Local experts predict the Boston of the future

Best Decade Ever
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  January 20, 2011


There's more to imagining our city's future than placing bets on when Hizzoner will retire (which is just an exercise in futility at this point). So over the past few weeks, we asked several dozen trendsetters and soothsayers to fondle their crystal balls, and tell us when we might be able to follow bike paths from Franklin Park to Park Street, shop at a glistening new Filene's, and sip drinks on a waterfront that resembles downtown Dubai.

It turns out that Boston beat us to it — the city even has an advisory board to help chart out tomorrow. Commissioned by former City Council president Mike Ross last year, the Citizens' Committee on Boston's Future is an all-star team of public-, private-, and nonprofit-sector visionaries tapped to "help retain the skilled-labor workforce that will enable our city to compete in the 21st century."

From politics to entertainment, folks in all corners of the Hub spectrum share some common insights — and not just about the need for late-night T service. The theme that kept coming up in drafting our prospectus was a movement toward more openness: more open government, more restaurants that stay open late, more open permitting processes, more open doors for minorities. (There's also a super-cool flying-car-like "roadable sport aircraft" coming this year from the Woburn-based aviation start-up Terrafugia, but that's almost beside the point.)

It's a whole lot to take in, but with influential voices guiding us, we sketched a portrait of how Boston might look, sound, smell, feel, and taste in the next decade and beyond. Here's the forecast.

Even on crutches, Mayor Tom Menino will march New England's culture machine toward the South Boston waterfront, which will become the region's leading bourgeois hot spot. The recent Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) approvals of Seaport Square and Waterside Place sealed the deal with an ambitious plan for redefining the 1000-acre "Innovation District," with multi-use housing, office, and entertainment complexes scheduled to slice into the skyline by 2020.

The waterfront will not be the only pocket facing change. If the BRA has anything to do with Boston's urban plan — which is far from guaranteed — there will be a long-delayed $250-million buildout in Jackson Square. (It is slated to break ground this year.) Blighted neighborhoods along Blue Hill Avenue will undergo vast overhauls over the next half-decade; and the city will reanimate the seismic holes in Roxbury and Downtown Crossing where the Ferdinand and Filene's buildings once gleamed. Immediate prospects are more optimistic for the latter, but the BRA has pledged to begin acting on the Ferdinand this year.

You can also look for an old thoroughfare to experience a new renaissance. The Ferdinand and the Filene's buildings "are both keystones of the neighborhoods they're in," says Derek Lumpkins, executive director of Discover Roxbury. "But what's as important is how Washington Street connects those spaces. Down the line, I think it will be a fun, exciting, and culturally relevant stretch that people from every neighborhood can safely commute up and down and enjoy."

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