News & Updates

Mayor Menino Announces American Planning Association Designates Back Bay One of the Top 10 Great Neighborhoods for 2010

Oct 13, 2010

Mayor Thomas M. Menino is proud to announce that the American Planning Association (APA) designated the Back Bay as one of the 10 Great Neighborhoods for 2010 under the organization’s Great Places in America program. APA Great Places exemplify exceptional character and highlight the role planners and planning play in creating communities of lasting value. Also designated in Boston as one of APA’s Great Places for 2010 is the Emerald Necklace.

APA singled out the elegant Back Bay for its Victorian houses – considered by some to be the finest collection of its kind in the country; its successful retail and commercial area with some of the tallest buildings in New England; extensive public open spaces anchored by the Esplanade, the Public Garden and Commonwealth Avenue Mall; and engaged residents, business and corporate leaders, and citizen groups.

“It’s exciting to learn that the APA has designated the Back Bay a ‘Great Place in America’,” Mayor Thomas M. Menino said. “Residents and visitors have long recognized this great neighborhood as a gem in the City of Boston with its elegant streets, unique shops, great restaurants and vintage homes. The Back Bay truly exemplifies the way in which residential and commercial communities can come together to create a vibrant blend of history and modernity.”

“The Back Bay epitomizes the characteristics that make ideal urban design, inspirational city planning and wonderful neighborhoods and as such I’m delighted to see that the APA has recognized it as a ‘Great Place in America’,” added John F. Palmieri, Director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority. “The Back Bay is home to a dedicated community of participants who work toward the future of this neighborhood while also honoring its historic past. It is because of their efforts, in partnership with the professional planners and project managers of the BRA, that the overall quality of the neighborhood is unsurpassed.”

Through Great Places in America, APA recognizes unique and authentic characteristics found in three essential components of all communities – streets, neighborhoods, and public spaces. APA Great Places offer better choices for where and how people work and live and are defined by many things including planning, architectural styles, accessibility and community involvement. Since APA began Great Places in America in 2007, 40 neighborhoods, 40 streets and 30 public spaces have been designated in 47 states and the District of Columbia.

“We’re very excited to name the Back Bay as one of this year’s Great Neighborhoods,” said APA Chief Executive Officer Paul Farmer, FAICP. “The neighborhood is an exquisite blend of 19th and 20th Century influences, from its Victorian homes and Frederick Olmsted-designed parks to the modern skyscrapers along the ‘High Spine,’” he added.

Farsighted planning, zoning and other measures led to the neighborhood’s streets being laid out in a series of oblong blocks made land by filling tidal mudflats in the 19th century. Commonwealth Avenue, a 32-acre tree-lined mall modeled after a Parisian boulevard, is the neighborhood’s central axis. The area’s elegant parks and unique open spaces is virtually unmatched among comparably sized neighborhoods, from the 24-acre Public Garden with Victorian statuary, swan boats, and botanical displays to the three-mile long Charles River Esplanade designed in the 20th century as a linear waterfront park with its Hatch Shell, popular for its Fourth of July concerts performed by the Boston POPS.

The Back Bay Residential District and Back Bay Architectural Commission was established by state law in 1966 and the area was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. In the 1960s, Boylston Street and later Newbury Street began a neighborhood commercial and retail transformation. Today a mixed-use area of boutiques and national high end shops and restaurants exist along with a line of skyscrapers that serve as an economic engine that form the city’s “High Spine.” Among these buildings are the John Hancock Building, by world renowned architect I.M. Pei, the Prudential Center and other commercial office towers. The Back Bay Association is the advocate for the business community including hotels, major corporations, schools and churches.

Providing a voice for residents has been the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay. Among the issues the group has addressed were successfully opposing high-rise buildings along Commonwealth Avenue and working with the city to set height limitations along Newbury, Boylston and other streets.

For more information about these neighborhoods, as well as APA’s top 10 Great Streets, top 10 Great Public Spaces, and designations between 2007 and 2009, visit

This year's Great Places in America are being celebrated as part of APA's National Community Planning Month during October; for more about the special month, visit

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