No High Hopes for Menino's New BRA Chief

In appointing Peter Meade as the new BRA director, Mayor Menino exposes his deeply cynical soul. How a city gets shaped according to Menino has less to do with expertise, talent, and desire, and much more to do with an all-powerful central agency that grants or withholds permission to build based on… powerful connections?

See, Meade isn’t a city planner, he’s a “businessman.” He’s one of those executive types who moves from job to job, lightly touching down before eyeing the next exciting gig. His latest post, which lasted only 18 months, entailed shepherding along an ambitious museum project dedicated to the Senate for the Kennedy family. We know very little information about what’s happened during his tenure, but you can bet that he shook a lot of hands. Likewise, his time as the executive director of the Greenway was equally unremarkable. For his business savvy and coveted Rolodex, exactly zero projects came to fruition on our new acres of green — and not for lack of proposals. So this is the guy who’s going to hail in a new, innovative era for Boston?

Just for reference, most (and possibly all) American cities have planning agencies. Planning is the operative word here. These agencies spend most of their time refining the height and location of buildings in the abstract — generally removed from the political machine that may or may not enable development. That’s how you get the right mix of density and open space, low buildings and skyscrapers, that defines a place and gives it character. Here, the BRA is so mixed up with the power and money that it’s choked to death on countless promising projects. Big-time developers, once they get a good whiff of the BRA mechanism, walk run to the nearest exit.

For cynical Menino, building is about wheeling and dealing, and getting personal, and ultimately overlooking major components (like financial health, in the case of the Filene’s project). In Meade, he has found a welcome ally, a guy who digs power over progress. No visionary here, just another operator who likes the machine just the way it is.