Boston’s identity crisis

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The Boston skyline.
The Boston skyline.(Stephan Savoia)

Some people want to spend millions to save an old bridge that no one will ever drive over.

The mayor wants restaurants and bars to stay open past 2 a.m. But the governor is getting ready to end late-night T service.

The two can't wait to help General Electric build a helipad for top executives. But the failure over time to spend money to upgrade train tracks and signals is causing major delays for daily commuters on the Red Line.

Is it just me, or is Boston having a good old-fashioned identity crisis?


This city used to make sense. It was stodgy, not flashy. It celebrated intellect, not celebrity. It had a sense of duty. Boston's museums and halls of learning were its calling cards. Fun was an afternoon at the Symphony. It was also a sports town, and that it still is, although for some reason, the chip on the average fan's shoulder grows bigger with every team's success.

Now, change is not only good, it's necessary for survival.

So, no, I'm not longing for old Boston. I don't miss its prejudices, biases, and inflated sense of self. I'm glad urban renewal no longer means wiping out an entire neighborhood.

I'm thrilled restaurant menus offer more than scrod and Indian pudding. Parking meters that take credit cards are a blessing. It's nice to see the skyline surge past the old days of the Pru and the Hancock tower — I refuse to call it "200 Clarendon."

The Seaport District is fun for young and old. With its offices, nightlife, and growing, if outrageously expensive, housing stock, it's becoming the new Boston that Mayor Tom Menino envisioned 20 years ago. If only it could lure a Market Basket.


Even as I willingly embrace change, Boston's current game plan seems a little out of synch, like the Patriots against the Broncos. But maybe — as one sports writer suggested after that sorry AFC smackdown — it's execution, not game plan?

We want to be a city that never sleeps — but we don't want to spend more money on public transit that would get people home safely and economically after a late night out.

Cars have become the enemy, even though the suburbanites they carry work, play, and spend money in the city. We can't expand rail — it's too expensive. Preservationists prefer to allocate our precious dollars to repair the old Northern Avenue Bridge, over which pedestrians can saunter in search of a new bistro.

For those who bought a luxury condo on Fan Pier and flipped it for a gain of $500,000, Boston's hot housing market is a blast.

For others, it's a bummer — and another sign of the growing gap between rich and poor.

Indeed, the Brookings Institution just issued a report ranking Boston as the most unequal big city in America when it comes to income. (Boston's large student population partly explains the city's extreme income inequality.) In cities and towns where inequality is highest, the report notes, housing for lower-income households is less affordable. That's surely the case in Boston, where the median sales price for a single-family home reached $465,000 in December and $445,000 for condos, according to the Boston Business Journal.


The city, under Mayor Marty Walsh, has a record amount of affordable housing in the pipeline. The state, under Governor Charlie Baker, is also working to commit money to provide more. But few turn cartwheels over that.

It's GE, with all its tax breaks and concessions, that leaves us breathless in Boston, and ready to build any kind of bridge their executives want.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.