Editorials

EDITORIAL

Boston isn’t Palo Alto. And that’s the point.

DAVID RYAN/BOSTON GLOBE PHOTO

Fort Point Channel bridge.

Does Palo Alto have useless but cool old bridges over its streets?

No, it does not. That’s a big reason the agreement by General Electric to preserve the unusual pedestrian bridge at its new Boston headquarters is good news not just for neighbors in the Fort Point Channel area who love the quirky structure, but for a city whose character is a big selling point over its warmer — but much less interesting — competitors.

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The bridge, built about a century ago, connected two buildings that once belonged to the NECCO candy company. At the time it was constructed, the street level in the manufacturing and warehouse district would have been a cacophony of horse-drawn carts and trains. As the Fort Point Channel area was being filled in, crisscrossed with roads and train tracks, and turned into industrial land, factories built such connecting structure to rise above the din. “Bridges and overpasses between buildings are character-defining features of the District,” a 2008 city report said.

GE initially planned to remove the unused bridge when it moves into its new headquarters, in 2018, but neighbors and Mayor Walsh convinced them to shift gears. “They are treasures,” said Fort Point artist Karen McFeaters of the district’s overhead bridges. Greg Galer, the executive director of the Boston Preservation Alliance, said the bridges “are the physical demonstration of the fact that these buildings were a part of a larger machine, a larger system, where people and goods had to move around.”

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Indeed, the whole Fort Point Channel area still remains remarkably intact, even as the manufacturing and warehouse industry it was built for have vanished. If the city can work out an arrangement to preserve the nearby Northern Avenue Bridge, it would further protect the area’s historic vibe.

For GE, a company whose historical roots are in the industrial age, preserving the bridge in a new headquarters makes a perfect symbol of its own transformation. It’s also a great investment in its new community. Good for GE and Mayor Walsh for ensuring that a piece of the 20th century keeps enriching the city in the 21st.

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