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Mayor Thomas M. Menino on development during his tenure: ‘We’ve had some great changes’

Excerpts from reporter Casey Ross’s conversation with Mayor Thomas M. Menino about Boston’s real estate development over the last 20 years.

When you look around the city, what are you most proud of?

Change makes cities and great change makes great cities. We’ve had some great changes. The Greenway . . . when I became mayor in 1993, all anybody said to me was, “The city is not going to survive. The Big Dig is going to kill your city because of all the construction and change and roadways and other things.” I was doubtful of that because I saw the possibilities. Look at today how the Greenway has improved our city. The Greenway is a spectacular swath of land. That’s very special to me.

Compare the economy of the city now versus 1993. What stands out the most?

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Health care and universities are the backbone of our city. During the recession, they continued to grow. They are really the foundation of Boston.

Look at the waterfront. When I took over, it was all rail yards. I remember when we did the rezoning there. A lot of people were saying, “Why are you rezoning? Nothing is going to happen down there.” But look at it today — it’s a growing neighborhood.

How can the city better serve the housing needs of the middle-class and low-income residents? It seems like everything being built downtown is luxury housing.

The big issues we have facing the next generation and the next 10 years [are] inequality and how you bring the city together so that it’s working for all the people. One of the ways is through education, the other part is through job opportunities, and the ability to create more affordable housing. That’s the 2020 plan I announced several months ago. That brings us to the point of creating 20,000 units of affordable housing in the city of Boston.

Some people say development decisions feel arbitrary, that the mayor wields too much power over development, and decisions are based on his political alliances.

I don’t make decisions based on who I like and dislike. If I did that, the city wouldn’t look the way it does today. I make decisions on what I think is right for the city. And I get input from neighborhood people.

I want to satisfy Joe Smith — [someone] who lives on his street and really cares about his neighborhood. The official meeting-goers, they’ll always be complaining, no matter who the mayor is. It’s easy to be negative. It’s tough to get to yes. We have to try to get to yes on every project. We got to yes on Harvard. We got to yes on BC, we got to yes on BU. Liberty Mutual, we got to yes on.

There is a tremendous amount of building activity in the city now. Is it hard for you to walk away from that?

I’m at peace with it, and I look forward to seeing this city developed. I think Marty Walsh will be able to carry the mantle to bring this city to the next level.

Casey Ross can be reached at cross@globe.com.
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