CityOfBoston Official An official website of the City of Boston

This is the website for the City of Boston’s new Planning Department, which launched on July 1. The staff and many responsibilities of the Boston Planning & Development Agency have moved to the Planning Department of the City of Boston including planning & zoning, urban design, development review, and real estate divisions. Please excuse any misalignment you may see on our site as we transition to the City. Learn more

News & Updates

Exhibition showcasing past, present, and future of urban renewal opens at West End Museum

Sep 25, 2015

It was a scene that wouldn’t have even been contemplated sixty years ago, as West End residents and staff from the Boston Redevelopment Authority mingled over wine and cheese and discussed urban renewal. The agency that approved the demolition and redevelopment of the old West End and the museum whose mission it is to preserve the history and culture of that neighborhood held an opening reception for a new exhibition entitled Dewey Defeats Truman/The Housing Act of 1949

The exhibition traces the origins of urban renewal, which President Harry S. Truman pushed as a solution to America’s post-World War II housing crisis. Staff from the BRA designed a complementary exhibit about the future of urban renewal as part of the larger program. The unique partnership with the museum is an example of the BRA’s efforts to creatively and thoughtfully engage the public as the agency seeks a ten-year extension of its urban renewal authority. The exhibition is free and open to the public and will be on display until January 2016.

Director Brian Golden set the tone for the evening by issuing the first ever apology on behalf of the BRA to the West End for the damage that urban renewal strategies of old caused. Original West End residents that were in attendance remarked that they never thought they would live to see the day when this happened.

Below are Director Golden’s prepared remarks from the reception.

Thank you Duane [Lucia] and Susan [Hanson] for hosting us here tonight and for allowing me to say a few words. Despite the history of the BRA’s relationship with the West End, I think we can all agree that this museum is one of Boston’s hidden treasures.

And that’s why it’s so great to be here with all of you tonight as we begin a new chapter by reflecting on the past and contemplating what the future holds. I know we have some original West Enders, like Jim Campano, in attendance with us. Jim, I hope we’ll get to spend a minute together this evening. I’m looking forward to hearing people’s stories.

By the time I was born in the mid ‘60s the old West End had already been demolished in the name of so called “slum clearance” and a misguided redevelopment strategy. However, I feel it’s only appropriate that I set the tone for this event and our relationship going forward by acknowledging and apologizing for the past misdeeds of the BRA.

Although the destruction happened decades ago, the scars still remain. Time has helped to heal these wounds, but the lessons we have all learned from the West End is what brings us together tonight.

The BRA of today in no way condones the destruction of neighborhoods and the displacement of residents that happened in urban renewal’s wake. And I want to offer my heartfelt apology on behalf of the agency to the families of the West End that were affected.

There’s actually a bit of irony to the fact that I’m now Director of the BRA because the neighborhood where I grew up, Allston-Brighton, saw similar demolition of homes and displacement of families due to urban renewal, albeit on a much smaller scale than the West End.

When I was first hired by the BRA in 2009, relatives and family friends would tell me “never forget what they did to our neighborhood.” And I can honestly say I haven’t forgotten, and we haven’t forgotten. We have learned.

Just as our neighborhoods have evolved, so too has urban renewal and the agency that administers it. The BRA hasn’t been in the business of clearing neighborhoods for a long time. And this year we’ve tried to engage people around urban renewal in a manner that embodies the cultural change underway at the BRA.

We’ve held dozens of meetings with community organizations to explain how urban renewal tools are used in a much more nuanced manner. We’ve gathered feedback directly from residents about updating the goals of the plans. And we’ve placed an unprecedented amount of information online for people to browse in the comfort of their own homes.

Tonight I have the pleasure of speaking to you, but I want to acknowledge the people from the BRA behind today’s exhibit. Corey Zehngebot is a planner and urban designer who has been leading our urban renewal work. And Gwen Kidera is one of our talented graphic designers that helped put together the exhibition boards you’ll see. Thank you for all the time and energy you’ve devoted to this work.

I also want to acknowledge and thank Bill Kuttner and Jim Briand, curators of the West End Museum’s feature exhibit Dewey Defeats Truman, The Housing Act of 1949.

We hope our complementary exhibit on the future of urban renewal demonstrates the enlightened approach that we’re taking. As you consider the origin story of urban renewal, I would encourage you to keep an open mind about how the tools – used much differently today than in the past – can be of great benefit to the City of Boston.

Thank you again to the West End Museum, and enjoy the rest of the evening.

Share This Article:

Subscribe to our News & Updates

*indicates required
First Name : Last Name :
Zip Code : *Email: