"Dirty Old Boston"

DBM

Senior Member
Joined
Oct 28, 2012
Messages
1,043
Reaction score
329
A phenomenal example of how a "tactical urban intervention" helped to create a great new urban space and to chip away at the wretched "car is king" philosophy, in the heart of the Financial District, at one of the most significant crossroads of Downtown--the convergence of the Financial District, Chinatown, Waterfront, and Leather District.

Above we see a photo of 125 Summer that must've been taken no earlier than 1990 as that's when the building debuted. Well within my lifetime and those of numerous AB posters. There is no 125 Summer Street Plaza, practically speaking. The message to all pedestrians traversing the area is "go away, this is the ass-end of our property."

Now, here's what things look like, presumably as a result of pressure from the BPDA perhaps in concert with local neighborhood activists.

A glorious(ly simple) little downtown greenspace. Pre-pandemic, with Tatte open there, and Serafina's beer garden across the street at 100 Summer Plaza, this was a wonderfully vibrant spot during the summers. Even now, with Serafina sadly closed, numerous Tatte patrons and others avail themselves to the park on nice sunny days thereby activating the space and creating a sense of community and vibrancy.

The point is of course, the park didn't will itself into existence. Mentalities had to change and political pressure/advocacy had to be applied.

P.S. further proof that there used to not be a park there: technically, the parcel of land which the modern-day park occupies is still classified as a roadway by the City: 17 South Street.
 

DZH22

Senior Member
Joined
Nov 13, 2006
Messages
8,552
Reaction score
13,910

Charlie_mta

Senior Member
Joined
Jul 15, 2006
Messages
2,437
Reaction score
1,581
This one feels like the turning point between Dirty Old Boston and the Boston we recognize today. What a difference 20+ years has made, and in my opinion getting rid of the elevated highway was the single most critical step in the renaissance.

View attachment 19167
Thanks to Tip O'Neill. the Big Dig funding was secured. I owe a lot personally to that man for a huge favor he did as a Congressman for me and my family when I was young. He was the best.
 

Blackbird

Active Member
Joined
Feb 2, 2014
Messages
650
Reaction score
770
This one feels like the turning point between Dirty Old Boston and the Boston we recognize today. What a difference 20+ years has made, and in my opinion getting rid of the elevated highway was the single most critical step in the renaissance.

Hard to imagine anyone ever thinking that mess would be a good idea. Mid 20th century urban planning was something else..
 

Charlie_mta

Senior Member
Joined
Jul 15, 2006
Messages
2,437
Reaction score
1,581
Hard to imagine anyone ever thinking that mess would be a good idea. Mid 20th century urban planning was something else..
The elevated Central Artery was built out of desperation, as were the urban renewal projects that followed it a decade later. The political and business leaders of Boston in the 1950s were greatly concerned that post-1930's depression, post-WW II Boston was being sidelined by white flight to the exploding suburban housing, the burgeoning office parks along rte. 128 and beyond, and suburban shopping centers sapping the downtown shopping district. They could probably also see on the horizon that factories and heavy industry would be leaving eventually as well, as some had already moved to the south and the third world. Also, the car was becoming king, and Boston's street system was virtually unchanged from colonial times. In short, Boston's leaders were seeing a city left behind.

Prior to President Eisenhower's Interstate Highway system, there was only fairly meager Federal funding available for expressways. So, Boston and the State built the Central Artery, which had been planned for decades in one form or another, with whatever pre-Interstate funds they had. It was a substandard product to be sure. It should have been tunneled, and it should have had acceleration/deceleration lanes, less weaving of traffic, etc., but they built what they could with the resources they had.

Then along came the urban renewal funding made possible by JFKs presidency. Again, the leaders of Boston saw a city being left behind by suburbia and the sunbelt, so they decided to go for a big change in a big way, wiping out large sectors of the city and starting over fresh with grandiose superblocks, wide streets and park-like settings that mimicked suburbia, in an effort to attract back the suburbanites who had fled the city post WW-II, and to save what they saw as a city in trouble.

So, in my opinion, panic was basically what mid-century city planning in Boston boiled down to. And maybe it was the way they had to go. If Boston had not built the original elevated Central Artery and a few other highways, and urban renewal had not happened, maybe the Boston of today would have turned out more like Philadelphia or Baltimore are today, instead of Boston becoming the economic, technical and intellectual powerhouse that it is, head and shoulders above those two cities.
 
Last edited:

DBM

Senior Member
Joined
Oct 28, 2012
Messages
1,043
Reaction score
329
maybe the Boston of today would have turned out more like Philadelphia or Baltimore are today, instead of Boston becoming the economic, technical and intellectual powerhouse that it is, head and shoulders above those two cities.
Since you mentioned it, I had to check. Of course, the great urban crisis of post-WWII was particularly intense in the older, colder Northeastern metropolises, as the nation's overall economic center-of-gravity continued to tilt to the cheaper, easier-to-develop-in cities of the Sun Belt.

That said, Boston is such an extreme outlier here, in terms of not only not having suffered a massive bleeding of population of the past half-century, but actually having recouped by a significant amount, that it seems reasonable to say it's not even playing in the same sandbox as these peer (or not peer?) cities of the Northeast.

I suppose another way to think about that is to imagine how ridiculous it would be for an economic development consultant to be retained by any of these other cities and for said consultant to say, "well can't you just become more like Boston, by starting a tech hub on par with Kendall Square, a hospital hub on par with MGH/Longwood, and a collegiate archipelago on par with BU/BC/Tufts/Northeastern/Harvard? Problem solved, I'll take my consultant's fee now, please!"

Boston population growth, 1970-today: 5.3% (was 641k; now 675k)

Philadelphia population growth, 1970-today: -18% (was 1.95m; now 1.6m)
Baltimore population growth, 1970-today: -35% (was 905k; now 585k)
Buffalo population growth, 1970-today: -40% (was 462k; now 278k)
Pittsburgh population growth, 1970-today: -42% (was 520k; now 302k)
Cleveland population growth, 1970-today: -50% (was 750k; now 372k)
 
Last edited:

Charlie_mta

Senior Member
Joined
Jul 15, 2006
Messages
2,437
Reaction score
1,581
I suppose another way to think about that is to imagine how ridiculous it would be for an economic development consultant to be retained by any of these other cities and for said consultant to say, "well can't you just become more like Boston, by starting a tech hub on par with Kendall Square, a hospital hub on par with MGH/Longwood, and a collegiate archipelago on par with BU/BC/Tufts/Northeastern/Harvard? Problem solved, I'll take my consultant's fee now, please!"
Boston always had a leg-up with its world-class colleges and hospitals, eclipsing Philly and Baltimore today and in the 1950s and 60s. Boston has had good bones that way all through the 20th century. The question I'll always have is: could Boston have pulled through the doldrums of the post-war (WW II) years without the original elevated Central Artery being built and the subsequent massive urban renewal projects providing a jumpstart? Maybe it eventually would have emerged as healthy as it is today without those jumpstarts, helped along by the universities, and later the high tech industry presence. But at the time, in the 1950s, no one could have foreseen those powerhouses emerging as strongly as they did.
 

shmessy

Senior Member
Joined
Apr 4, 2010
Messages
2,490
Reaction score
1,763
It really does all come down to the universities. Just look at DBM's eye opening population change list in post #313.

Balto (Hopkins), Pitt (Carnegie-Mellon) and Cleve (Case Western) all have 1 really top world class university and a couple of good ones. They've lost 35%-50%

Philly is a notch above that with a larger constellation and has lost only 18%

This is why Boston, with an incomparable university constellation, is the winner. The world economy has increasingly becoming a KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY.

If you want to compete with the better climates of the South, you cannot simply be on the same mediocre intellectual levels of the South. You will lose that competition every time today.

You need to be BETTER. I realize that comes off as arrogant, but it is what it is.
 

BeyondRevenue

Active Member
Joined
Mar 13, 2020
Messages
157
Reaction score
252
Hold on now, much as I love Boston, it's is still not what it once was.
Here's some anti-NIMBY sauce: At its peak population in 1950, the city contained, remarkably, nearly 165,000 more people: a total of 801,444. Over the next few decades, that number plummeted, reaching a low of 562,994 in 1980. Think about it: Prior to WWII, we were PLANNING a city of 1 million! Think Quabbin Reservoir level spending. Boston bought 4 whole TOWNS!
I attribute post-war de-urbanization to massive subsidies through FHA and VHA loans given to basically everybody who wanted one -- if you were white (sorry it's true). Through a horrible fear-based, nukes-acomin' mindset, and with massive pressure from GM and the petroplex, Congress put a hit job on our vibrant cities and went on to get the polis addicted to wild highway spending, with a promise of indefinite growth and cars cars cars! Wheeeee!
Oh, prior to the Eisenhower Highway build out, there were two housing bills that went through in the late 40s -- the first spelled out The Big Plan legislatively, the second was the cash allocation for favorite builders nationwide, then the Highway Act -- a 1-2-3 of self destruction.

Some other reasons we didn't go completely backward like our Rust Belt brethren:
  • Old New England money liked their downtown offices.
  • Damn attorneys!
  • Federal spending (Military spending through the Massachusetts Miracle in Kendall Square, NASA Volpe Center, Deer Island, Big Dig, etc)
  • All the other A list colleges we have here -- tons more colleges than the other cities
  • The base of the FIRE sector (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) and more old money and tons of dangerous fiscal growth.
  • Crazy people who protested against the Innerbelt
  • Proponents of public transportation-- yes on Orange and Red line spending, no on highways.
  • The best for last: That lovely woman from Canton who went out and moved the surveyors sticks three nights in a row, until they posted a guard so they could start leveling the ground. When they finally did start the machinery, that same woman actually bit a bulldozer driver(!) to stop him and the rest of the road crew from pushing I-95 northward through what was previously that woman's backyard all the way to Back Bay. The bulldozer driver said Screw this and bounced. That day she stopped everything and saved thousands from being displaced ex-Bostonians. (Side note: There is a great documentary I saw one late night on WGBH a decade ago telling this story. The producers got the driver and the old woman together and the shook hands and laughed about it as she apologized. I believe there was hugging. Much awesomeness. If someone knows what I'm talking about, I would love a link).
Boston lives despite our parent's best efforts to kill it through short sighted austerity measures and piss-poor planning.
 

shmessy

Senior Member
Joined
Apr 4, 2010
Messages
2,490
Reaction score
1,763
Hold on now, much as I love Boston, it's is still not what it once was.
Here's some anti-NIMBY sauce: At its peak population in 1950, the city contained, remarkably, nearly 165,000 more people: a total of 801,444. Over the next few decades, that number plummeted, reaching a low of 562,994 in 1980. Think about it: Prior to WWII, we were PLANNING a city of 1 million! Think Quabbin Reservoir level spending. Boston bought 4 whole TOWNS!
I attribute post-war de-urbanization to massive subsidies through FHA and VHA loans given to basically everybody who wanted one -- if you were white (sorry it's true). Through a horrible fear-based, nukes-acomin' mindset, and with massive pressure from GM and the petroplex, Congress put a hit job on our vibrant cities and went on to get the polis addicted to wild highway spending, with a promise of indefinite growth and cars cars cars! Wheeeee!
Oh, prior to the Eisenhower Highway build out, there were two housing bills that went through in the late 40s -- the first spelled out The Big Plan legislatively, the second was the cash allocation for favorite builders nationwide, then the Highway Act -- a 1-2-3 of self destruction.

Some other reasons we didn't go completely backward like our Rust Belt brethren:
  • Old New England money liked their downtown offices.
  • Damn attorneys!
  • Federal spending (Military spending through the Massachusetts Miracle in Kendall Square, NASA Volpe Center, Deer Island, Big Dig, etc)
  • All the other A list colleges we have here -- tons more colleges than the other cities
  • The base of the FIRE sector (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) and more old money and tons of dangerous fiscal growth.
  • Crazy people who protested against the Innerbelt
  • Proponents of public transportation-- yes on Orange and Red line spending, no on highways.
  • The best for last: That lovely woman from Canton who went out and moved the surveyors sticks three nights in a row, until they posted a guard so they could start leveling the ground. When they finally did start the machinery, that same woman actually bit a bulldozer driver(!) to stop him and the rest of the road crew from pushing I-95 northward through what was previously that woman's backyard all the way to Back Bay. The bulldozer driver said Screw this and bounced. That day she stopped everything and saved thousands from being displaced ex-Bostonians. (Side note: There is a great documentary I saw one late night on WGBH a decade ago telling this story. The producers got the driver and the old woman together and the shook hands and laughed about it as she apologized. I believe there was hugging. Much awesomeness. If someone knows what I'm talking about, I would love a link).
Boston lives despite our parent's best efforts to kill it through short sighted austerity measures and piss-poor planning.

Let's not move the goalposts. DBM was taking about 1970 until 2020.

1950 was pre-Rock n' Roll, pre-suburbanization - - hell the Brooklyn Dodger and Boston Braves still existed and less than 8% of the population had a television set.

The 20 years between 1950-1970 were probably the most volcanic eruptive in American social history.

The far better apples-to-apples competitive measuring stick in the modern economic age is 1970 to now.
 

BeyondRevenue

Active Member
Joined
Mar 13, 2020
Messages
157
Reaction score
252
Let's not move the goalposts. DBM was taking about 1970 until 2020.

1950 was pre-Rock n' Roll, pre-suburbanization - - hell the Brooklyn Dodger and Boston Braves still existed and less than 8% of the population had a television set.

The 20 years between 1950-1970 were probably the most volcanic eruptive in American social history.

The far better apples-to-apples competitive measuring stick in the modern economic age is 1970 to now.
Not moving goalposts, I just hate to see history ignored. And I don't care if Glenn Miller or Glenn Danzig are on the shortwave radio, our destruction was sealed before Eisenhower was in the batters box. To wit, these subsidy programs..

Federal Highway Act of 1944: This gem was the first shot of selective suburbanization. Set up unequal applications for FHA and VA loans. It bought feeder roads for areas that really should not have had big roads. Farmers fields became subdivisions. The paving of America begins.
Housing Act of 1949: Poor people get moved. Whitey gets a roof, black and brown people get an eviction notice. Favored contractors get rich.
Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956: The man who said "Beware of the military industrial complex" ties the first two together and says "I got the idea while I was in the army." Riiiiiight Ike. Put a uniform on it and we're all supposed to get weak in the knees and forget how our government built SFDAmerica(TM).
 
Last edited:

shmessy

Senior Member
Joined
Apr 4, 2010
Messages
2,490
Reaction score
1,763
Not moving goalposts, I just hate to see history ignored. And I don't care if Glenn Miller or Glenn Danzig are on the radio, our destruction was sealed before Eisenhower was in the batters box. To wit...

Federal Highway Act of 1944: This gem was the first shot of suburbanization. It bought feeder roads for areas that really should not have had big roads. Farmers fields became subdivisions. The paving of America begins
Housing Act of 1949: Poor people get moved. Whitey gets a roof, black and brown people get an eviction notice. Favored contractors get rich.
Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956: The man who said "Beware of the military industrial complex" ties the first two together and says "I got the idea while I was in the army." Riiiiiight Ike.

Yeah and the horse population of Boston was far greater in 1876.

As I said, the apples to apples comparison of the economic health of a city is not population counts from manual labor eras.

Evidently, you want to discuss social issues. That's a different realm. Not saying it is unimportant. But I would posit that the Boston of Mayor Walsh-Janey-Wu is a far more equitable place than that of Curley-Hines.

Economically and competitiveness-wise, Boston was DYING in 1950 - - having a larger human population did not make that untrue.

Here's a "healthy increase in population"!

 
Last edited:

BeyondRevenue

Active Member
Joined
Mar 13, 2020
Messages
157
Reaction score
252
Yeah and the horse population of Boston was far greater in 1876.

As I said, the apples to apples comparison of the economic health of a city is not population counts from manual labor eras.

Evidently, you want to discuss social issues. That's a different realm. Not saying it is unimportant.

Economically and competitiveness-wise, Boston was DYING in 1950 - - having a larger human population did not make that untrue.

Here's a "healthy increase in population"!

Your table is broken.
It was nice of DBM to put the list together. I wonder what the numbers for all cities would look like from 1950 to now.

I see that picture, and I'm adding context. That picture predates the razing of the West End and the land grabs for the Pike Extension. And I'm saying do not forget that Boston was only dying after an attempted murder, one in a string of related crimes targeting urban areas. What would we call that? Attempted Urbicide?
 

Top