was part of what you did.”

Reinforcing the unfamiliarity are the news outlets. When DiCara was on the city council, he remembers the city’s newspapers each had three or four reporters covering City Hall at all times, and the radio and television stations were on hand, enjoying what was then a new building with enough electricity and lighting to run their microphones and cameras—not true at old City Hall.

Such coverage meant that Boston residents knew the city councilors and what they did. How many of the 13 city councilors can you name?

No longer is politics the only way up for smart young people. DiCara remembers when Catholics, not to mention other minorities, were unwelcome in the city’s law firms. “But now, if you’re a bright young person like Deval Patrick, you go to work for Hill and Barlow,” he said. “You don’t necessarily aspire to be in local politics.”

As for air conditioning? DiCara said that in the hot summer months of his youth, everyone sat on stoops because it was cooler there. They knew their neighbors and spent time discussing local matters. Now people are inside, isolated from the others on their block.

Fewer kids is another isolating factor. People often get to know neighbors through their kids, and the number of kids in the city has been declining.

We could hold elections on weekends, provide free air time for candidates, and try other methods to attract voters and candidates. “But I don’t know if there is away to make people care about what’s going on down the street,” DiCara concluded.

Donald O’Trump

It started when the nine-year-old in our family misheard Donald Trump’s name and called him, with disgust and outrage, Donald O’Trump. She hasn’t been the only one disgusted and outraged. Globe columnists, Times columnists, television commentators have been spewing disbelief, abhorrence, indignation and revulsion. They parse his “policies” as if they actually mean something.

At some point, I started laughing. These people are so steamed up. They’re taking Donald O’Trump seriously.

I’ve got news for them. He’s spoofing. He’s taking us for a ride. He’s making fun of the Republican candidates, mocking them. He’s exposing the hard-core Republican electorate for what it is. He’s trumped us, and he’s laughing all the way to the primary. Calling him O’Trump is my way of honoring the half-aware guise he has taken on.

His modus operandi, perhaps unconsciously, has been to take Republicans’ prejudices and perversions to the max. Consider immigration. A couple of years ago US Rep. Steve King, a Republican from Iowa, said, “For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s [sic] another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds, and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

No one in O’Trump’s party called out King for that remark, and there was little comment from the Republican presidential candidates when Trump accused Mexican immigrants of being rapists and criminals. They finally pushed back only when Trump demeaned Sen. John McCain’s war record—a suspect reaction since some of those same people had no trouble demeaning John Kerry’s war record in 2004. Criticizing immigrants pushed up O’Trump’s poll numbers, and mocking McCain didn’t hurt him.

Women? There is another topic that could get Trump in trouble but hasn’t. He has taken the insulting attitudes toward women displayed by several of the candidates and simply exaggerated them. Some of the Republican presidential-hopefuls have fought vigorously to restrict contraception and abortion, apparently believing American women’s only task is reproduction, which they can’t manage without government interference. Trump’s put-down of Megyn Kelly is no different from the insulting attitudes toward women displayed by such women-demeaners as Rick Santorum and his fellow travelers.

I haven’t the imagination to come up with the future shenanigans O’Trump is capable of.

That’s because he doesn’t know himself. He’s having a good time. He loves getting people steamed up. I suspect several of the Republican presidential candidates didn’t give him enough respect in the past year or two, so his “candidacy” might have been sparked by a bit of revenge on his part.

Now however, it’s just fun. He has nothing to lose. He was bored with his life—he’s made plenty of money and his empire is led by others who are able, so he had little to do. He might not have expected to be so popular when he got into the race, but now he’s enjoying a little payback along with causing a jolt to the system.

He signed a pledge to support the Republican candidate. But can’t you just imagine some candidate annoying him enough to cause him to renege on that promise?

Does O’Trump really want to be president? Doubtful. It’s a serious job and hard. But being a candidate is not hard or serious—just look at the Republican presidential candidates, of which only two, maybe three, are actual grown-ups. O’Trump is taking a cue from them and ramping it up.

Some in my family say O’Trump is not smart or ironic enough to invent such a plan. My answer is that it doesn’t take much intelligence. It takes only a need for distraction and fun. His “campaign” is not carefully crafted, but for his purposes it doesn’t need to be.

I don’t know how long O’Trump will be entertained by his public venture. I don’t know how long enough of the public will support him. I don’t know what his exit strategy will be. But the long campaign was boring even for a political junkie like me. With O’Trump causing fury everywhere, I’m just going to enjoy the ride.