I came across an article on Boston.com earlier this year Boston’s banner year in 1912.  The city was the fifth-largest in the country, with a population of about 700,000 (approximately 80,000 more than today and growing by about 15,000 people a year).  Buildings were going up across the city and new institutions were launching.  Fenway Park and the Franklin Park Zoo opened in 1912, and the Filene’s in Downtown Crossing opened its doors.

Filene's in Downtown Crossing in the middle of the 1900s

Boston was doing well for itself. Then we kind of let things coast along.  Our population hit its peak at a little over 800,000 in 1950, but by 1980 it had fallen to 560,000, the lowest it had been since 1900.  The interesting thing about that peak number is that shortly after, Urban Renewal policies were implemented across the country in major cities in an attempt to revitalize downtown centers.  What the policies tended to do was raze neighborhoods to the ground and replace them with large scale developments like Boston’s Government Center.  This coupled with the expansion of the Interstate Highway System made it both easier and more appealing to move to the suburbs and Boston’s population started the downward trend.

Less people lead to less investment, by both the private and public sectors.  Boston has always been a historical city, but it was in danger of becoming a historical artifact.  This is not to say that there was nothing new built in the city.  The John Hancock Tower was completed in 1976.  It is now a Boston landmark and an amazing addition to the skyline, but when it was first built it was plagued with problems ranging from severe swaying in the upper floors to entire glass window planes falling out and being replaced (temporarily) by plywood.  It didn’t say much for the city that its newest skyscraper was falling apart and was nicknamed the, “Plywood Palace.”

The John Hancock Tower, nicknamed the "Plywood Palace"

Let’s fast forward to today.  The following projects are all in various stages of development, design, or construction: Fan Pier in the Seaport District; Hayward Place on the edge of Downtown Crossing and Chinatown; Liberty Mutual’s new building in the Back Bay; the Copley Place Tower in the Back Bay; One Franklin in Downtown crossing, aka the former Filene’s site; and the Ink Block in the South End on the newly vacant Boston Herald property.

An artist's rendering of the new Liberty Mutual building in the Back Bay

These projects all represent investment in the city and development in areas vital to the city’s success.  The Hayward Place project is replacing a surface parking lot with a residential building lined with street level retail and restaurants in a part of the city that needs more residents to bring it to life outside of normal business hours.  In that same vein, the new proposal for One Franklin will hopefully bring vitality to Downtown Crossing with offices, residences, shops, and restaurants.  When completed, it will join the Copley Place Tower as one of the newest additions to Boston’s skyline.

An artist's rendering of the Copley Place Tower added to Boston's skyline

What does this mean for residents?  For one, these projects will be bringing in additional tax revenues to the city, which will hopefully be put to use for vital services like education and public safety.  Secondly, these projects bring short-term jobs with construction and long-term jobs for the offices, stores, and restaurants included.

It does seem like Boston has started a new building boom, but how the city continues to progress in the coming months and years will be what matters most.  Additional revenue from new developments should be invested in Boston’s struggling public schools to train the next generation of civic and cultural leaders.  Each development needs to be publicly vetted to ensure residents, current and future, benefit as much as possible.  Development should be encouraged in every corner of the city.

If Boston can continue this pace for development and combine it with investment in education and the arts, then not only will 2012 be a banner year for the city, but we may be on the precipice of living in a whole new Boston.

– Nick Downing, Future Boston Program Manager

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About Future Boston Alliance

Future Boston Alliance is a non-profit organization seeking to revolutionize our city's creative economy. By advocating for new talent and businesses and holding educational events, we aim to make Boston a hub for collaboration, innovation, and culture.

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