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On "20" (Fall 2017)

Cities are conversations: stone and story, tower and shadow, harbor and wave upon wave. That Boston’s foundation is its history — and its histories — doesn’t go without saying, especially here, where we cherish the right to speak out against as well as speak up in support. Bring together history with people alert to each other and to that which surrounds them, and the present is rich.

ArchitectureBoston's founding editors’ panel (“Present at the creation”) illuminated this process, as the participants spoke of how they hoped to design a publication that might endure because it was open to change. Their discussion offers several points of entry, and as a writer who is not an architect, I appreciate the big tent/many voices approach.

It moved me to learn that my essay on the New England Holocaust Memorial, written 20 years ago now for this magazine, changed Elizabeth Padjen’s firmly held view on the memorial’s then-controversial siting in the center of one of the most historic sections of Boston. The topic of where we want (and how we want) to see history embodied is ever a part of what a city is. And it’s no small matter that the siting of monuments is present once again as a source of vigorous and at times violent debate. What do we do with monuments based in a history seen now from numerous perspectives to be abhorrent, exclusionary, despotic? Do we raze the past, even if we can’t demolish the acts it held? Do we cart our reviled/revered monuments into museums as if they are merely art? Or might we regroup and redesign, and recall and think ahead about how to neighbor the past with the present? Surround the once championed with the once-victimized, leave the tyrants in place, and alongside them raise their survivors? It’s our relationship to history and to our time today we must talk about. How do we create a community of conversation? A magazine? A city? A big tent?

Marcie Hershman
Author, Tales of the Master Race
Brookline, Massachusetts

Matthew Kiefer (“20/20 hindsight”) did a beautiful job describing how we got to where we are. Boston is changing, and our harbor has always featured prominently in our evolution. We need to help make the changes benefit as many of us in as many ways as possible.

From Boston’s early history, the city’s push for progress altered the landscape of the harbor. Through the filling of numerous bays in the early-19th century, Boston grew from a settlement to a successful trading port to a thriving international center of innovation, commerce, and tourism.

Irony would have it that the very thing that allowed the city to grow into “the Hub” is the very thing that threatens it today. As Kiefer points out, the investments in our waters, the Harbor, and the Charles River cleanup unlocked economic potential and helped lead to the development boom in waterfront neighborhoods like the Seaport and East Boston. And yet the infrastructure in these neighborhoods is buckling under the weight of increasing population density and a parcel-by-parcel development strategy that fails to adopt a comprehensive approach to planning. Traffic-gridlocked streets beg for broader transportation options. The threats of climate change in sea-level rise, urban heat islands, and increased precipitation demand the relief afforded by open green space and barriers along the water wherever possible. Even our “gritty postindustrial waterfront” working port needs support and creative visioning to continue its maritime traditions and increase resiliency in the face of storms like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

As the region’s largest natural resource and public open space, our harbor, tidelands, and islands are an invaluable economic driver and deserve the time and effort needed to ensure we plan for all aspects of the future.

Kathy Abbott
President and CEO, Boston Harbor Now

I enjoyed reading Matthew Kiefer’s retrospective on the last 20 years in Boston and our potential for the next 20. As we hold conversations about possible infrastructure investments, it is important to remember the context in which we are operating. In 2016, Boston was ranked No. 1 in income inequality based on an analysis of 2014 census data by the Brookings Institution. At the same time, in an analysis done by the World Bank of coastal cities with the highest risks of flood damage, Boston ranks in the top 10 globally. The impacts of climate change, like sea-level rise and extreme heat, will disproportionately affect those with the least resources to rebound.

The center I run at the University of Massachusetts Boston is focused on urban resilience and this intersection of inequity and climate change. We aim to support the development of climate-adaptation efforts that take the different needs of all resi­dents into account in long-term city plan­ning. This challenge is particularly great in a place like Boston, given our eco­nomic inequity and vulnerability to sea-level rise and coastal flooding. To en­sure our vibrancy as a city, Boston needs to not only prepare for climate change im­pacts but also make sure that our plan­ning efforts address our current equity challenges instead of amplifying them.

Rebecca Herst
Director, Sustainable Solutions Lab
UMass Boston

The title of Steven Cecil’s “A tale of five cities” immediately recalls the famous first lines of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” Dickens could have been describing today’s realities. Although cities have been on the upswing, challenges still abound — many of which are discussed in AB20 — including housing affordability, reliable transportation, job creation, and social equity. Add to this natural disasters like Harvey and Irma, and it’s easy to worry. But what if we focused on the positives to address our daunting challenges? What would it take to turn climate change into an opportunity?

To start, let’s be smart about our investments. Go beyond just building bigger walls and think instead about integrated, multibenefit approaches — where flood-management solutions are also economic-development catalysts, community open space, and green stormwater infrastructure. Let’s leverage climate-preparedness investments to create better, more equitable neighborhoods. Designers and planners, in particular, are uniquely positioned to help communities craft these systems-based solutions.

As a planner who works on environmental and economic resiliency around the country, I’m excited to see Boston leading this thinking. In 2013, Sasaki Sea Change research invigorated a public-facing conversation around sea-level rise. More recently, working on Climate Ready Boston, I could see how far the conversation has evolved in just a few years. The City released the report last December, recommending a holistic approach to adaptation. It’s already translating into action that will help us better prepare for future climate change while simultaneously creating better places to live.

The next two lines of Dickens’ tale: “It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness” are far less familiar but equally apt for our times. FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] finds that every $1 spent on preparedness/mitigation saves society $4 later on. For cities around the country, Boston included, the question is whether we can be disciplined enough to invest wisely today for the change we see coming our way.

Jill Allen Dixon
Senior Associate, Sasaki
Watertown, Massachusetts

I read the engaging compilation of interviews, “The kids are all right,” with interest and delight. The combination of hardheaded realism about society’s many challenges paired with the boundless optimism of how we, as architects, can influence our collective future made for a hopeful portrait of the next generation of architects.

We have had the benefit of hosting two of these bright young minds at our firm. Caleb Hawkins came to us from Wentworth Institute of Technology and, just recently, Cyrus Dahmubed interned with us through the Northeastern University Co-op Program. Contrary to the cynicism that so often characterizes our national dialogue and the rumor that all millennials are entitled, my experiences with these two young men revealed bright, hardworking professionals with big dreams for a better future — and a plan of action. Right now, with the burden of climate change, economic inequality, political division, and so much uncertainty about the future of technology, these “kids” seem to be doing all right, indeed.

David J. Hacin FAIA
Principal, Hacin + Associates