Then and Now: Menino’s Boston

Have you blocked out what the city looked like 20 years ago? Peter Vanderwarker’s photos recall Boston before the Big Dig.

We all want to forget the horror, but throughout most of Menino’s administration Boston was under siege by the Big Dig. The project may have been federally funded and overseen by the state, but it was the mayor who was saddled with a downtown that resembled a battlefield. Somehow, though, Menino managed to sell investors and ordinary citizens alike on his vision for the clean, efficient, and business-friendly city that would emerge from the project’s dust. The Big Dig ballooned into a $22 billion boondoggle, but Boston came out of it as a better city: Property values have more than doubled, our streets are safer, and our economy is more robust than ever.

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Noted photographer Peter Vanderwarker, author of The Big Dig: Reshaping an American City, has spent more than 30 years documenting our evolving city. Here we offer a series of his photos taken before and during Menino’s administration. The above pair of images shows City Square in Charlestown—during the construction of the Route One tunnel below the square, and after its conversion to a park. The other two sets show the Central Artery shortly before it was dismantled, and the same view after the land was transformed into the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway. —Rachel Slade


BEFORE: City Square, Charlestown, 1991


Photographs by Peter Vanderwarker

AFTER: City Square, Charlestown, 2010



BEFORE: The Central Artery, 2004


AFTER: The Rose F. Kennedy Greenway, 2012



BEFORE: The Central Artery, 1999


AFTER: The Rose F. Kennedy Greenway, 2012


Next: Tom Menino’s Boston, By the Numbers »

  • Suzy Peabody

    there’s a part of me that misses it; I loved zooming through and above the city. and it was gritty. and badass.

    • LindengoneSalem

      Before when you were stuck in traffic you had a great view of the Harbor. Now all you can see is the car in front of you and grimy tile walls. Progress I tell ya!

  • disqus_gDRPgomazn

    I completely miss it. The Big Dig had just begun when I moved here, but I found the elevated Central Artery fascinating-under, over, and along-a real symbol of an urban city and the commute to it and through it. I worked on Portland Street, just off Causeway, with the elevated Green and Orange Lines and the old Garden. The newer pink Registry of Motor Vehicles building was just beyond. The restaurants and bars had Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito autographed photos. Coming from Ontario I couldn’t believe it-it was so great to see these famous hockey players I remembered from childhood. I saw the movie Malcolm X the other night and the opening scene, shot on Causeway St. with the Woolworth’s store, in 1992, stopped me in my tracks. I keep playing it over and over. Wow, is all I can say. The vacuous, unstylish emptiness that now replaces the overhead artery, almost seems like an attempt to forget the lives and struggles people had all those years. I never thought I would feel this way, but I find the Big Dig changes a huge disappointment, above ground. Very poor granite detailing and landscape features for such a traditional city. Thee traffic flow is mostly improved but not nearly as exciting.

  • Pedro Carvalho

    Great work on the transformation. People must get that the city mobility can’t depend on individual cars. Advanced cities has a good public transportation like NYC, Berlin and many others…
    There should’t be no traffic. That’s the point.

  • David Kronner

    I wonder how big hurricanes like katrina given it’s near proximity to the harbor have effected the “Big dig”?

  • Nathalie Murk

    The less car traffic – the more comfortable place you get. Bravo, Boston!

  • Westerlies

    Make transit part of the deal

  • Janey04090

    It was better in the 1980s. That long tunnel under Boston is a nightmare.

  • Dane

    Hope no more tiles fall