Tom Menino’s City Hall vision

Tom Menino’s City Hall vision

Bostoncityhall Boston’s City Hall has got to be one of the ugliest public buildings in America. It is a monstrosity of post-modern deconstructionist design so popular in the 1960s and 70s. A popular urban legend says it was designed to look like the Lincoln Memorial upside down, which might be comforting, if true, because it would mean that there was some overarching vision for it. Instead, it looks like haphazard piles of concrete blocks piled on top of brick, overlooking a vast wasteland of a plaza that is a parody of the great public squares of old Rome. And my disregard for the building (shared by many Bostonians) is not like the initial hatred by Parisians of the Eiffel Tower that has since grown into an affection for has become a symbol of all France, because the ill feelings toward the City Hall have not faded one whit in the nearly four decades it’s been around.

You can probably tell I’m not a fan.

Thus you might be surprised that I didn’t greet Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s proposal to tear it down, sell it off, and rebuild a new City Hall elsewhere with cheers and applause.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino , saying he wants to make a statement that will lead Boston into the future, announced he intends to build an “architecturally magnificent” City Hall on the South Boston waterfront, an undertaking that would turn over to developers the current controversial behemoth on City Hall Plaza and shift the locus of city government to a more mote outpost of the city.

Here are my objections. For one thing, I am not convinced that Menino’s first interest is an interest in posterity. The vast tract of land in the center of Boston on which City Hall sits has been estimated to be valued at $300 million. When fully developed, it would likely be worth a whole more. Think billions. Who stands to benefit the most from that? Perhaps some well-heeled constituents who might even offer ole Tommy a job when he finally steps back from the hackerama trough? In any case, such largesse would be worth continued backing in elections in perpetuity.

I also object to the stealing yet another piece of Boston’s precious waterfront property for yet another government building. Soon the whole harbor will be lined with water-view hack offices, while the public will only get to enjoy it while waiting in line at the City Clerk’s office.

Plus South Boston?! If you’re not from Boston, let me just tell you that there’s no easy way in or out of South Boston. It’s either tunnels, bridges, or the neighborhood streets. Oh yes, the Silver Line buses run there and that’s about it. Of course, Tommy probably knows this and has the solution prepared. Happen the Commonwealth expand the MBTA subway system to the seaport. After all, the even the Big Dig has to end eventually and then what massive public works project will there be to enrich cronies and stash do-nothing relatives in do-nothing jobs? I propose we call it the Brown Line in honor of the amount of ... bovine ... product that will be shoveled to get the public to buy into it.

The only question will be whether the residents of South Boston will be any more interested in a City Hall on their doorstep than they were with a stadium for the New England Patriots. At least the Patriots would only have eight home games a year. Think of the traffic caused by the City Hall and its payroll patriots every day of the year (except Saturdays, Sundays, federal holidays, state holidays, Evacuation Day. Wait, never mind.)


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City Hall image courtesy of the Digital Imaging Project. Copyright Mary Anne Sullivan.

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