Boston Redevelopment Authority to Partner with West End Museum on New Exhibition

Unlikely collaboration will highlight the controversial past, present, and future of Boston’s urban renewal.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority is making nice with the neighborhood it once used its power to demolish, in an effort to extend that power another 10 years.

The BRA is partnering with the West End Museum on a new exhibition, titled “Dewey Defeats Truman/The Housing Act of 1949.” It will feature maps, archival photos, and documents detailing the passage of the landmark legislation, which expanded the federal government’s role in public housing and paved the way for a new, controversial urban planning strategy called “slum clearance.”

“Although it helped jumpstart Boston’s long-term economic growth, the redevelopment of the West End and Scollay Square (now Government Center) are often cited as examples of urban renewal’s overreach, as large areas of the old city were demolished to make way for new housing and infrastructure such as highways,” the BRA said in a release.

“Regardless of how well-intentioned federal urban renewal may have been, the ultimate result for the West End was the complete destruction of a vibrant, tight-knit community and the displacement of thousands of families who called that neighborhood home,” West End Museum curator Duane Lucia said.

The exhibition, on display until January 2016, is free and open to the public. Curators from the West End Museum, located at 150 Staniford Street, will focus on urban’s renewal historical impact on the neighborhood, once largely comprised of the city’s Jewish and Italian immigrants (and one Leonard Nimoy). Members of the BRA’s planning and graphic design departments, meanwhile, will focus on the future of urban renewal in Boston.

“Demonstrating urban renewal’s continued value and explaining our much different approach to using the tools nowadays is one of our biggest challenges,” BRA Director Brian Golden said in a release. “This exhibit is a great way to showcase the evolution of urban renewal and share some of what we’ve heard at community meetings. I want to thank the West End Museum and its staff for their willingness and enthusiasm to work together.”

Last extended in 2005, the BRA is seeking another 10-year extension of its authority in 14 of the city’s 16 active urban renewal plan areas, which expires in April 2016. The BRA will hold a series of public forums before Boston City Council, BRA Board of Directors, and the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development vote on the request.

  • shirley_kressel

    The Museum is allowing the BRA to make its pitch for the extension of its urban renewal powers, but this does not constitute an endorsement of this extension. The BRA is publicizing this as a “partnership.” It is more accurately described as a courtesy the Museum, in its role in educating the public on urban renewal, is extending to the BRA.

    Further, this does not imply neighborhood endorsement of the extension. There is no “making nice” for the callous community devastation that is still causing suffering to this day.

    And the BRA should acknowledge that its extension request is being broadly opposed across the city by other renewal-burdened neighborhoods.

    The Federal government, in the mid 1970’s, dropped its support for this misbegotten effort to cleanse America’s cities of the “riffraff” remaining after suburban flight, a strategy that blew up as a political and financial disaster. As one BRA director testified recently to the Boston City Council, “The BRA was created to throw people off the land and do the dirty things, and keep the mayor’s hands clean to protect him from political retribution.” That is, it is structured to wield some of the most weighty governmental powers, including seizure of private property for private uses, with no public accountability and no legal recourse. He also stated, “The BRA works for developers.” And it does. Not for the citizens, but for developers, particularly the mayor’s cronies, for whom it makes everything that is illegal, legal.

    After the feds abandoned urban renewal, the renewal authorities were left to the states, which left them to the cities, where they have functioned as cesspools of corruption and bleeds on the public treasury. California eliminated the whole redevelopment empire, some 400 authorities, in 2010; everyone should do the same, and restore accountable municipal government to our cities.

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