In an economy where jobs and visitors often go to the places that market themselves the best, the proposal to build a Boston History Museum on the Greenway should be a no-brainer. History is Boston’s coin of the realm, and it isn’t all very well marketed here. But the current proposal continues to languish. Planners say they need to have control of a state-owned site near Faneuil Hall and Haymarket before they can raise the tens of millions of dollars to begin putting shovels into the ground.
The museum’s advocates are asking that the state give them control of the site for three years. But the state Department of Transportation, which controls the site and has been weighing the benefits of the museum against competing plans anchored by hotels or apartments, seems genuinely unsure. The planners expect some action by early September. A compromise may be in order: Give the museum a year to show that it can raise the money, and then either extend or withdraw the designation, depending on the results.
The doubters have some good arguments: The history museum and three other projects were originally chosen to develop sites above the highways ramps coming off the Greenway; none of the projects got off the ground, amid grumbling about the higher costs of building above ramps and shifting promises of state support.
Meanwhile, Boston’s other charitable institutions, including some history sites, haven’t stepped forward to embrace the history museum, fearing competition for donor dollars. But smaller projects like the new Tea Party museum or the individual sites on the Freedom Trail draw from different wells of support, from smaller foundations and individual enthusiasts. The Greenway itself, meanwhile, needs the financial backing of the property owners whose abutting parcels have soared in value after a major public investment.
The history museum, for its part, must engage the types of deep-pocketed donors and foundations who made the new American wing of the Museum of Fine Arts a glorious reality. This will be a challenge to Boston’s civic pride. Other cities, like Chicago and Philadelphia, have been successful in launching major new projects of their own.
History is Boston’s coin of the realm, and it isn’t all very well marketed here.
Civic pride and a sense of one’s own history, like intellectual capital and sparkling infrastructure, is an asset in itself. Massachusetts shouldn’t miss an opportunity to enhance its own stature.