The rugged red cobblestones. Shoppers carrying bags from Filene’s. Window shopping for the best department store deals. The intricate architecture. For many, that’s the essence of Downtown Crossing. But soon, what many know and love about this area will undergo a major transformation- a rising 53 story tower that will change the way people view the heart of the city.
This is one of the numerous efforts to revamp old Boston. The Millennium Tower Apartments at Downtown Crossing, the addition to Copley Plaza, as well as an addition to the Boston Garden, are just few of many. The newly elected Mayor Martin Walsh is now leading the process of transforming the face of the city, a shift from former Mayor Tom Menino, who for decades strove to balance the hub’s historical character with technological and cultural development.
New construction spurs job growth, and generates further revenue to the city in the form of property taxes.
Residents proposed an Innovation District that would shape the flow of ideas in belief that this type of concept would improve the city.
“The idea of an Innovation District is more the future for Boston, but hopefully will bring new profits to the city as well as creating more affordable housing,” said Boston Municipal Research Bureau President Sam Tyler.
The big question is how will this city keep a balance of history and new development.
“A lot of what was traditional business has changed,” Tyler explained.
He added that Boston has started to lose its puritanical roots, notably from longer work hours and later transportation.
Some may think that Paul Revere and John Quincy Adams would be spinning in their graves seeing Chipotle sitting next to the Old Meeting House, a place where important debates and decisions for the city would occur, but moving forward may be highly profitable.
Walsh has not been in office long enough to compare his ideas to Menino’s.
“Menino served for 20 years and went through the worst recession, steering the city through tough times,” Tyler added.
Tyler said that Walsh will continue the policies that Menino implemented as well as pursuing his own plans to revitalize Boston.
Downtown Crossing may be set for completion by 2016. This course of transitioning may be hard for some residents, but the acceptance to move forward is necessary, but some feel it could be beneficial in the long run.
“This change could improve the downtown economy, especially by bringing in new business and foot traffic,” said local shopper Doris Dufor. “Although it’s hard to adapt to change sometimes, in this case seeing our old Downtown Crossing become modernized, it’s still a positive venture along with a positive impact for professional and commercial development and our future generation.”
“Inevitably, with this large scale development, the city will invite a new generation of Bostonians to be the heartbeat of Downtown crossing,” said Marblehead resident Diane Glavin. “They will start to populate the residences, work in the offices and socialize in the restaurants.”
Construction worker surveys site of Millennium Tower. (Photo by Jordan Gauthier)
The South End on a Saturday night can be summed up in one word: bustling. Chic new restaurants spring up frequently along the trendy streets of Tremont and Washington, attracting the city’s most adventurous young adult crowd with candlelit outdoor seating and valet parking.
But a few blocks away, a different kind of crowd forms a queue along Massachusetts Avenue, lining up outside the entrance to the ground level of a residential brownstone. From inside it drift the smooth, nostalgic melodies of jazz, echoing a seemingly forgotten era of South End history–the era when this very street was the hub of a vibrant and nationally-renowned jazz scene.
This venue is none other than Wally’s Jazz Cafe, one of the oldest family owned and operated jazz clubs in existence, and the first African-American owned nightclub in New England, according to jazzboston.org. It has featured the great legends of jazz music–Charlie Parker, Art Blakey, even Billie Holiday.
Founded in 1947 by Barbadian immigrant Joseph L. Walcott, Wally’s is now run by his daughter Elynor Walcott with the help of her three sons.
However, Wally’s is now known not only for its musical accomplishments, but for a distinction slightly bittersweet: it is considered the last remainder of the South End’s jazz heydey. On a street once dominated by the strong cultural presence of dozens of similar jazz clubs, Wally’s now stands alone as the only extant club to have witnessed Boston’s jazz scene at its peak.
It thrives now as a testament to the survival of a cultural element that has been pushed aside at the expense of urban development.
Wally’s is no doubt a central part of its neighborhood’s past, which it increasingly resembles as the neighborhood undergoes demographic shifts. The South End was once the heart of Boston’s black community. As of 2010, however, the neighborhood was 49.5% white, according to Census records. And while it still remains relatively diverse, an increase in its white population and simultaneous decrease in black residents points to an influx of the loaded term “gentrification,” especially since the population of whites in Boston as a whole has declined during the same time period. Rising property values correspond to these changes.
This gentrification is reflected in the neighborhood’s culture, as exemplified by the current conversion of two historically Black churches into luxury condos.
Yet Wally’s manages to keep its portion of the South End’s history alive.
“Wally’s hasn’t changed, only the neighborhood has,” said owner Elynor Walcott. Although the clientele has changed, she added, Wally’s is still “quite a landmark.”
“People who were born and raised here who come back home, they look for Wally’s, and it’s always there,” she said.
Walcott attributes this success to her family’s ties to the neighborhood.
“The people that own and operate it were born into it and raised up into it,” she says. “That’s one factor that has kept Wally’s here.”
In 2011, the Walcotts were honored with the Jazz Journalists Association’s “Jazz Heroes Award,” presented to advocates of jazz who have had “significant impact in their local communities.”
Wally’s was commended for providing young musicians the opportunity to play at this self-proclaimed “musicians’ training ground,” which has played a large role in integrating the South End community.
“Wally’s is an important link between the academic world and the real world,” said Eric Gould, chair of Jazz Composition at the Berklee College of Music. “The location and affordability of Wally’s remove the cost barriers that often make jazz inaccessible to communities.”
And Wallys’ community is thankful for that. Recently, musician Warren Wolf released a track called “427” after Wallys’ address, in honor of the place where he, and many before him, got his start.
May 17 marked the 10th anniversary of Massachusetts’ first same-sex marriages. Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health, a landmark MA Supreme Judicial Court case, made the state the first in the nation to legalize gay marriage.
Rapid developments have since taken place within the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. Today same-sex marriage is legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia.
Carisa Cunningham, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD)’s Director of Public Affairs and Education, deems this a success, but has greater designs moving forward.
“We have 19 states,” she said, “and we need 50.”
GLAD’s Senior Attorney, Ben Klein, is likewise hopeful for the future.
“When those things happen it’s reflective of where the culture in general is moving,” he said of courts striking down gay marriage bans.
GLAD initiated the lawsuit legalizing same-sex marriage in MA by suing the Department of Health on behalf of same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses. After Superior Court Judge Thomas Connolly ruled in favor of the Dept. of Health, GLAD’s lawyer Mary Bonauto appealed directly to the Supreme Judicial Court – and won.
Since then, the LGBT rights movement has cast its net over a variety of issues.
For example, in June MA Gov. Deval Patrick approved a measure to provide insurance coverage for transgender medical care. His administration announced a new policy that will cover gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy through MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program. The Bay State is now the third state in the nation to offer health care for this type of treatment. Several private companies already provide employees with similar options.
Groups that oppose the gay rights movement, such as the Massachusetts Family Institute, disapprove. They assert that the surgery is not a reliable treatment for gender dysphoria, a conflict between a person’s physical gender and the one with which he or she identifies.
“Those statements come from a place of lack of understanding,” said Klein. “Every major medical organization agrees that these procedures are standard.”
Despite opposition, supporters of the movement continue to celebrate developments every year.
For example, organizers indicate that 25,000 marched during Boston’s 44th annual Pride Parade, which was led by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Gov. Patrick. Groups ranging from churches to university clubs to members of the city’s LGBT communities participated in the festivities on June 14, marking the parade’s increasing diversity. Events included dances, concerts and a worship service to conclude a week of celebration.
Cities across the country recognize Pride during June to memorialize New York City’s monumental Stonewall Riots, which are considered a catalyst of the LGBT rights movement.
By contrast, Walsh avoided 2014’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade after parade coordinators, the Allied War Veterans Council, failed to make an agreement with advocacy organization MassEquality to allow members of the LGBT community to march openly. While they would allow gays and lesbians to march in the parade, signs and clothing bearing explicit declarations of sexual orientation, such as the word “gay,” were banned.
“The reason for this rejection was a clear violation of our ‘no sexual orientation’ rule, and not that we ban gay people as reported by the press,” said the Council in an official statement. “Any[one] should be allowed to march, regardless of sexual orientation.”
Cunningham does not foresee a shift in policy anytime soon.
“As long as the same people are in charge of the parade, we aren’t going to see a change,” she said.
Ten years after GLAD’s lawyers helped to push through same-sex marriage legislation, Cunningham acknowledges that her organization still has work to do. But, “in general, increased visibility of the [LGBT] community has benefited everybody,” she said.
Clean eating, the latest craze to sweep the Hub, has resulted in new vegan-and vegetarian-
friendly restaurants making their way across all parts of Boston.
As city officials and the state legislature have reinforced the correlation between improper diets and detrimental effects on the body, Bostonians have become increasingly conscious of such dangers.
Starting in 2008, when the Boston Public Health Commission placed a ban on products containing trans fats, the awareness of healthy eating increased citywide. This act sparked a domino effect, encouraging many residents to turn to healthy eating as a result of the participation of their peers.
“I look for organic products when shopping now, I heard they’re better,” says Su Aung, a Northeastern student. “Watching my friends eat clean has inspired me to do so as well.” The 2008 ban informed the public that the consumption of this hydrogenated oil will result in numerous health issues such as heart disease, strokes, and high cholesterol.
Since then, the Commission has worked to increase awareness of many other health risks. The agency has implemented programs to raise awareness of the importance of understanding nutrition labels as well as programs working to decrease the consumption of foods containing high sodium. Its most recent campaign, Sugar Smarts, aims at educating parents on the dangers of the overconsumption of sugary beverages such as certain juices.
“We make sure there are programs to address obesity among the Latino and African American communities of the city, said the Commission’s Director of Obesity and Hypertension Prevention Nineequa Blanding, “We want to raise awareness.”
Throughout recent years, statistics from the American Heart Association have shown that Latino and African American residents are at the highest risk for obesity, where over fifty percent of the adult population is overweight or obese.
Six years after the ban, Boston has become much more aware of the existing health “I eat solely vegetables for a few days each month as a type of cleanse,” said Boston resident Chanyu Jai.
Jai, along with many other Bostonians, have turned to diets and cleanses as a way of keeping their health on track.
To adapt to the increasing health consciousness of the city, many vegan-and vegetarian-friendly restaurants have emerged. From Hyde Park to Charlestown, restaurants with specific focuses on dairy-free, gluten-free, and organic products now cater to residents of the city.
Allsoton’s FoMu offers gluetn-free cones. (Photo by Tia DiSalvo)
Deena Jalal owns two vegan restaurants in Allston. FoMu, a plant-based ice cream shop, and Root, a “feel good” restaurant, both work to provide a plethora of options to those whom are conscious consumers.
“We realized that there were lots of people with many different allergies to things such as nuts or gluten,” said Jalal, “We wanted to help them.”
“It’s an increased trend. We are influenced by what we are learning, which is constantly evolving,” Jalal said about the sudden influx of healthy eaters in the city.
She also explained how becoming a parent plays a large role in becoming a conscious consumer.
“Keep the weird words away from the kids. If I can’t pronounce it, I shouldn’t eat it.”
Sitting on a North End Park bench, the sounds of the traffic, squealing tires and honking horns fade to a hum in the background. The sound of laughing children while playing in the Canal Fountain fill the air. People lounge in the grass to soak up the sun. The smells of the flowers and food is overwhelming.
The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway has been improving since the Big Dig. Gardens and open space provide a place for Bostonians to escape the hustle of the city and soak in some sunshine. Events and concerts draw excitable crowds. The atmosphere of the Greenway, which first opened in 2009, has gotten positive feedback from the public.
“Attendance has increased dramatically, from 96,000 in 2009, to 215,000 in 2010, to 372,000 in 2011, and 622,000 last year,” wrote Boston Globereporter Michael Levenson in 2013. These numbers have only gone up since, last year bringing 801,000 patrons.
The Big Dig, providing more than 300 acres of open space, allowed for the development of the Greenway. However, the area was not always a vibrant urban playground.
It was once an elevated highway turned construction zone. Hundreds of volunteers, such as the Americorps, an ambitious national community service group, worked to clean it up. Plans were not only for green space, but a YMCA, a new center for Arts and Culture, Garden Under Glass, and a museum. But all of these plans were abandoned, all that was left was green space- not that people seem to be complaining.
“It used to be a disaster here. It was pretty ugly,” said Revere resident Elizabeth Marashi, who was relaxing and enjoying the weather. “When this opened up, it became more enjoyable.”
The Greenway is composed of several parks connecting Downtown to the Waterfront, each having its own individual feel. The parks that make up the Greenway are the North End Parks, Wharf District Parks, Fort Point Channel Parks, Dewey Square Park and Chinatown Park.
The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy is a non-profit organization that has worked to maintain the Greenway. This includes organizing events and commissioning temporary art installments. Along with these duties, the Conservancy maintains all its gardens organically, the only park in Boston to do so.
The Parks include gardens, walkways, picnic areas and seven water features, including Rings Fountain.
Recently added, the Greenway Carousel features animals native to the Bay State, such as butterflies, a whale, a falcon and even a skunk, all drawn by elementary school children. The Carousel, which opened last August, has been a major attraction and a unique addition to the site.
“People weren’t really sure if they could come here, so we had to find ways to attract them here,” said Charlie McCabe, director of public programs with the Conservancy.
More improvements are coming soon. The Boston Redevelopment Authority approved a new study into permanently covering open access ramps in a board meeting June 19th. The Greenway Ramp Parcel Study will review the state guidelines for covering highway ramps. The possibilities of coverings range from horizontal to landscaping or architectural.
Also coming to the parks are different art pieces. The biggest piece soon being installed is a sculpture made of fishnets by Brookline artist Janet Echelman that will be suspended between buildings in Dewey Square.
The Greenway started out as an eyesore for the city, but with the improvements that have been and will be made, it has become an innovative hotspot.
The Boston Harbor was once a disgusting, unhealthy area; a drag on the Hub, but in the year of 2014, our harbor is among the cleanest in the country. This was not an easy task; it took many decades and over $4 billion, but today we can appreciate the work put into the cleaning of the harbor by strolling along the 47 mile Harborwalk, which is about 84% done since the project first began in 1984.
The Boston Harbor Association in partnership with the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the city are able to maintain a beautiful trail of waterfront parks that consist of tables, chairs, disability accessible pathways and more, which make up the Harborwalk that stretches across the harbor’s six waterfront communities.
The best part of Harborwalk according to visitors: it is completely free.
“Everyone should be able to enjoy it,” said Vivien Li, the president of the Boston Harbor Association.
Harborwalk is maintained by the business and development that lies on the waterfront. They are guided by the association to maintain a 12 feet wide walkway with public amenities, most popular being public art or interpretive signage.
To ensure that the Harborwalk stays in mint-condition, the association frequently makes sure that the developers who are in charge of a section of the walk are frequent in their attempts to keep their walkways up-to-par.
“We are the noisy ones,” said Li.
Harborwalk has transformed the harbor to show its improvements, while emphasizing the beauty of the ocean. Since its beginning, this project has brought in details to enhance the Boston skyline; showcasing 3 decades of buildings and culture.
The John Joseph Moakley States Courthouse, equipped with 2.5 acres of Harborwalk, is one of the more intricate additions to the skyline. To Li, this section of the Walk is the quiet part, a great place to read a book or bring a date. Walking through this quaint garden and walking area, you will see iron silhouettes of clipper ships, which to the courts was an “educational opportunity” said Li.
Also featured here is a garden by Carol R. Johnson & Associates which is equipped with plant life that can withstand the salty ocean air: a great fit for a harbor side garden.
As you make your way over to the Fan Pier section of the Harborwalk, the sense of innovation in the attempt to aim at the younger generations is shown in the architecture and style. High-scale restaurants and stores line this section of the coast alongside new buildings like the Institute of Contemporary Art and Vertex Pharmaceuticals, which are fairly new buildings bringing added character to the improving waterfront.
To make sure the Harborwalk maintains its goal of drawing people to the water, the association alongside Mayor Menino and others have worked to make sure that everybody can find something to enjoy on the waterfront.
“We are trying to be sure it pertains to people of low income,” says Li.
It is very important that the developing harbor is able to attract a variety of visitors, as it is doing so far. To do so, the Harborwalk will continue its goal of promoting a clean and free way to enjoy the views along the walk.
“We will ensure the public has access to enjoy a clean harbor,” Li added.
As summer creeps upon the city, you will find more people using the walk. From tourists and city workers to families and students, the hangouts along the Harborwalk are becoming packed, and the reaction is positive.
“The waterfront used to be dark and dreary,” says Ailene Rodrigues, who has been familiar with Boston for many years. “Now I am able to move about more areas, it’s definitely an improvement,” she added.
Similarly, a couple from Danvers, MA enjoys a walk along Long Wharf.
“The waterfront has become a combination of new and old Boston” wife Lisa Newton said. “It’s beautiful.”
When you drive through the city on any given day within the last 30 years or so, it is almost impossible to not see a crane mingled in with the sky line; indicating the vast improvements that are happening.
With all the movement occurring around the city, Li makes sure to emphasize the safety around the waterfront, “There is almost no crime happening along the walk,” she said.
In order to ensure a clean city, there are many steps being taken along projects including the Harborwalk and the Greenway, like adding more trash cans and employing people to pick up trash, the outcome is looking good.
For Li and the association, conserving the identity of Boston is hard when innovative technology and futuristic architecture is transforming city life. Harborwalk works to appreciate the old and emphasize the new.
“It’s hard,” said Li. “Developers can do what they want,” she continues “you just try the best that you can,” she said.
Luckily, our city is rich of history with the Freedom Trail, the North End, the Boston Common and so on. For sections of the city, like the waterfront, to assimilate with the millennial trends is a great addition to the city’s profile, as many daily visitors along the harbor would point out.