Friday, January 4, 2008

Boston's Big Dig: another one for the history books

After decades of work and colossal amounts of money poured into the project, Boston's Big Dig, the most expensive and complicated highway project ever undertaken in the United States, has been completed.

The project, which included the major transformation of Boston's eyesore Central Artery (circa 1950's) into the greenery of parkland, is one of a long line of changes that Boston has seen over the centuries.

I've enjoyed reading Mapping Boston, an MIT Press publication edited by Alex Krieger and David Cobb. It is a fascinating history of the city and its ever-changing features. Including maps, paintings, prints, photographs and accompanying essays on the history of the city of Boston, it is an amazing look at how far Beantown has come.

The book covers the various visionary plans for the city throughout the years: some carried out, some not.

Here's an excerpt from the section entitled Rings for the Spokes of the Hub on page 216:
Some of the most breathtaking plans for improvement came from visionary landscape architects who dreamed of rings around Boston, connecting the radial arteries and threading open spaces into the dense city. First, in the mid-1870's, the Boston park commissioners selected Frederick Law Olmstead to create what became Boston's emerald necklace - a sweeping arc of parks and parkways intended to encircle the city from the Public Garden to the mouth of the Muddy River at the other end of the Back Bay, then through Jamaica Plain and Dorchester to the ocean.

In the 1880's, as the emerald necklace was taking shape, Olmstead's ablest disciple, Charles Eliot, proposed a larger series of "public reservations" encompassing the entire metropolitan area. By the turn of the century, the 15,000-acre park system included 30 miles of river frontage, 10 miles of ocean shoreline, and 22 miles of right-of-way for parkways.
Jump ahead to 1908: just a few years after that turn of the century and one-hundred years before today's completion of the Big Dig. Below is a map from the book of the city of Boston and vicinity published in that year by George Hiram Walker.

The city of Boston has indeed come a long way.

Longtime residents know that change is nothing new. Even as they rejoice in the completion of the Big Dig, the question is at the forefront of many minds: What will be the next improvement project for the city on the Charles River?

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