Last week, the Boston Globe Editorial Board supported preservation and re-use of the Old Northern Avenue Bridge (click here to read this much-appreciated editorial).
Today, Boston historian Jane Holtz Kay published a wonderful follow-up op-ed on the editorial page of The Boston Globe. It is reprinted here...
Save the Northern Ave. Bridge
By Jane Holtz Kay, 11/22/99
They kept the cards and letters coming. Thousands of postcard ''Greetings from the Northern Avenue Bridge'' landed on the mayor's desk, the red letters inscribed above the view. They kept the meetings coming, too, and the signing of petitions; the knocking on doors, and the parading with posters, even the advocates paddling boats in the waters of the Fort Point Channel where they fought the good fight for the bridge over troubled waters.
They won interim victories. Judges and lawyers battled quietly to save the splendid pedestrian bridge that made their courthouse walkable. James Hook, the third Hook in the lobster family, signed on to save it. Architects supported it for its aesthetic and engineering distinction; preservationists for its historic significance.
The postcards multiplied. The list of names on the petitions lengthened. And several dozen of the city's most diverse and articulate preservationists, urbanists, walkers, bikers, architects, historians, and neighbors came to the Landmarks Commission hearing to praise the bridge. Only the developer of its replacement demurred.
And so last week the Northern Avenue Bridge was made a landmark. The commission's designation was unanimous. All hailed the decision as a victory for the hope that this seaworthy bit of history would endure to connect the old core of the Shawmut Peninsula to the South Boston waterfront hot spot.
Much good it did. A week ago Friday Mayor Thomas Menino said no. He vetoed the designation and pulled out the props. The reason, he said, was the $2.3 million price tag - about the cost of three Big Dig billboards and coffee with cream and sugar for the diggers. Nobody believed him.
The real reason was clear - politics, politics, politics: debts owed, debts imagined, debts to come, debts to Representative Moakley combined with a misconception of what makes a city. But let's not give politics a bad name. All politics is local, as they say, but why does dealing with locale always have to be political? And why isn't it political to pay heed to the populace, not wheel and deal with developers? We may have a city dazzled by prosperity, but it is not blind to causes, to caring for the bridge, to concern for the hard-won Seaport plan.
We have learned that all that glitters - windswept towers, assaulted neighborhoods, rising prices - is not urban gold. And the proposal for the Northern Avenue Bridge replacement by Forest City development is the purest kind of dross. This three-story, 149,500-square-foot mall cum office, chosen over two better proposals, is worse than an overscaled pseudo-steamboat blocking the view.
It is illegal. That proposed building not only obscures the harbor but drains the water of Fort Point Channel, stealing the shoreline and breaking the federal preservation mandate (Section 106) that permitted construction of the Moakley Bridge.
Beyond these violations, vetoing the Northern Avenue Bridge's landmarking is an ill omen for Boston's future. Join this affront with the oversized projects sneaking forth from developers of Fan Pier, Pier 4, and Massport. Observe the projects planned or already visible on the waterfront, and you see a city submerged by profiteers.
Find someone who thinks that the Seaport's mega-convention center proposal is a superb bit of urban planning, its hotel a gem of architecture, its landscape a model of walkability, or its clunky public transportation anything more than inadequate, and you'll find a developer, political partisan, or some weary pillar of resignation who doesn't think Boston can do better.
Boston can. We in this smart and savvy city - the folks who sent the cards and letters in fact and in spirit - are far smarter than the politicians think. We appreciate the city's integrity far more than the flash-in-the pan developers doted on by politicians. And, where we are active and supported by city leaders, we flourish. (The flagging Millennium monster for the Back Bay is one instance.)
Where we are weak and unsupported, thwarted by the mayor, trounced by the pseudo-mayor James Kerasiotes at the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority or the pseudo-governor at Massport - projects like the Northern Avenue Bridge are in trouble.
Support could and should happen here, however. The Massachusetts Historical Commission should push the feds to hold fast to their agreement to maintain an open waterway. They should insist we keep the bridge a bridge, not a clunky building. The mayor who shredded the Landmark vote and spurned the good sense of the activists should and could recant.
This is an iconic time and place, a time and place to make the greeting of those postcards a true welcome and the Northern Avenue Bridge a walkable link to Boston's future as a civilized city.
Jane Holtz Kay is the author of the expanded ''Lost Boston,'' a nd ''Asphalt Nation: How the Automobile Took Over America and How We Can Take It Back.''
This story ran on page A15 of the Boston Globe on 11/22/99.
©Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.
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