THE HARDEST PART OF URBAN RENEWAL IS
THE WORD URBAN RENEWAL
This is just a quick reminder that tonight, Feb. 27, is the date for the Charlestown Urban Renewal review.
Chris Breen is coming to bring everyone up to date on just what
is happening for Charlestown and taking your questions, too. Lately he has been
all across the
city’s neighborhoods, conducting these review meetings, and he is absolutely correct that the history of urban renewal in Charlestown has been both complicated and contentious much of the time over the decades.
Back in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, folks in Charlestown did
not have to look far to see what urban renewal was doing to other city neighborhoods
like the nearby West End of Boston. It was Jim and Gloria Conway with the
Charlestown Patriot who sounded the clarion
that danger was creeping toward the Charlestown Bridge, and it was time for Charlestown to stand up united against incoming bulldozers mowing down the neighborhood in order to save it.
Charlestown in the spirit of Bunker Hill did stand together, and this community changed the way the old Boston Redevelopment Authority did things henceforth. What could’ve happened to Charlestown didn’t happen as it had done in both the West End and also to a smaller scale in the New York Streets neighborhood of the South End.
In order to understand the term “urban renewal,” you have to
remember the mindset of those post-WWII liberal politicians and urban planners who
thought the initiative meant tearing the past down and rebuilding it in their
image and likeness. I called urban renewal a brutal attack
on working class folk living in nice sometimes crowded urban communities made up of a mosaic of peoples united only by the place they all called their home.
Ironically those ‘50s and ‘60s architects came up with a modernistic architecture called “brutalism” or as I like to call it ugly and unfinished. All these forces joined hands and called the West End a blight on their eyes like they also did on those New York Streets neighborhood near where the old Boston Herald once was and where the Ink Block is today.
I watched as a child as the bulldozers razed part of my South
End and nearly all of the West End and simply wondered why. Folks in Charlestown
like the Conways and so many others didn’t want to helplessly wait for the
bulldozers to cross the two bridges leading to Charlestown – the second bridge
being Prison Point Bridge. They acted
as a community and stopped those BRA plans from ever getting implemented.
As Chris reminded readers last week right in this paper, Mayor John F. Collins once said that Townies got a good deal because they fought against any “Westendization” of their community.
Remember tonight is that review meeting over at the Knights. If I were you I would get there a little after 6 p.m. to get a seat. The place should be mobbed, as it should be.
The future of Charlestown is in our hands. Either we run the agenda or the agenda runs us. It is our business to remain in control of our own future, and nobody else’s.