The cranes rising above Boston’s Seaport district mark the spot where Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s legacy looks to be rising. The Seaport that Menino inherited 20 years ago consisted of hundreds of acres of rotting piers, windswept parking lots, and shabby brick warehouses. He will leave City Hall with gleaming new restaurants, apartments, and office towers rising along the waterfront, and the old warehouses buzzing with young tech firms. This part of Menino’s development legacy stands out, because it’s both obvious and hugely tangible. But focusing on what Menino built crowds out his real accomplishment, which was changing the relationship between Boston neighborhoods and downtown development.
Roiling tension over development defined Menino’s predecessors. Kevin White built the Financial District and saved Faneuil Hall, but left office caricatured as a downtown mayor. Ray Flynn framed his successful 1983 mayoral run against White’s downtown focus, arguing that he would return City Hall’s focus to the city’s neighborhoods. Flynn’s opponent, Mel King, tacked in the same direction.