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Heading back to the future

It's a gorgeous September afternoon in the year 2015, and as I walk along what used to be known as the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway in downtown Boston I am brimming with pride over the announcement that our great civic leaders have just made about this spectacular space.

Oh, sure, it was a struggle to get here, what with the typical finger-pointing, the rampant hand-wringing, and the trademark fear-mongering that characterizes too much of Boston, now, then, and always. But today made it all worthwhile.

Some of the previous incarnations of this space, in retrospect, may not have seemed ideal. There was that whole chain-link fence era, beginning in 2005, when the YMCA and Massachusetts Horticultural Society abandoned plans to build grand public facilities on the land.

Business leaders weren't kicking in any money, and politicians repeatedly said there wasn't any rush. Still, remember that famous photo of civic godfather and chief Greenway fund-raiser Peter Meade sitting in South Station with a tin cup begging for spare change?

That was followed by Senator Ted Kennedy's famous press conference in 2007, when he appeared to cry as he announced that he was pulling his beloved mother's name from the barren patch of dirt that never actually had a hint of green to it, unless you count the moss that gathered in the razor wire during one particularly rainy spring. Kennedy staffers argued that his tears were caused by wind-blown debris from the hulking piles of nearby dirt that cluttered the land.

Of course, there was the unfortunate decision to build a massive water theme park on the property, complete with the Aquaboggin that put more pressure on the roof of the Tip O'Neill tunnel than Big Dig engineers might have liked. That led to yet another fissure, and suddenly JoJo, the park's beloved trained dolphin, was swimming amid rush-hour traffic, allowing for that famous headline in the local tabloid: ''FINished!"

Let's not even get into Tom Menino's attempt to put a slot machine parlor on the land, complete with 2 acres of incredibly well-lighted parking. For better or worse, that came to an end in 2009, when auto dealer Herb Chambers spent $27 million of his own money to get elected mayor of Boston.

Two months after he was sworn in, Chambers sneaked a provision through the City Council that allowed the construction of an AutoMile on an abandoned stretch of the former Rose Kennedy Greenway. City Council President Michael Flaherty was quoted in the papers saying, ''I had no idea. I thought I was voting myself another raise."

Chambers's Kia and Hyundai dealerships were going gangbusters, until Ernie Boch Jr. bought up the abandoned Fan Pier, opened his own downtown car lots, and the two drove each other into bankruptcy. The former adversaries banded together and opened up a go-kart track and the ''world's longest miniature golf course" right there on the site of the old Central Artery. It never did quite as well as most people had hoped.

Which brings me to today, Sept. 20, 2015. David Ortiz, just a year after slugging the Red Sox to yet another World Series victory, is governor. Johnny Damon is lieutenant governor, having coined the immortal campaign slogan, ''Dude, why not?" Matt Amorello is still chairman of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority because -- well, no one knows why. He just is.

Amorello steps to the microphone. For purposes of accuracy, let's go directly to his speech:

''Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you great news today. We say no more leaks, no more traffic backups, no more fear every time motorists drive into the crumbling tunnels of the Big Dig.

''Ladies and gentlemen, upon this very land where we now stand, we will build a modern, elevated roadway, a futuristic highway in the sky. We will paint it green. Drivers will be given glorious views of the city and the sea. Boston will never be the same again!"

And the crowd goes wild.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

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