Saturday, July 2, 2011

Case Study 4.0: Boston

I've been wanting to do Boston for a long time now. In my mind it's always been one of America's premier cities, full of myths and tales. Being the city of John Hancock, Paul Revere, and the fight for independence, Boston certainly doesn't lack for history. The city has changed dramatically since its founding by Puritans in 1630, at one time not really more than an island, with just a small sliver of land connecting it to the mainland. Over time the city was expanded by infill, most notably in the 19th century. Luckily, Boston escaped the urban renewal fad relatively unscathed. There have indeed been losses in the downtown core, now a mix of office buildings and skyscrapers, and the West End was tragically demolished. When the North End was slated for urban renewal, however, public opposition prevented it. Today, thanks to the Big Dig project, which moved a highway underground, the North End is once again part of the city. 

See the historic photos post for a view of Boston back in the day. 

In earlier days an important port city, by the 19th century manufacturing was gaining dominance in Boston, notably garments and leather goods. As in much of the country, industry left in the years after WWII and today Boston is an important biotech and financial center, home to such corporations as Fidelity Investments, Liberty Mutual, Gillette, New Balance, and Houghton Mifflin. Route 128, which circles the city, has since the 1980's attracted the high-tech industry, often drawing comparisons with Silicon Valley. There are many venture capitalists in the area. Rankings place the Greater Boston metro area as the sixth largest economy in the US, despite being tenth in population. It should therefore come as little surprise that Boston is a wealthy place, full of high-paying jobs and expensive homes. 

Boston didn't develop in a linear fashion and that is one of its most interesting aspects. It has quirky twisty streets both downtown and in residential areas like Beacon Hill, as well as elegant boulevards as in Back Bay. While I won't feature them, there are also plenty of modern high-rise condos if your inclinations run that way. In its high-tech economy, ambitions, and modest size, I see a lot of similarities with San Francisco. Both are large enough to undoubtedly be big cities, but not so large that they overwhelm, as New York often does. They're urban cities with good public transport and are easy to get around on foot. Most importantly to me, there's a wealth of beautiful urban neighborhoods full of historic homes. History is a hallmark of Boston, and I hope we'll discover plenty of impressive streetscapes in the neighborhoods I'll feature. 

The case study:

4.1  Back Bay
4.4 Conclusion

Be sure to click on each to view the full case study.


No one could confuse Back Bay with any other neighborhood. Block after block of Victorian rowhomes arranged on a perfect grid distinguishes this 19th century neighborhood from the older areas closer to downtown and for over 100 years it has been the upper class enclave of choice. 

Not annexed to the city until the 19th century, Charlestown is across the river from the city proper. Famous as the location of the Battle of Bunker Hill, of which there is a large monument, the neighborhood has had a mixed past but is now gentrifying quickly. 

Beacon Hill

Beacon Hill is quintessentially tourist Boston, characterized by cobblestones, Federal-stlye rowhomes, and old money. Both beautiful and historical, I can think of few East Coast historic districts of greater merit.  

The concluding post will feature a few images from the South End and a few other neighborhoods. I expect to find a lot of great streetscapes in Boston. Stay tuned.