I read with interest “The great Boston comeback story” by Ira A. Jackson (Opinion, Nov. 2). Although one can certainly accept the explanations Jackson offers for Boston’s comeback as credible, it would be a mistake to ignore some crucial and relevant economic factors at play during the 1960s.
At that time, I was a doctoral student in economics at Brown University. In my course in urban economics, each student chose a US city to analyze in terms of the factors contributing (or not contributing) to its growth.
This was the whole assignment for the term, and we were to write a major paper on our chosen city. I chose Boston because, at the time, the city was growing after a long period of decline.
I identified three key factors in its growth in the ’60s:
1. The large numbers of unemployed or underemployed, and consequently relatively low-wage skilled and semiskilled workers in the metropolitan Boston labor market.
2. A continuing source of graduating students from Boston’s highly regarded colleges and universities, many of whom wanted to stay in the area.
3. The construction of Route 128, which opened up relatively empty land for industrial development and commuting routes from city and suburb, and provided for rapid transportation for high-end tech products sent in both directions through Logan Airport.
Of course, there were important changes in the political and social culture of Boston during the period starting in the 1970s, but a major facilitating factor was the economic emergence of the Boston area from the doldrums.
This expansion of the regional high-tech economy was just that — in a region, not just a city. I don’t think we can talk about Boston’s comeback and ignore this fact.
The writer is professor emeritus of economics at Keene State College.
Ira A. Jackson knows whereof he speaks, since he was present at the creation of the new Boston. But Kevin White’s heavenly vision could not have taken earthly form without the tens of billions of federal dollars that bought and poured the concrete. Those dollars were sluiced into Boston by Tip O’Neill, Joe Moakley. and Ted Kennedy.
O’Neill, the speaker, and Moakley, chairman of the Rules Committee, controlled the House cash spigots, and Kennedy performed miracles of legislative legerdemain in the Senate. Boston’s transformation from 1968 on, seeded by the efforts of previous mayors John Hynes and John Collins in the 1950s and ’60s, was the result of decades of diligent political groundwork by our legislative and executive legions in Washington and on Beacon Hill, as well as in two city halls, the old and the new.
Mayor White deserves high praise for egging on a calcified local culture, but the DC troika of O’Neill, Moakley, and Kennedy, and their legislative colleagues, merit hosannas for bringing home the bacon.
Ira A. Jackson’s “The great Boston comeback story” identifies three keys to Boston’s turnaround under Mayor Kevin White: vision, major infrastructure investment, and inclusivity. All three are relevant as Boston’s population, economy, and growth prospects rise, requiring a proactive city to guide the growth. Although Boston is not on the ropes as it was in 1967, all three factors are critical now as they were then.
Rudolph Kass’s Nov. 4 letter notes the role White’s predecessor, John Collins, played in Boston’s rebirth. A key Collins action was the 1965 master plan, which established transformational policies and projects: major public initiatives, from housing to transportation; rebuilding Boston’s neighborhoods and downtown; and tackling blighted areas that had been beset by economic change and lack of services. White intensified implementation of this master plan.
Fifty years later, Boston needs the vision Jackson calls essential to keeping the city successful and “good” for all. In his first term as mayor, Martin Walsh created a new master plan, Imagine Boston 2030, but this plan needs bolder action to keep pace with growth. Most of the strategies are already underway, and little has been added to excite and inspire.
Contrary to the 1965 plan, Imagine Boston 2030 fails to prioritize regional infrastructure initiatives (transit, specific plans for job centers, flood protection, etc.) and does not include enough of what Jackson terms “bold multi-year public investments” needed for equitable growth and to keep Boston strong. We should start as White did, with a bolder and more specific master plan.
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