The Vision Thing

Menino and the city—and job—he loved.


Photograph Courtesy of Isabel Leon/Office of the Mayor

Tom Menino has often been criticized for lacking an overarching vision for Boston. Grand designs? Big thinking? “I think he’d be the first to admit that isn’t how he operates,” says Paul Grogan, president and CEO of the Boston Foundation.

Instead, Menino focused on the day-to-day business of people’s lives: trash pickup, potholes, methods for reporting issues with trash pickup and potholes. He wanted a smooth-running city with a clean balance sheet, and he wanted it scandal-free. Meanwhile, he set about making himself present at just about every block party and ribbon cutting in the city. “I think he got a lot of his ideas from the thousands of conversations he was in every week,” Grogan says.

Menino’s plan seemed to be to take care of the little things, and let the big things fall into place. Amazingly, they have. Think of it as the broken-windows theory of mayoring. “It’s very, very true that cities come unraveled in a series of small things initially,” Grogan says, “and certainly that attention to detail I think served the city very well.”

Menino’s incremental approach has extended to almost everything he’s done. Take the Innovation District: For years the Seaport seemed to suffer from lack of direction. But Menino set about building it up, brick by brick, restaurant by condo by office building. He was controlling and the process was frustrating and it probably all should have gone faster—but it worked. Nobody sipping cocktails on the roof of Legal Harborside is complaining now.

Larry DiCara, a former city councilor and a pundit for all things Boston, put it this way: “The vision was to have a city which was well run.” That, it seems, has allowed big things to happen.



For more of our look back at Mayor Menino’s time in office, check out “A Mayor in Full.”