Present at the creation of a new Boston

The Boston you enjoy today is not the Boston I knew almost 50 years ago when I was a student at Boston Latin School.  Our vibrant, multicultural, prosperous, and energetic city is the result of a number of factors, some of which result from good fortune – specifically the presence of educational and medical institutions – and others that have resulted from activist government, primarily at the local level. 

When writing my recently published book, “Turmoil and Transition in Boston,” I did lots of digging into my files to validate some of my thinking.  I have continued my research and my writing, not only as an effort to write history while these events are so vivid but also to provide first-hand documentation for future scholars with respect to the development of the American city.

I think it is appropriate for me to discuss the realities of the creation of a new Boston.  In short, not unlike Dean Acheson, who proclaimed that he was present at the creation of The American Century in the years after World War II, I was present at the creation of the Boston we all now enjoy.  

In short, Boston’s, and I would argue that same prosperity of great cities such as New York, Washington, and San Francisco, does not result from unbridled capitalism overseen by swashbuckling entrepreneurs, some of whom place their names on everything they build, and who assume it is their intelligence and good looks that results in their success.  Simultaneously, our good fortune is not the result of a planned economy, such as appears to be advocated by others who seek high office at this time, where the government controls every action, and the people follow whatever the policy might be.

I have lived in Boston my entire life, and but for four years spent at Harvard College, have never thought about living anyplace else.  I was elected to the City Council when I was 22, and served on that body for ten years, during one of which I was president, and during four of which I chaired the committee that oversaw planning and development.  In the years since, I have been a real estate lawyer, representing developers, owners, investors, and most everyone else seeking to bring change to Boston.  I have been in the room.  I have witnessed the changes.  My fingerprints are most everywhere; I am very proud of that. 

If one goes back 60 years, one saw a Boston that had yet to emerge from the Great Depression.  Unemployment was high, our population fleeing; it was not a great city.   

The city fathers, and back then they were all men, decided that it was essential to tear down decrepit areas of the city and build them up anew.  The federal government, the state government, and the city came together and agreed upon the construction of a government center. It took courage for the Boston City Council to vote to take away the livelihood of those who worked in Scollay Square.

Therefore, beginning in 1968, the new mayor, Kevin White, sat in a new City Hall.  His office did not look out towards City Hall Plaza, as did the office of the City Council president; it looked to the sea.  White could see the abandoned Quincy Market and he could see the decrepit, decaying Central Artery.  He was staring out that window the first time we met late in 1971, and he told me that it was time that the city did something about both.  Sure enough, when I was on the City Council a few years later, we were asked to approve a long-term lease for the Rouse Corporation and to borrow money to repair the historic market buildings by making them structurally sound.  It was a tough vote, but I am glad I voted in the affirmative.  But for Kevin White staring out the window of the new City Hall, there would not have been Faneuil Hall Marketplace. 

For a while, more people went to Quincy Market than went to Disney World!  And when they came to the end of Quincy Market, what did they see: a decaying elevated highway, a relic of the 1950’s, dividing the city from its waterfront. A combination of business leadership led by the late Norman Leventhal and state and city leaders, including governors Michael Dukakis and William Weld, and mayors Ray Flynn and Tom Menino, with the help of Ted Kennedy and Joe Moakley and Tip O’Neill, brought about a significant federal appropriation so that highway could be depressed. Interstate 93 is now below ground. 

Traffic is better and there is now a greenway – acres of new public open space in the heart of the city.  As a result of the greenway, the seaport is now right across the street, and what has resulted is a significant new development, a new city - as big as the Back Bay.  People, whether they be residents of the city, or tourists, or office workers, are able to walk from the downtown area across the greenway to the sea.  But for Quincy Market, the Central Artery would never have been placed underground, and the greenway would never have been created. 

The Seaport District did not develop solely because of the entrepreneurial skills of its developers.  It was necessary that the city provide infrastructure so that employees could get to work.  Congressman Moakley, ostensibly to provide access to the federal courthouse, came up with the money for the Silver Line, so that one could go under Fort Point Channel and easily get to the seaport from South Station.  The highway system that was created as a result of the Central Artery/Tunnel project brought about easy access from the affluent suburbs to the west, as well as from the airport.  A new bridge was constructed, which now bears Evelyn Moakley’s name.  The list goes on and on. 

I would argue that but for the decisions that created Government Center, the Seaport would not have happened because, sequentially, over a period of almost 50 years, a combination of public actions and private actions, government incentives and private investment has resulted in the city we know today.

The preceding was excerpted from remarks recently delivered at Bentley University by Dorchester native Lawrence S. DiCara, who served on the City Council and is a partner at Nixon Peabody LLP.