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Beyond The Big Dig
About this project

What happens to the ribbon of land being created by the depression of the Central Artery may be the most important development decision to face Boston in a generation.


Boston in 2004


IT IS a time for celebration -- and planning. Boston's success in landing the 2004 Democratic National Convention brought cheers from political and business leaders at City Hall, and rightly so.

Mayor Menino's perseverance was the key ingredient; his attempt to bring a national convention here was called a fool's errand when he began it five years ago, as he noted yesterday afternoon at City Hall. But he rallied a degree of community support rarely seen in Boston. Senator Edward Kennedy also worked doggedly to bring the convention to the Fleet Center, at the northern end of the Rose Kennedy Greenway, just blocks from his mother's birthplace in the North End.

But the cheers must turn to serious work if Boston and Massachusetts are to capitalize fully on an unprecedented opportunity.

A few days of nice pictures on national TV -- assuming the convention runs smoothly -- would not justify the investment. The nation already knows that Boston has lobsters, the Red Sox, and old brick buildings. Other cities have successfully used major events to stimulate equally memorable improvements.

Menino was on this track when he said at City Hall that he would not consider the convention a major part of his legacy. He said he expected to be judged on his efforts to make the city a better place for all its people. This means not getting fixated on the convention.

But later he connected the two, saying he intends to "use the convention as an economic development tool." For instance, Menino said he would make sure that local small businesses are included with the large ones in convention activities; that convention-related events are scheduled throughout the city's neighborhoods; and that local people become engaged -- in particular hundreds of young people working as volunteers.

This and more will be needed from City Hall, but it will take additional effort to realize the full potential. The private sector should be expected to use this event as a target date to begin construction on major development projects such as the Fan Pier. Leaders from medicine, technology, higher education, and financial services will want to show why Boston is a capital of these endeavors and to do so in a way that stimulates long-term improvements.

At the top of this list should be the Central Artery. Officials should make sure that the tunnels are operating in both directions, as now planned, and that surface streets are in place. And while it might be impossible to complete the surface parks in time, every effort should be made to remove the elevated roadway and create attractive open spaces.

There are no guarantees. Many people talked of using the turn of the millennium as a prod for major civic projects, but little happened. Now, with five years having gone into the pursuit of the Democratic Convention and only 20 months left until it starts, there is no time to waste.

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
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