Walk Description

In the 1990s work began on what at the time was—and still is—one of the most ambitious urban engineering projects in history: the burying of Boston's highway system to free its historic center from traffic, shadows, and unsightliness. Dubbed the "big dig" and lasting nearly twenty years, this mammoth project recast downtown Boston, returning its historical streets to the sun and transforming a curving swath of land into one of the best urban parks in the country.

During this three-hour walking tour with a historian or architect, we will use the Big Dig as a lens to look deeper into the history of the city and trace its evolution from the 17th century to the present. This is very much a "built environment" walk, in which we'll look at buildings, streets, and the fabric of the city in order to "read" Boston's history, often hidden in overlooked details.

We will begin by discussing the legacy of English architectural and town planning ideals as manifested in the Old Massachusetts State House and Fanueil Hall, two fundamental monuments in Boston. From here we'll pass by other notable buildings, including Quincy Market, the Custom House, and the nearby warehouse buildings of the Boston Granite School, which together trace the city’s physical expansion along the shoreline. We'll discuss how the previous topography and layout of the city have influenced its present form. We will see how successive styles of commercial buildings narrate the city’s economic development during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, giving rise, eventually, to the construction of a major highway through the city's core in the 1950s.

We will discuss the story of this highway, and the dozens like it that impacted American cities all across the country from the open greenway that now marks the Big Dig. We'll examine questions of transportation, civic identity, and urban planning along this corridor. We’ll look at this project’s goals, some of its obstacles, and the ways in which it has transformed the city. Our walk along the Big Dig’s corridor of parks, the Rose Kennedy Greenway, will reveal the multiple incarnations of Boston’s social and physical identities that have defined this area over the last two centuries.

At the end of our time together we'll emerge with a deeper understanding of how Boston has changed over the century and how the current city reflects its history.


Duration: 3 hours
Category: Architecture
Venues:
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    Alex R. Goldfeld

    Alex is a public historian and the author of "The North End: A Brief History of Boston’s Oldest Neighborhood." He has been creating and leading tours of Boston’s historic neighborhoods since 2000. In addition, he also served as Director of Operations at Boston’s Museum of African American History where he spent four years overseeing the visitor experience, managing the historic sites, and facilitating tours of the Black Heritage Trail. An expert in the social history of Boston, Alex lives with his family in the North End, where he is both President and Historian of the North End Historical Society.

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    Patrice Todisco

    With over twenty years of experience managing projects and processes that enhance the public realm, Patrice has led strategic initiatives in Boston’s public and non-profit sectors including master planning, park design and green infrastructure development, community outreach, advocacy, policy, and cultural landscape research and restoration. Patrice received an MA in landscape architecture from the Harvard Graduate School of Design where she focused her studies on the evolution of the American landscape and garden design history. This fall she is teaching a course on twentieth-century urban open spaces in Boston, highlighting many of the projects she contributed to including the Central Artery/Rose Kennedy Greenway, Copley and Post Office Squares, HarborWalk, and the Charles River Basin.